ESSA, Family Engagement, and Your PTA

Implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) continues to make progress, with the US Department of Education approving Illinois’s ESSA plan. In Congress, the House of Representatives has included funding for the Statewide Family Engagement Centers (SFECs) in its appropriations bill. With the approval of the Illinois ESSA plan, attention now turns to Local Education Agencies (LEAs), or school districts in non-legalese, who must create their own ESSA implementation plans using the guidance of the state plan.

PTA’s Role in Planning

During the development of the state ESSA plan, Illinois PTA represented families in many of the committees and working groups that were developing various parts of the plan. Now that school districts are developing their plans, PTA councils and local PTA units have a role to play as well. ESSA requires that all stakeholders, including families, be included in the planning process, and PTAs are uniquely able to fill that role.

PTA councils and units should start the process by letting their school superintendent and school board know that they are interested in being involved in developing the district’s ESSA plan. Your school district should be supportive, as family and community engagement is one of the core elements of the Illinois Balanced Accountability Measure (IBAM) that will measure how schools are doing overall. IBAM replaces the test-score-only approach of measuring a school’s success under No Child Left Behind.

For those who serve on school district committees for PTA, it is important to remember that they are representing PTA and families, not their personal opinion. The National PTA Federal Public Policy Agenda, ESSA advocacy tools, and ESSA Local Roadmap can help support your efforts. From Illinois PTA, our legislative platform provides information on our positions, and Education Issues Director Kelli Denard can help with questions you might have. Finally, Partners for Each and Every Child and the Council of Chief State School Officers jointly developed a handbook to help school districts and school leaders cooperate to effectively implement ESSA at the local level.

PTA’s Role in Family Engagement

Illinois has its Family Engagement Framework to help local districts implement effective family engagement practices. The four principles of the framework parallel the six National Standards for Family-School Partnerships developed by National PTA. National PTA has additional resources in its Family Engagement Toolbox.

Even if your PTA is not interested in getting involved with your school district’s ESSA plan development, you can be involved in improving family engagement in your school. The National PTA School of Excellence program has a proven track record of improving family engagement. Illinois PTA has highlighted the success that Kreitner Elementary PTA had in becoming a School of Excellence in 2016.

If you’re interested in making your school a School of Excellence this year, the signup deadline is October 1, 2017. Don’t delay, sign up today.

 

Planning and Running Your First PTA Meeting

Photo © 2015 by Costa Constantinides under Creative Commons license.

If you’re a new PTA president, you probably have your first meeting of the year coming up soon. Here are some tips to get you ready to run that first meeting.

Planning the Meeting

  • Make sure your meeting date doesn’t conflict with other events.
  • Get announcements of the meeting out early. Remember that not everyone communicates in the same ways, so use multiple ways to get your message out.
  • Consult with your principal and teacher representative to find out if they have anything to share.
  • Contact your board members to see if they have agenda items.
  • Make sure any extra arrangements (e.g., babysitting, outside speaker, refreshments, etc.) are confirmed in advance.
  • Create your agenda. Make sure you have copies of the agenda and any information or action item handouts ready before the meeting.
  • For your first meeting, your audit report for last year and budget for this year need to be adopted in that order. You will also need to approve the minutes from the last meeting of last year.

Before the Meeting Starts

  • Have all your tools (e.g., gavel, Robert’s Rules of Order, bylaws, policy and procedure, etc.) readily at hand.
  • If you’re using any equipment (e.g., projector, microphone, SmartBoard, etc.), be sure it’s working properly.
  • Have someone welcome people as they come in the door.
  • Have some drinking water with you.
  • Take a deep breath and relax.

Running the Meeting

  • Start on time.
  • Stick to your agenda.
  • Be sure to have people wait to be recognized by you before speaking, and have them speak to the chair, not each other.
  • Remember to conduct a vote on motions. It’s easy to forget to do that when the discussion seems to come to a consensus.
  • Make sure everyone knows when the next meeting will be.
  • Thank everyone for attending before adjourning.

After the Meeting

  • Take another deep breath and relax.
  • Have a quick conversation with your board members about how the meeting went. Focus on three things: what worked, what didn’t work, and what sort of worked and needs improving.
  • Make a note of all the actions that were decided and who will be doing them. Follow up with those people to make sure they are on the same page.

Questions?

Do you have a leadership question? Looking for training for your PTA officers? If so, contact Illinois PTA Leadership Development Director Brenda Diehl at bdiehl@illinoispta.org.

 

 

New Resource for School Projects

Whether you’re a teacher looking for a class project or a PTA leader looking for an activity station at an event, Instructables has a new resource to help. Instructables has long been a website full of do-it-yourself projects of all sorts, and now with Instructables Education, projects suitable for students are grouped by appropriate ages or subject area.

The collection offers projects for elementary, middle school, and high school students. Categories include:

  • Math
  • Art
  • Science
  • Electronics
  • Engineering
  • Arduino (a tiny pre-built programmable computer)
  • Robotics
  • 3D Printing
  • Workshop (classes to develop various skills)

Instructables is also offering free one-year premium memberships to students and teachers that allow PDF downloading of projects and less advertising. The offer states that it is not just for traditional classroom teachers, but also includes anyone whose job is explicitly educational, which might mean a PTA leader planning an activity night or after school club is eligible as well. The process involves applying for a free premium membership code.

Instructables robot logo used with permission.

 

Top 10 Tips for Middle School PTA Success

Middle school is different from elementary school for kids—they’re changing classrooms, managing a locker, and meeting new people from other elementary schools. It’s different for parents as well. New activities like band or sports may pull parents who have been involved in PTA at the elementary level away at the middle school level. Here are ten tips on running a successful middle school PTA.

  1. Grab them fast. Parents are at an elementary school for six years; add a second or third kid, and those years can stretch to more than a decade. That’s a lot of time to build a relationship between PTA and a parent, and for that parent to grow into a leadership role. Middle school zips by in three years, and parents may have a year or two off from middle school between kids. That means your PTA has to get parents involved quickly and early in leadership positions. Visit your feeder elementary schools to educate elementary PTA leaders on what the middle school PTA does and how it is different from what they’ve already experienced.
  2. Include them all. Sometimes one elementary PTA will be stronger than the other PTAs feeding into a middle school. Don’t lean on parents from just the dominant PTA for leadership—you’ll alienate those from the other PTAs.
  3. Focus on parent events. Middle school students are beginning to break away from their parents, so student-oriented events like those in elementary school may draw fewer attendees. But that pulling away also means that parents are likely looking to learn more about what is happening at school, since their child is not telling them as much as they used to and the “backpack express” filled with flyers and newsletters is more of a backpack black hole. Shift your meetings to educating parents about what is happening and what is coming up. Be more about communication and less about PTA business.
  4. Embrace the diaspora. As parents become dispersed among various booster groups and other activities in middle school, make sure that they know that the PTA is the one group that addresses the whole school. Have an extracurricular activities fair for incoming students in the spring with the message that middle school provides great opportunities for students to try new things, but that PTA is the way for parents to keep in touch with what’s going on in the school.
  5. Embrace social media. A newsletter or flyer sent home with a middle school student typically ends up on the floor at school, in a trash can, or buried at the bottom of the backpack until the end of the year. You have to reach out to families directly, and Facebook, Twitter, and other social media can help with that.
  6. Cut back on fundraising. Your middle school PTA probably isn’t doing as many events as an elementary PTA and can get by with a smaller budget. Consider having just one big fundraiser, or incorporating your fundraising into your annual dues. How many parents at your school would embrace a PTA membership level of $25 or $50 that means the PTA won’t bother them about money for the rest of the year? Less fundraising means fewer overlaps with booster clubs who are also raising money as well.
  7. Find ways to integrate the PTA into the life of the middle school. Look for opportunities for the PTA to support events that bring families into the school. See if the PTA president can speak to all the parents at open house, consider providing snacks for the band, orchestra, and choir concerts (with a provided by PTA sign), and provide tour guides for new student orientation.
  8. Look for ways to work with other PTAs. Find opportunities to collaborate with your feeder school PTAs as well as the high school PTAs that your students will be going to. Working together helps incoming parents feel welcome and strengthens all of the PTAs.
  9. Cut back on meetings. Parents have often spent much of the day in meetings, so attending another PTA business meeting in the evening isn’t terribly appealing. Your PTA really only needs three general membership business meetings each year. One at the start of the school year to approve your audit and budget, one in the winter to elect your nominating committee, and one at the end of the year to elect your new officers. Add in adopting your updated bylaws at one of those meetings, and the only other thing your membership will need to meet about is amending your budget, which can be done with a quick five-minute meeting before an event or program. Let your board handing the day-to-day running of the PTA, and have your PTA “meetings” focus on parent education.
  10. Build your relationship with the principal and teachers. Just like the PTA, principals and teachers struggle to get information to families about what is happening at school. By building a good relationship with them, your PTA can develop programs and events that help the school keep parents informed and educated.