President’s Corner

First and foremost, I wanted to make sure I wish all of you a happy and safe Thanksgiving. This is a time where I feel reflection is really important. Reflection on our country’s history, on our elders, past generation’s challenges, and what their triumphs were. Together we make a better future for our families and children. Let’s keep up the great work! A very sincere THANK YOU to each of you for all the hard work you do every day on behalf of children and families.

Second, I would like to share with you a statement put out by National PTA regarding the next administration just in case you didn’t receive it. This is a document from the National PTA outlining the process to be used in transitioning from the current administration to the in-coming administration.

It is vital to remember that our positions and priorities are based on the adopted Legislation Platform of the Illinois PTA, along with the legislative positions established by the National PTA. Our positions and priorities are not dependent upon who is in office, but in our approach to working with those in office. Our priorities at the state level include, but are not limited to:

  • adoption of an adequate, equitable and sustainable budget that provides for the needs of the most vulnerable citizens of Illinois;
  • passage of SB550 which requires the Dept. of Public Health to adopt rules for identification of and testing of representative samples of potable water sources in all public schools where a health hazard has been identified, and provide for replace of such service lines by the end of 2019;
  • passage of HB5726 which would make the provision of energy drinks to anyone under the age of 18 unlawful. This is based on the amount of caffeine found in said drinks, and correlates to the adoption of the Powdered Caffeine Act.

As you can see from the corresponding document, National PTA has outlined its continuing priorities, and plans to work with the President-Elects “transition team” to keep those priorities at the forefront of our work to make every child’s potential a reality.

Here to serve,

President’s Corner


I hope all of you were able to join us in Decatur, IL at Millikin University last Saturday for our 3rd Spotlight event. For those who couldn’t we had over 350 families registered for the amazing celebration of the arts. Not only is it a chance to celebrate all of the creativity expressed by our children across the state, but also it provides an opportunity to learn different art techniques led by the Milliken University students. Families were able to share the learning experience, get ideas for home projects, and see their children celebrated. Hope to see you at next year’s celebration with the theme of “what’s your story”

I also wanted to let you know that I presented on behalf of Illinois PTA in Anchorage, Alaska last Friday. Definitely would have earned frequent flier miles. The presentation was on “Engaging Hispanic Families.” We really had a great discussion on diversity in general and cultural competency. It was an honor to meet some of the members from Alaska and discuss their challenges and successes.

As we gather the resources for your next upcoming LUP (Local Unit Packet), please send any suggestions you think would be helpful to I want to make sure every unit gets off to a great start and with SO many resources available for every level of expertise the feedback would be helpful.

Finally I want to note that we will be presenting and exhibiting at the ISBE Statewide Bilingual Conference on May 7th. Armen Alvarez from NPTA will present in Spanish and I will do the English session on building upon leadership skills, titled BPAC to PTA Team Leadership Transition.

Please sign up here for next steps.


Busting 7 Common “I Can’t Volunteer” Myths

We’ve talked about valuing your volunteers as a PTA leader, but how do you get people to volunteer group raising hands against blue sky backgroundvolunteer in the first place? There are all sorts of tips out there on volunteering like breaking jobs down into bite-sized pieces or attaching how much time commitment is required for each volunteer opportunity, but those ideas still don’t actually get people to volunteer. To do that, you have to overcome the reasons why people are saying no to volunteering. Let’s do a little myth-busting regarding volunteering with the PTA.

  1. The PTA is intimidating. For some people, even thinking about joining the PTA causes them to break out in a sweat. They are usually afraid that joining means they’ll be asked to volunteer for every committee, event, and activity. While PTAs certainly need their volunteers to do those jobs, and they do ask everyone about volunteering, it is important that you share with everyone that volunteering is not required or expected, just appreciated. Whether it’s an online sign-up tool like VolunteerSpot, a Google document listing needs for the teacher breakfast, or a sign-up sheet passed around at the PTA meeting, let everyone know that if the volunteer opportunity fits with their schedule and abilities, you appreciate their signing up. If they can’t sign up, perhaps another opportunity will fit for them in the future, but they are always welcome to pass the sheet on.
  1. I don’t know anyone in the PTA. This is an easy argument to overcome—get one of your friends to sign up with you. Alternatively, sign up and meet a new friend. Whenever possible, provide opportunities for people to work together. It makes the busy times more manageable and the slow times more tolerable.
  1. I work full time and can’t come to the school. There are always jobs that need to be done that don’t require coming to the school. Whether it is trimming and counting box tops, tracking orders from a fundraiser, or sorting and cutting things out for a classroom project or a station at a PTA event, there are things to do that don’t require a physical presence at a specific time. Make sure your members know which jobs can be done at home on their own time.
  1. I volunteered a couple of years ago, and it was not a good experience. It happens, and it stinks when it does. But one constant in PTA is that things change—parents move on with their children, classrooms have different kids every year, the PTA elects new leaders, and even teachers and principals turn over every so often. Whatever caused the bad experience in the past, it likely can’t be duplicated now.
  1. None of the opportunities really grab my attention. Find out what interests, hobbies, talents, and passions this person has. Perhaps it is woodworking or a job that children might find interesting, things that could be incorporated into a Family Arts Night showing off woodworking projects or part of a career fair. Everyone has something that they enjoy doing and sharing—find out what that is and consider how those passions can be incorporated into a new or existing PTA activity.
  1. Volunteering is a mom thing. No, it’s also a dad thing. And it’s a grandma or grandpa thing, an aunt or uncle thing, or even an older sibling thing. Anyone willing to offer their time can be utilized in some way. Just make sure you don’t hand a hammer, paint brush, or shovel to every man who steps up to volunteer. Dads are great at reading stories, handing out snacks, and all those other jobs that the moms usually handle, so be sure to give them the opportunity to do them if they want to.
  1. The PTA already has all the help they need. Yes, the PTA is probably getting everything done, and it may look like everything is under control, but like the proverbial duck, the calm above the water has some frantic paddling going on below. Many hands make lighter work, and more people volunteering means that the PTA president or that super-volunteer doesn’t have to spend the entire event filling in where no one volunteered and can spend some time doing things with their child.

Volunteering can be a rewarding experience and an opportunity to meet new people, but it’s not for everyone, and that’s okay. No parent or family member should feel guilty for not wanting to involve themselves in that aspect of their child’s life. Being a parent is a tough enough job without having to meet societal expectations as well. Appreciate your volunteers sincerely, publicly, and often, but be sure to appreciate those who only bring their child to an event as well—without them, all that hard work by your volunteers would be wasted.

News from National Convention-Future Ready Schools

If you search for a picture of a classroom from 1915 or even 1890, chances are it looks a lot like your child’s classroom today. There are children at desks facing forward with the teacher at the front of the classroom providing information to the students. Perhaps there is a Smart Board at the front of the classroom instead of a chalkboard and a computer or two on one wall instead of a set of encyclopedias and other reference materials, but the basics of how we teach children really haven’t changed in the last 100 or even 125 years. We are using 21st century tools in a 19th century learning environment.

While US Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s announcement of a set of rights that all families should have for their children’s education drew national attention, the panel discussion he participated in prior to his speech focused on an issue that is much more immediate for every child in school: technology in education.

The panel was moderated by Jenny Backus, Google’s head of Strategic Outreach, Partnerships, and Engagement. Joining her on the panel in addition to Secretary Duncan were Thomas Murray from the Alliance for Excellent Education and Mark Edwards, the AASA 2013 Superintendent of the Year from Mooresville Graded School District in Mooresville, NC. The panel discussion was supplemented with a presentation from Mr. Murray on Future Ready Schools.

Members of the panel stressed that it is not enough to put technology in the classroom. A Smart Board at the front of a classroom used simply as a digital blackboard to drill facts into the heads of students will not improve student achievement nor prepare them for college and careers. Schools need to be leveraging technology to teach students to question, research, hypothesize, collaborate, and think critically, not just to serve as digital chalkboards and textbooks.

Information has become a commodity. If a student needs to know the capital of South Sudan or the year that World War I started, the answer is a quick web search away. What the web can’t teach them, however, is how the events of World War I still resonate in today’s world or what the creation of the world’s newest country means for Africa. For that we need teachers focused on teaching critical thinking and problem solving skills.


Future Ready Schools

Towards that end, the Alliance for Excellent Education and the US Department of Education have partnered to create Future Ready Schools. Rather than promoting a specific program or approach, Future Ready Schools is aimed at having each school district come together to discuss their vision for student learning in the 21st century and how to use digital technology effectively. The key components of a Future Ready School are:

  • R: Robust, Rigorous Resources
  • E: Engaged Students with Equitable Access
  • A: Active Parents for Deeper Engagemen
  • D: Dedicated Educators
  • Y: “Yes Culture” of Leadership

Gurnee District 56 has created a video to show how they are READY.

The process starts for a school district with the superintendent taking the Future Ready Schools Pledge. An online tool allows you to find out if your superintendent is one of nearly 2,000 across the country who have already taken the pledge. By taking the pledge, a superintendent commits their district to become Future Ready by engaging in a range of activities such as:

  • Fostering and Leading a Culture of Digital Learning within Our Schools.
  • Helping Schools and Families Transition to High-speed Connectivity.
  • Empowering Educators through Professional Learning Opportunities.
  • Accelerating Progress Toward Universal Access for All Students to Quality Devices.
  • Providing Access to Quality Digital Content.
  • Offering Digital Tools to Help Students and Families #ReachHigher.
  • Mentoring Other Districts and Helping Them Transition to Digital Learning.


Beyond the Pledge

Once a superintendent takes the Future Ready Schools Pledge, the district can take advantage of regional summits to develop a thoughtful plan on how technology can be used to improve student learning. Even if a district cannot attend a summit, they will have access to the Future Ready Leadership Network. This free online resource will provide districts with tools such as:

  • a Future Ready assessment and report with specific pathways toward progress,
  • an interactive planning dashboard [Note: to access a sample version, use e-mail address of and password “sample”.] to help districts analyze and report their own team’s progress,
  • a community of mentoring districts,
  • ongoing webinars and expert advisory chats, and
  • exemplars and snap shots of success.


The Challenge for PTAs

Simply purchasing computers, tablets, Smart Boards, or other technology for the classroom, as many PTAs have done in the past, has not been an effective way of improving student achievement. School districts need to consider and evaluate how students will use technology in the classroom, and PTAs should be the voice of parents in that conversation. Once the technology is in the classroom, it is even more important that teachers and administrators not only know how to use that technology but also receive continuing professional development on best practices from across the country to effectively use that technology to prepare students for college and careers. PTAs, like the schools and districts that they serve, need to shift their focus from actions taken for students to successful outcomes of those students.