Joining my son’s middle school PTA

When my son started kindergarten six years ago, I joined the parent-teacher association (PTA) at his school. Being in the PTA allowed me to know more about what was going on at his school.

This year, Jase will move to middle school. It only seemed natural that I would join the PTA there. My original goal was to just be a volunteer at school and PTA events. I thought maybe if there was a committee chair position open for something easy that I might do that.

Ha…it is never that simple. Last April, the middle school PTA was trying to fill one of the hardest to fill officers position – the Treasurer. So many people just don’t seem to want to be in charge of the money.

I, however, had already been treasurer for the elementary PTA. While I am not accountant, I do handle the money side of my husband’s law firm and have handled my family’s money ever since my husband and I got married over twenty years ago.

At first, I was hesitant to take such a large role on a PTA that I know nothing about. Plus, I am working on my fifth novel and had made a vow to spend more time working on it instead of doing so much volunteering.

But then person after person turned down the Treasurer position. It isn’t a position you can leave open so I decided I would do it even though this would mean I am an officer on two different PTAs at the same time. (I am first vice president in charge of programs and parent education on the elementary PTA.)

It has been a few months since I was elected and school is about to start, but I still feel I know very little about the middle school or the PTA’s programs. At least with the elementary school, I held a chair position for three years before I became an officer. This allowed me to understand our programs and goals before I was one of those people running the show.

I don’t have that luxury with the middle school. I am just going to have to learn on the go. So far, I have been to one officer meeting where we met the new middle school principal and new assistant principal.

This week will start the real work of the PTA. We will be decorating the bulletin boards, helping with orientation set up for the incoming sixth graders and hosting a welcome back breakfast for the teachers. And in most cases, I need to be there as money will start coming in for membership. And next week school starts so there should be more membership money rolling in.

And before I know it, the PTA’s big fundraiser will be happening (on my birthday). The money part doesn’t worry me. It is more not knowing what I need to do at each event. I guess I will figure things out as I go along. The real trick will be balancing the commitments of two PTAs. Luckily, both PTAs communicate with each other and do not usually plan events on the same days. But even with that, it still going to be a busy school year.

Bumps in the Road: This year’s new PTA regime

When I registered Jase for kindergarten, there was a sheet asking people to sign up if they were interested in the PTA. I knew nothing about joining the parent-teacher association but wanted to be involved in Jase’s school, so I signed up.

The next day, I received a call from the president of the PTA, and all of a sudden I was in charge of doing the student directory the following year. It is six years later, and I am on my third year as a PTA officer.

Two years ago, I became Treasurer and one of six officers. We attended a Leadership conference in Houston before school began that year. I think that is one of the things that helped us bond as a group of leaders. We were away from home, and it allowed us to spend a lot of time together.

I feel that group of ladies worked hard together despite our differences. However, you can only hold a position for two years so of course everything had to end. Our second VP in charge of fundraising was going to become president, and the president was going to move down to the second VP spot. And I was moving from Treasurer to first VP.

Then a month after the election, everything fell apart in terms keeping our group together. Our newly elected president was moving. Luckily, someone else stepped up to take on the role of president. It is not a position that I want, and I originally had feared I might have to take over since I was the vice president.

Now each president does things differently and has their own priorities. And our new president is a by-the-books, rule-follower type. She took one look at how we were doing things and decided that our procedures are too lax if not flat-out wrong.

rough-road-aheadTo say my transition from Treasurer and active officer to my new position has been bumpy would be an understatement. The woman who was to be president but moved away and I had known each other for a few years and would have worked well together. I would have known where I stand with her and what was expected. Not so with the new pres.

I don’t know if it is because conference was not in another city requiring us to travel and stay together in a hotel, or if I just shouldn’t expect to feel the same camaraderie as I did with the last group but something is off this year. (Leadership conference was in San Antonio, and since we didn’t travel, it allowed more board members to attend so there was that as a plus.)

I hate the feeling of not knowing what my position entails and what is expected of me. I don’t like not knowing what is going on. I have the distinct impression that the new president doesn’t like me, though she is nice to me whenever we meet. (There was a blow up last spring before she came president, and we were on opposite sides of the issue. I think she holds this against me.)

I don’t know what it is about this year, but PTA doesn’t seem fun. It is stressing me out, and the kids are noticing. I have even considered just quitting, but we haven’t got to that point just yet. Part of me knows I may just have to accept she is only going to tolerate me, and that I will never be as involved or as connected as I was in the past two years. Only time will tell.

Attending the Texas PTA leadership conference

Imagine thousands of women and men all with the same goal – to improve the lives of their teachers and students. That is exactly the type of people attending the LAUNCH_REG_Web-Banner-300x142Texas Parent-Teacher Association Leadership Conference in Dallas, Texas last month.

Most of us in attendance are officers on our local PTA boards though any PTA member can attend. One school brought their whole PTA board of 20 people!

This was my second year attending the conference. (Last year, it was in Houston and next year it will be in my hometown – San Antonio.)

There were classes to fit every interest level – from the basics of how to do your position (Treasurer, Parliamentarian, President, Fundraising, Secretary, etc.) to PTA issues (how to deal with contentious meetings or other drama, expanding membership, getting volunteers) to parenting issues (Lice, cyber bullying, talking about sex, online safety) and even personal things such as what to cook for dinner and how to save for college.

Last year when I went, it was my first year as Treasurer so most of the classes I took pertained to my position save one, which was on using technology in your presentations. (I already love doing graphics and videos so it was right up my alley and proved very useful.)

This year, since I was already secure in my current position, I mostly took other classes that interested me. That might be why I liked this year’s conference so much better than last year’s.

Here are the Classes and Discussion Groups that I attended.

Classes

Treasurer Basics – Took this one the year before but came in late and thought I could make sure I am doing everything right. However, with all the questions from the audience, the speaker only covered a third of her presentation. This was my least favorite class and the only one I turned in an evaluation form on.

Making the Treasurer’s Job Easier through Financial Transparency – Last year, we bought the program PT Avenue to keep track of our members, volunteers and finances. I took this course to see if I was taking advantage of all the financial features of the software. The speaker was very funny, and I learned a few new tricks.

Increasing Participation in Events and Volunteer Opportunities with PT Avenue – Again, I took this course to better use the features of our new software. I learned some things to pass on to our volunteer coordinator.

Friends, Frenemies and Fitting In – This one was personal. My seven-year-old has already been talking about the drama of the classroom. This week Madison is her friend and the next week she complains Madison is being mean to her. Nora doesn’t like her, and James said this or that about her. And I only see this as getting worse. The course was very good. The woman talked a lot about what parents should do in certain situations and about teaching girls to like themselves.

Bylaws and Standing Rules – You would think this might be a boring topic but the lecture just flew by. I learned a lot and as we update our bylaws in the next year or so, I am sure this course will help out.

Discussion Groups

Why PTA in 5 minutes or Less – This was a fun session where we brainstormed what to discuss with other parents who are reluctant to join the PTA. This was an excellent example from one of the groups.

The value of our PTA is found in the programs and resources we can provide above and beyond what the school can provide. We hope to engage families to take an active role in the lives of their students to help them reach their full potential. It’s about leveraging and enhancing our students’ learning experiences. And through the PTA we can influence legislative action such as advocating for state testing changes and be a voice for our kids.

Conflict Stinks! Can’t we just get along? – We have very little conflict in our PTA, but it happens. This session made me value the excellent parents of our PTA. We certainly are better off than some of the other people who brought up issues in their PTAs.

There were many other classes or discussions I would like to have joined, but there is only so much time. And this doesn’t include the vendor fair, the regular PTA annual meeting, special lunches and banquets. (Of that last list we only made it to the vendor fair for the free samples.)

I went with three other ladies from the PTA, and we never went to a class together so we could gather the most information to share with our board. It was fun, informative weekend and next year, with the conference is in our town, we hope to send even more people to it.

Dealing with PTA and School Fundraisers

The school year begun in August, and already we had our first fundraiser. I have to say – I am not a fan. I don’t like asking people for money or selling them items that they do not want. But with public schools (and probably even private ones) there will always be some type of fundraiser.

This September, the school organized a Fun Run through a company called APEX. This was the first year the school has used this company. APEX comes in for a week or so before the run and goes over some fitness lessons with the kids. They talk about being good citizens, doing the right thing and stuff like that. They also hype the kids up to go fundraising to win prizes. And it works. The kids come home excited to earn a sunglasses, radio-control helicopter, or even a digital camera.

Of course to earn the top prize (a camera) you have to have up to $50 PER lap in pledges. They suggest you contact grandparents, aunts/uncles, neighbors, parents’ co-workers and friends. Grandparents are an easy given but the rest…well not so much.  All of our neighbors and friends have kids who if they aren’t participating in this fundraiser, they have their own fundraisers that they will be giving their money to. So Lexie and Jase had three people donating money. They earned enough to earn the $2 per lap prizes (finger lights and a silicone watch).

IMG_1379[1]On the day of the actual Fun Run, they were so excited. I volunteered to help mark the kids’ (and their respective classmates) T-shirts each time they ran a lap. Both kids were so proud that they ran the maximum number of laps (36). Of course that means I owe $36 per child for the fundraiser having pledged $1 per lap.

This beats the last two years where Jase sold coupon books. We always bought one (as did the grandparents), but we rarely used most of the coupons in the book.

This year the principal has vowed to keep the requests for money to a minimum – or basically, one a month. Of course, he includes even picture day and the book sale into his requests for money. There will always be a few “collect coins for (insert your charity).”

This year the Parent-Teacher Association (who in the past did the coupon book and a walk-a-thon) is sponsoring a 5K run. They figure this is a way to get money from runners and other members from the community instead of just from the parents. It is going to be a big undertaking but with a big payoff – or so we have heard from other PTAs. I am not sure I am gung-ho on this endeavor but am going along with the majority. I liked our walk-a-thon which was very little effort but a good money maker. It also didn’t take over part of my Saturday. But I will go with the majority and give the 5K run a try. The money that we raise will certainly go to good use for the school and our students.