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It Was Nice Knowing You, PTA

When school began in August, I had every intention of involving myself in my kindergartner's school. And what better way than getting involved in the PTA?

So, I attended the first meeting. A decent sized crowd (about 50 people) showed up. Budgets were passed out. The officers went over money that comes in and where it goes. Parents asked some questions, with the most interesting one revolving around issues that had been raised on the school's listserv. Then came the second meeting. The crowd had already dwindled to about two dozen parents and the conversation had little to add to my personal experiences -- I simply felt guilty for missing bedtimes. The best part was a run-in chat I had after the meeting with the principal. The third meeting wasn't much different, giving me no qualms about missing the December meeting, which fell during Hanukkah. My first child's in kindergarten, and I'm already jaded -- uh-oh!

Compare those couple dozen parents to the school's Yahoo listserv, which currently has more than 450 members, and there's no question about which reaches more parents. So it wasn't much of a surprise to read Daniel de Vise's "As PTA Groups Move Online, So Does Dissension" earlier this week.

"As school e-mail lists multiply in size and reach, they are increasingly becoming ensnared in contests for control of the medium and the message. Principals are accused of trying to silence their discussion-group critics. Parents have allegedly stolen or hijacked e-mail lists. Moderators who step in to halt vitriolic threads are sometimes accused of censorship."

So far, the most engaging conversations of the year on our listserv have revolved around the playground (two aides, 100 kids and rules banning tag) and a controversial fund-raising assembly.

Are you more engaged on your school's listserv than at the PTA meetings at school? Are in-person PTA's groups a thing of the past? What issues arise on your school's online forums?

Today's Talker: Daniel J. Solove, associate law professor at George Washington University and author of "The Future of Reputation: Gossip, Rumor and Privacy on the Internet," will be online at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the Megan Meier-MySpace suicide case and the growing issues of free speech, privacy and reputation on the Web.

By Stacey Garfinkle |  January 10, 2008; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Elementary Schoolers , Tweens
Previous: Little Girls, Big Limos | Next: Off to the Hospital

Comments


I've did a blog post on this topic the other day at: http://themorechild.wordpress.com/2008/01/07/pta-listservs-community-controversy-censorship/

Wait until you see the PTA participation rates at the middle school level.... I know of one school that has scrapped general meetings and just holds meetings of officers to which people are welcome to show up.

Listserv communication is a modern necessity. People are just too busy. But efforts do need to be made to have folks see each other face to face once in a while as well. Fore example our elem. school does a big community picnic...

Posted by: SwitchedOnMom | January 9, 2008 5:10 PM | Report abuse

In my experience, the PTA spent its time talking about fundraisers, raising money and spending money. On the listserv, we talked about issues: homework, teachers, curriculums, and the playground. Maybe if this were the other way around people would be more involved in the PTA?

Posted by: jen | January 10, 2008 8:09 AM | Report abuse

PTAs are about fundraising, period. They have no say in school policy. If you want to be involved in that you need to join the Parent/Principal Advisory Board (if the school has one).

Posted by: hairspray | January 10, 2008 8:39 AM | Report abuse

Our school does email important dates, fliers and letters from the Principal. We do not have an on-line discussion.

Our meetings (of which I attend only 2-3 a year- I am not a model PTA member by any means) do involve discussions of issues and we have a vote in some school policy decisions. Our Principal and several teachers attend all meetings. We are a walking school district and our PTA is responsibble for fighting the municipality and getting our kids more crosswalks, additional guards, stop signs at several intersections and adequate sidewalks where there were not any. Our PTA is responsible for applying for grants that have improved our playground and athletic fields.

I guess what I am saying is, if people want to complain about what the PTA does they should try and improve it. It is my experience that the people who complain the loudest are often the ones who are waiting for someone else to make a difference.

Posted by: Momof5 | January 10, 2008 9:09 AM | Report abuse

I use the online approach much more then the face to face PTA. The PTA just seems to fund raise and buy equipment for the school. I did pay the $8 to join because I felt obligated and they do send me email messages once a month on national educational issues. But most of the PTA stuff is really boring. Like someone said, they have no say in policy. Although I do think they buy some nice things for the kids, I am not particularly interested in fund raising and wouldn't want to participate on line either. I do purchase things from all their fund raisers but it gets to be a bit much. SF in September and they just sent out a pizza fund raiser last week. I mean seriously, right after the holidays, they expect us to hit people up for a donation/purchase. It wasn't as if we didn't hit up every one who was willing to in September. I bought one item and sent the form back in.

Posted by: foamgnome | January 10, 2008 9:18 AM | Report abuse

Though I am all in favor of improving the convenience of PTA meetings, I think the use of the internet to do this does raise some interesting questions about access to the forum. What about those parents who are not as technologically savvy? (often those parents that most educators would like to see involved.) Is there an effective way to merge the convenience of the internet with the general accessability of the public meeting? I would like to see that.

Posted by: David S | January 10, 2008 9:45 AM | Report abuse

I find that there are people in the PTA at meetings that only want to hear themselves talk. I do not have 90 minutes to spare to hear someone who doesn't have a job detail WHAT they did rather than detail the results. Plus, there's always one person who did the wrong work on their task so their results are pushed off to another meeting.

One main issue is computer competency. We have some baby boomer parents who are still checking their email once a day instead of "Always-on" and sometimes they just try to parking lot topics until they can be discussed online. What they don't realize is that when we get the system working so we can assign tasks and receive the information hours or days later, then the monthly meetings will be as meaningless as they should be.

I mean, seriously, is anyone still in a bowling league? Then why should their be large-scale PTA meetings?

Posted by: DCer | January 10, 2008 9:50 AM | Report abuse

Our school (Pyle) is the reverse. Policies are discussed at PTSA meetings. The principal always attends. In contrast, our discussion email list has very little discussion, probably because the PTSA meetings work so well.

Posted by: Don Libes | January 10, 2008 10:05 AM | Report abuse

I'm sorry to say that I am not involved in the PTA at all anymore. I tried to get involved when my oldest was in elementary school (he's 19 now)but I never attended a meeting that was worthwhile. And, yes, the main thing discussed was money, money, money. Any fundraiser at school times 3 plus sports team fundraisers is asking A LOT from families. If the meetings were attended by the principal that at least would give an air of authenticity to them. Then maybe we could discuss some hard hitting issues about nasty behavior on the bus, profanity on the basketball court, why one teacher routinely gives 50 algebra problems EVERY NIGHT. Until then count me out. I'm too busy for nonsense. And, I'm much more agreeable to being part of something done online where I have some flexibility at work.

Posted by: momof3boys | January 10, 2008 10:31 AM | Report abuse

People here seem seriously confused about what PTAs do, they do fund raising for the school first and foremost. Does everyone know that now? Just checking.

Posted by: Anonymous | January 10, 2008 10:44 AM | Report abuse

The PTA supports activities for the schools. In our school, they fund field trips, assemblies, art programs, science programs and sporting events. They provide services like directories, newsletters and websites that are designed to help parents stay informed about the school. The fundraising is done so that the above can happen.

So, you have to have people in charge of the fundraising events. You have to have people in charge of the newsletters, yearbooks, creating the directories, etc. The meetings are done to make sure it all comes together in an organized way. There are national and state guidelines that must be met during these meetings. I don't often find the meetings interesting but I meet people there and we have something in common to start a conversation when we meet in other situations.

The enrichment comes from working on projects and getting to know others. It's like work. Once you work with someone you get to know them a little better and appreciate their talents and contributions. It is hard to quantify why being on the PTA helps my kids. I can say that I know the principal and am comfortable having conversations. I know the details of what's going on at school and they whys and hows. My kids know I'm involved and they actually appreciate that.

The best way to be a part of your kids education is to actually volunteer in the classroom, which is different that being on the PTA. But you will find that there's overlap in the two groups.

Posted by: free bird | January 10, 2008 10:47 AM | Report abuse

Interesting observation of the 5th grade students at our school this year: All the children of the PTA parents got the "cool" teacher. Hmmmm...

Membership has its priveledges!

Posted by: DandyLion | January 10, 2008 12:11 PM | Report abuse

Interesting observation of the 5th grade students at our school this year: All the children of the PTA parents got the "cool" teacher. Hmmmm

This is why I don't like the PTA. The kids should be treated the same, but when you have people who can be at the school 24/7, it doesn't work out that way.

Posted by: Irish girl | January 10, 2008 12:43 PM | Report abuse

"Listserv communication is a modern necessity."

No it's not. The world survived just fine before listservs. No one really cares about your opinions but gee, that won't stop you from posting them incessantly on your school listserv will it?!?! Get a grip on your inflated ego. You make me sick to my stomach.

Posted by: Anonymous | January 10, 2008 12:48 PM | Report abuse

"This is why I don't like the PTA. The kids should be treated the same, but when you have people who can be at the school 24/7, it doesn't work out that way."

I totally agree. These PTA losers will be the ones spending thousands of dollars on SAT prep courses for their below-median intelligence children. Because, my God, they're rich. How could they have such underperforming children. IT MUST BE THE TEACHER'S FAULT. Get a grip. Send your little losers to a private school where they can be coddled and wind up like the oh-so-successful children of the idiots on the Real Housewives of Orange County.

Posted by: Anonymous | January 10, 2008 12:55 PM | Report abuse

No it's not. The world survived just fine before listservs.
----

and the world survived before everything, but it didn't survive well and there were mountains of inefficiencies.

The listserv is a necessity, not a convenience and you probably stand around wondering why everyone thinks listservs are great and you don't. You're allowed to be a minority when you're as wrong as this.

Posted by: Anonymous | January 10, 2008 1:00 PM | Report abuse

This is why I don't like the PTA. The kids should be treated the same,
---

how ridiculous! You're unsuccessful as a parent and you blame the PTA for being better parents. sigh.

Our PTA room mother works a Wednesday-Sunday schedule and can be on campus Monday and Tuesday. She is doing more than I ever would , but it's what she wants to do and she's getting more benefits for her kids for her efforts.

"every kid should be treated the same"

Sure, and I want the same apartment that Donald Trump has, why can't I be treated the same?

Posted by: Anonymous | January 10, 2008 1:03 PM | Report abuse

I totally agree. These PTA losers will be the ones spending thousands of dollars on SAT prep courses for their below-median intelligence children.
----

How awful! How dare they try to help their children get ahead in life! The nerve!

Please, I watched my idiot friends get accepted to better colleges than I did and I how did that make me feel when their parents did the legwork my parents refused to do?

Posted by: Anonymous | January 10, 2008 1:40 PM | Report abuse

"People here seem seriously confused about what PTAs do, they do fund raising for the school first and foremost. Does everyone know that now? Just checking."

Says who? Texas PTA: "To support and speak on behalf of children and youth in the schools, in the community and before governmental bodies and other organizations that make decisions affecting children;to assist parents in developing the skills they need to raise and protect their children; and to encourage parent and public involvement in the public schools of this nation."

Fundraising should not be the main priority of any PTA. It should be to educate parents & teachers on how to do their respective jobs better.

Posted by: momof3boys | January 10, 2008 2:46 PM | Report abuse

I don't even know what a listserv is -- and my kids are in high and middle school. Is it automatic emails from the school? If so, no thanks, I am more than capable of checking the web site or reading the flyers my kids bring home.

Posted by: mnm | January 10, 2008 2:54 PM | Report abuse

I don't even know what a listserv is -- and my kids are in high and middle school.
-----

oh man, what are your kids doing on the computer that you don't know to ask about? my sister in law is like this and her daughter's profile on myspace showed her as three years older than she was.

Posted by: Anonymous | January 10, 2008 2:57 PM | Report abuse

Interesting observation of the 5th grade students at our school this year: All the children of the PTA parents got the "cool" teacher. Hmmmm

This is why I don't like the PTA.

Irish girl,

But is the "cool" teacher any better than the rest?

Posted by: maryland_mother | January 10, 2008 3:17 PM | Report abuse

"I mean, seriously, is anyone still in a bowling league?" - DCer

Umm...yes. What are you implying anyway?

Posted by: Al | January 10, 2008 3:27 PM | Report abuse

Sure, and I want the same apartment that Donald Trump has, why can't I be treated the same

Well, this gave me a good laugh. If you can't tell the difference between wanting an apartment like trump's and a free and fair education for all children, then I won't be the one to point it out to you.

By the way, my kids are not in school yet, I am just going on what I remember from my own school experince.

I have no idea if the cool teacher is any better than the other teachers, but that's not the point. The point is that children should be treated fairly and so should working parents.

Posted by: Irish girl | January 10, 2008 3:29 PM | Report abuse

Interesting observation of the 5th grade students at our school this year: All the children of the PTA parents got the "cool" teacher. Hmmmm...
----------------------
In the first place, the parents who are around the school know who the cool teachers are. The privilege goes to the teachers. We don't get to pick teachers but teachers can pick students. So the teachers pick the kids with parents who help out. A good principal will try to keep it in balance but there is an advantage to being involved.

As to is the "cool" teacher the best? There are just some teachers who are amazing. My kids have each had a couple of those -- wish there were more. But keep an open mind. Sometimes the new teachers come in with great enthusiasm and open hearts while the experienced teachers only want to teach the kids they want to teach, not the ones they get. Sometimes the quiet, unknown teacher could be just the right fit for your kid. I've had more than one year with some "great" teacher who was a disaster for my kid.

Posted by: free bird | January 10, 2008 3:43 PM | Report abuse

"But is the "cool" teacher any better than the rest?"

Yes!

Although today's evaluation of an educational system has turned into how effectively a teacher can cram as much information down the throats of their students to have it regurgitated for state testing...

the "cool" teacher will inspire the love of learning, culture, sciences and most of all, passion for the knowledge of the fascinating world that exists around her students.

Which one would you pick for your child?

Posted by: DandyLion | January 10, 2008 3:46 PM | Report abuse

I think listserv's are a good thing.

Not everybody has all day to hang out at school picking up on the buzz. It lets working parents, you know those stiffs who pay all the taxes and fund teacher salaries, keep up with what's happening.

I ran fund raising for two years at our school. The "profit" on some of the junk that kids sell is hardly there. For all the work that was involved we'd have been better off just to ask parents for a donation of $100, which was what some did.

Posted by: RoseG | January 10, 2008 4:07 PM | Report abuse

I was the third of three kids. My mom never hung out at the school or did anything for the school, etc (she was a SAHM - well, she wasn't ever actually HOME, but that's another story).

My oldest sister had the best teacher for sixth grade, I don't know if it was luck or not, but my mom made d*** sure that my other sister and I were in his class when we got to sixth grade. She obviously spent lots of time persuading whoever needed persuading.

The principle at my kid's school asks for parents to write her personal letters about the kids if they'd like. We did not do this. Friends of ours did, and that's how one of my kid's friends ended up in his Kgarten class.

Posted by: atlmom | January 10, 2008 4:44 PM | Report abuse

I had high hopes of being involved when my daughter started first grade. My experience is that it's an insider's club for those who don't work outside the home. They don't want working parents butting in.

Posted by: Chelmsford | January 11, 2008 8:07 AM | Report abuse

"The listserv is a necessity, not a convenience..."

What a sad commentary on your pathetic little life. Why don't you try loving your child and spending some time with her/him rather than spouting your nonsense on God-knows-how-many listservs. I'll pray for your child/children. Better yet, I'll go visit them in prison in a couple of years.

Posted by: Anonymous | January 11, 2008 11:07 AM | Report abuse

"You're allowed to be a minority when you're as wrong as this."

And by the way, your racist comments are unnecesary. Yes, I'm African-American. And your comment disgusts me.

Posted by: Anonymous | January 11, 2008 11:09 AM | Report abuse

"Please, I watched my idiot friends get accepted to better colleges than I did and I how did that ..."

Maybe if you had been able to put a sentence together, you would have been accepted at a good school too.

Posted by: Anonymous | January 11, 2008 11:11 AM | Report abuse

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