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PTAs on Long Island: Tips for success

This summer's comedy "Bad Moms" portrays some PTA members as, well, a little cray-cray, and joining the parent-teacher association as a foray into a political minefield. “But that’s a movie, and not reality,” says Jennifer Mead, PTA president at the Fifth Avenue Elementary School in the Northport-East Northport school district. (She, incidentally, loved the flick.)

Newsday asked Mead and other PTA leaders for advice on how to successfully navigate the PTA, an organization dedicated to advocating for schoolchildren. Here are 10 tips.

Attend the first PTA meeting of the school year

“That’s where you’re going to find out
Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto/Matej Kastelic

“That’s where you’re going to find out the most information,” says Gail DeClue, a part-time optician and president of the Smithtown Elementary School PTA. Then go to as many subsequent meetings as you can; meetings offer a chance to interact with school personnel such as the building principal.  

Follow the PTA’s website and social media

“Nowadays, that’s what it’s all about,” says Gail
Photo Credit: Dreamstime

“Nowadays, that’s what it’s all about,” says Gail DeClue, a part-time optician and president of the Smithtown Elementary School PTA.  “We have a website, there’s a calendar of events.” If the PTA has a Facebook page, “like it,” she says. Volunteers are often solicited through email blasts, she says.

Understand the PTA’s role

PTAs raise funds to help pay for extra
Photo Credit: Dreamstime

PTAs raise funds to help pay for extra programming such as author assemblies through the Arts in Education programs. Fundraising events do include the word “fun” — a school’s family game night, for instance, raises money but also is entertaining. PTAs might run the school’s book fair and encourage literacy through Parents as Reading Partners programs. PTAs address hot-button education issues such as testing, says Jennifer Mead, PTA president at the Fifth Avenue Elementary School in the Northport-East Northport school district. Officially joining a local PTA entails a minimal annual membership fee, but it includes benefits such as discounts with Hertz and Staples, she says.

Don’t buy into “cliques”

“It does appear very cliquey, it does. It
Photo Credit: Getty Images/Tassii

“It does appear very cliquey, it does. It is very intimidating,” says Vanessa Carlson, who works full-time as a second vice president at New York Community Bank and is past treasurer of the PTA at Bowling Green Elementary School in the East Meadow School District. But the reason that it appears that way is because the same people volunteer during the years their kids are together in the school, and through that connection they become friends, Carlson says.

Says Gail DeClue, president of the Smithtown Elementary School PTA, of her PTA board: “We constantly text all day long.” That doesn’t mean the leaders don’t welcome new blood, she says.

Volunteer for anything and everything

If you have a talent or interest, there’s
Photo Credit: Getty Images/Terry J Alcorn

If you have a talent or interest, there’s likely a use for it. Maybe you’re a graphic artist and can make posters for events, or perhaps you are web savvy and can take charge of the website. Parents can volunteer to chair school events such as a bingo night or a school fair, or can sign up as a worker bee just to help on a particular day, says Shawne Albero, co-president of the Northport-East Northport SEPTA, which is the special education PTA for the district.

Propose new ideas as well: “I wanted to see more spirit days at school. Maybe crazy hat day, or pajama day,” says Gail DeClue, a part-time optician and president of the Smithtown Elementary School PTA. She suggested it, and the PTA said, “OK, let’s do it.”

Working parents are welcome

“That’s the biggest stereotype — that you have
Photo Credit: Dreamstime

“That’s the biggest stereotype — that you have to be a stay-at-home mom to be in the PTA,”  says Shawne Albero, co-president of the Northport-East Northport SEPTA, the district's special education PTA. “You can give as little as one hour — there’s a place for everyone.” However, there are some challenges for parents who work full-time, such as making it to PTA meetings at schools that only have PTA meetings in the mornings. “We have that problem at Northport Middle School,” Albero says, where monthly PTA meetings are at 9:15 a.m. on Thursdays. “It’s frustrating.” But the group updates on social media as soon as possible. “That’s critical,” Albero says. And many schools hold meetings in the evenings to accommodate working parents, sometimes after members have requested to do so.

Dads are welcome, too

Vanessa Carlson, past treasurer of the PTA at
Photo Credit: Getty Images/Susan Chiang

Vanessa Carlson, past treasurer of the PTA at Bowling Green Elementary School in  East Meadow, is chairing her school’s fall festival, a communitywide event that is one of the PTA’s biggest fundraisers of the year. Her husband, Jason, a surgical technician, is building all the games for the festival — including a football toss and a baseball throw — so that the PTA doesn’t have to spend money to rent games.

Michael Sgroi of Brentwood joined the PTA and rose through its ranks: He eventually became a school board trustee and is a past president of the district’s PTA Council, which oversees the PTAs of all the district school buildings.

No baby sitter? No problem

“Kids are always welcome at PTA meetings,” Carlson
Photo Credit: Dreamstime

“Kids are always welcome at PTA meetings,” Carlson says, who takes her 8-year-old twins. “I have them bring coloring books and crayons and tablets and they sit at a table,” says Vanessa Carlson, who works full-time as a second vice president at New York Community Bank and is past treasurer of the PTA at Bowling Green Elementary School in the East Meadow School District.

Nonnative speakers get help

In Brentwood, for instance, a significant number of
Photo Credit: Getty Images/Alvarez

In Brentwood, for instance, a significant number of parents aren’t native English speakers, says Michael Sgroi of Brentwood, who joined the PTA and rose through its ranks: He eventually became a school board trustee and is a past president of the district’s PTA Council, which oversees the PTAs of all the district school buildings., so the building PTAs typically will have translators at meetings so parents won’t be hampered by the language barrier, he says. “The PTA newsletter is in both English and Spanish,” Sgroi says.

Remember, it’s about the kids

Try to ignore any PTA politics. “It doesn’t
Photo Credit: Dreamstime

Try to ignore any PTA politics. “It doesn’t exist so you can be Queen of the School or King of the School,” says Shawne Albero, co-president of the Northport-East Northport SEPTA, which is the special education PTA for the district. “It exists so we can do a great job for our kids.” 

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