New Guidance: Tech and Protecting Student Data

In 1981, National PTA’s Board of Directors first adopted a position statement on the importance of protecting student data and privacy. Over three decades later, the growth and use of technology has provided for greater opportunities in the classroom, but also caution from families and education professionals around the protection of student data and privacy. This week, the U.S. Department of Education’s Privacy Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) released new guidance to help school systems and educators interpret and understand laws and best practices in protecting student privacy. 

For today’s post, we hear from Cameron Brenchley from the U.S. Department of Education on the new guidance.

Reposted from Homeroom: The Official Blog of the Department of Education

Today, more than ever, schools and districts are managing a lot of digital data. Some of that has to do with teaching and learning, but there’s plenty more: from bus routes, to food service records, to enrollment and attendance information. Districts and schools are working to be more efficient and smarter about storing and using data. Many have chosen to move data “in the cloud,” meaning off-site data centers that securely store information.

PTAC VideoThis advancement in data storage has created some important and reasonable questions about what steps are being taken to insure that student data is kept secure and private. In a speech yesterday at the Common Sense Media Privacy Zone Conference, in Washington, D.C., Secretary of Education Arne Duncan reaffirmed that school systems “owe families the highest standard of security and privacy.”

What I want to say to you today is that the benefits for students of technological advancement can’t be a trade-off with the security and privacy of our children.

We must provide our schools, teachers and students cutting-edge learning tools. And we must protect our children’s privacy. We can and must accomplish both goals – but we will have to get smarter to do it.

Duncan noted that many school systems are showing leadership on the privacy front, such as the Kansas State Department of Education, which has developed an innovative data quality certification program to train staff on data quality practices and techniques, including privacy and security.

Read Secretary Duncan’s speech – Technology in Education: Privacy and Progress

In a panel following the speech, Acting Deputy Education Sec. Jim Shelton talked with Julie Brill of the Federal Trade Commission about further actions the federal government can take to protect student privacy in education, floating the possibility of joint efforts between the two agencies.

Earlier today, the U.S. Department of Education’s Privacy Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) released new guidance to help school systems and educators interpret and understand the major laws and best practices protecting student privacy while using online educational services. The guidance addresses a range of concerns regarding the security and privacy of student data.

Click here to read the new guidance.

Cameron Brenchley is director of digital strategy at the U.S. Department of Education

A Week Chock-full of Family Engagement

As the Take Your Family to School Week (TYFTSW) chairperson for Euper Lane Elementary PTA, I am happy to report that we had a fantastic week this year! This is the third year that I’ve enjoyed working together with teachers and staff to put on a week full of family events for TYFTSW. Our local paper, The Times Record, even wrote a full page article on the event! Our teachers, staff, and parents make being part of PTA such a great experience.

Euper Lane began this year’s TYFTSW with the One School, One Book program. Each family received a copy of “The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane” by Kate DiCamillo, as well as a bookmark and reading schedule. We asked all families to read about 10 minutes each night and to keep track of their nightly reading. To keep families motivated and on track, we offer trivia and prizes each day! To celebrate reaching the end of the novel, we are partnering with our local public library to host a family event this March.

Tuesday, we hosted a Family Technology Night. Teachers and students paired together to showcase how technology is used in their instructions. Students also were able to showcase projects they completed. The Morgan Nick Foundation joined us to talk with families about internet safety. Title 1 Parent Involvement,  BYOD, and e-books were made available for parents to access. Cox Cable was also there to share information about their Connect2Compete program. We had English to Spanish translation available for our attendees. At the end of the evening, our PTA handed out 190 boxed to-go dinners for each family to enjoy a meal together. We also sent a survey home with each family on the event. The night was a great success with great feedback!

Wednesday, we started with a Donut Drive-Thru, a fun and special way for our PTA to thank all of the families who safely transport their students to school. We handed out roughly 300 donuts by 8:05am! We invited families dropping off students to come inside and read the first chapter of our One School, One Book reading selection, “The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane,” with their student’s class. Edward Tulane even made a special appearance!

Thursday, we had a Kindergarten Grandparent’s Luncheon with drawings for door prizes to add to the fun.

On Friday, we had Valentines parties in each classroom. The PTA provided refreshments and parents were invited to attend.

The 14th Annual Variety Show was the grand finale of the week. The students put on quite a show with over 35 acts in this year’s event. The participation was fantastic!

I am very much looking forward to planning next year’s TYFTSW! If you’re not already involved in Take Your Family to School Week, I encourage each PTA to participate in this great National PTA program! Family involvement truly does lead to student success!

Jill Flanary is the Take Your Family to School Week Chairperson at Euper Lane Elementary PTA in Fort Smith, Arkansas.


A Field Trip To Remember

On a cold, rainy morning in January, the U.S. Department of Education auditorium fill with excited chatter while PTA members, arts education professionals and families from across the nation took their seats for the National PTA Reflections® program’s Art Exhibit Opening and Ribbon-cutting ceremony featuring the 2012-2013 theme: The Magic of a Moment.

The ceremony recognized over 200 student artists from across the country with special guest appearances by national award recipients, Bailey Callahan and Jessica Clay. U.S. Acting Deputy Secretary of Education Jim Shelton, President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities Executive Director Rachel Goslins, National PTA President Otha Thornton and National PTA Reflections Committee Chair Dawn Small discussed the significance of the arts, the benefits of arts education and the importance of integrating the arts into STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math).

Read more about STEAM (STEM + ARTS) in Our Children Magazine Dec/Jan edition.


Student artist Joshua Williams “Notes”

After the ceremony, the visiting families mingled with a whole class of local students from Amidon-Bowen Elementary School who graciously attended.  The young arts-enthusiasts took time out of their day to celebrate the arts and the humanities with the PTA. This was truly a magical moment.

We soon learned that this was just one of many arts-based field trips Washington, DC students experienced due to their school’s partnership with the DC Arts and Humanities Education Collaborative (DCAEHC). This collaborative partnership provides students with access to over 70 artists and arts organizations to “bring standards and curriculum to life.”

DCAEHC Program Director, Tracey Alperstein, explains that through school-community partnerships, students attend field trips and receive in-class arts learning. In addition, teachers also receive training in arts integration as well as conflict resolution.


National PTA President Otha Thornton with local students at the 2014 Reflections Art Exhibit

The DCAEHC supports many DC area schools like Amidon-Bowen, with ninety-two percent minority students.  Their experiences in the arts and at the PTA Reflections exhibit will be remembered for years to come, fostering a life-long appreciation for the arts. Hopefully, this gleeful class will be inspired by this year’s Reflections participants to explore their own creativity.

Learn more about Reflections at

Communication Skills Building for Parents of Preteen Girls

Hispanic FamilyThe U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office on Women’s Health (OWH) developed the Communication Skills Building program to help parents and caregivers improve communication skills with their preteen and teenage daughters. All interested PTA leaders and parents are invited to learn more and get trained on these new resources at one of our webinar events.

Research shows that girls who have strong and open lines of communication with their parents are more likely to finish school and less likely to get involved with drugs and alcohol or become a teenage parent. Experts say important conversations on key prevention topics should begin as early as possible, at least between the ages of 9 and 11.

OWH led focus groups with African-American and Hispanic communities. The focus groups revealed a disconnect between parents’ and daughters’ understanding of each other’s behaviors and expectations. Parents said they needed help learning ways to speak with their daughters. They wanted to learn better ways to talk about hard topics like sex, drugs, and dating. Parents also asked for materials to help them, such as instructional videos and tip sheets.

With the aid of a Facilitator’s Guide, online videos, and a Tip Sheet for Parents, community leaders can now use Communication Skills Building to help educate parents in their communities. Leaders can download and review the Facilitator’s Guide and related tools for African-American and/or Hispanic communities, using them to lead sessions with parents to help practice better parenting skills. PTA leaders are welcome to use the Communication Skills Building tools with any other course designed for parents and caregivers in their communities.

Register now to join us for a webinar training event:

  • February 25, 1pm ET (materials targeting African-American communities)
  • February 26, 1pm ET (materials targeting Hispanic communities IN ENGLISH)
  • February 27, 1pm ET (materials targeting Hispanic communities IN SPANISH)

We look forward to sharing these new resources with parents and PTA leaders, like you.

Nancy C. Lee, M.D., is the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Health – Women’s Health and the Director of the Office on Women’s Health (OWH) in the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.


National PTA & The Importance of Diversity, Inclusion

National PTA is now accepting applications for the 2014 Jan Harp Domene Diversity and Inclusion Award. This award recognizes PTAs that best demonstrate outstanding achievement in the areas of diversity and inclusion, as well as efforts to end discriminatory practices. The award will be presented to one state PTA and one local, council or district PTA at the end of the 2014 National PTA Annual Convention, June 19-22 in Austin, TX

2014 Jan Harp Domene Award_FINAL 2The current focus on diversity and minority leadership began during the PTA presidential term of Lois Jean White.  She promoted the Urban Initiative, supported a PTA program called Walk A Mile in My Shoes, and had a partnership with Ebony magazine.  Shirley Igo continued this emphasis in her term with the Hispanic Initiative.  Jan Harp Domene was an active participant of this program since California was one of the targeted states of the initiative while she was in a leadership position of the California State PTA.  Shirley and Jan formed a strong friendship while working on this project.  They both recognized the importance of involving all parents in the education of their children.

During my term as president, Jan and I worked with Warlene Gary, who was the National PTA CEO at the time, to develop an ongoing initiative to promote leadership among minority PTA members and to encourage them to take on leadership roles in their own PTAs, as well as at State and National levels of PTA.  On October 27, 2006, the first Minority Leader’s Conference was born in Detroit, Michigan.

In Jan’s term, she continued to support PTA sponsored Minority Leadership Conferences.  She also worked to include minority leadership at all levels of PTA.  She identified and helped minority leaders to rise to state and national leadership positions.  She recruited at-large National PTA board members so the National board was reflective of the diversity of our entire membership.

Jan was always passionate about including and involving parents who found it difficult to become involved or who did not always feel welcome in PTA.  Those groups included military families, dads, and families of color.  As a native of New York and long time resident of California, Jan recognized the challenges of minority families.  She was a great connector. Everywhere she went Jan knew someone and brought them into the PTA family.  Her values are reflected in her children who adopted minority children.  She often showed us pictures of her multi-cultural family that enjoyed the benefit of her love and devotion as a grandmother.   I am sure Jan is smiling down upon all of us, not so much for honoring her by naming this award for her, but for continuing the effort to involve every parent of every child with one voice.

Anna Weselak is a past National PTA president, 2005-2007.

ENGAGE! In Shared Power

Basic CMYKThe National Standards for Family School Partnerships focuses on what parents, schools and communities can do together to support student success. The fifth of the six standards focuses on shared power. The goal of this standard is to strengthen the family’s voice in shared decision making. Ask yourself, are all families full partners in making decisions that affect their children at school and in the community?

Here are a few indicators that demonstrate a school has met the standard for shared power!

  • The school has established policy to ensure that parents have an equal voice in all major decisions that affect children, such as principal selection and budget allocation.
  • Parent leaders work with the school improvement team to adopt effective strategies to engage families in reducing achievement gaps between groups of students.
  • Parent leaders are trained in facilitation skills such as brainstorming, role-plays, and small group activities that encourage everyone to speak.
  • The principal and parent leaders personally invite public officials to meetings to discuss ideas, issues, and problems in the community.
  • The PTA parent leaders build the organizations effectiveness by recruiting and maintaining a leadership team that reflects the school and community and by aligning all programs and practices with PTAs National Standards for Family-School Partnerships.

The following are some of the resources available from National PTA and our partners to encourage schools, PTAs and families to work together as partners in decision-making about children’s well-being:

To get started, identify all the ways your school can include and consult parents in decisions that affect the school community. Make sure the PTA or parent group membership and leadership is reflective of the school community. Also, consider programs and activities that develop social and political connections.

ENGAGE! is a weekly column on Family Engagement written by Sherri Wilson, Senior Manager of Family and Community Engagement at the National PTA. Sherri is the former Director of the Alabama Parent Information and Resource Center and is currently responsible for developing and implementing programs related to family and community engagement at the National PTA.

Grandparents Give Support With Grandfamilies PTSA

GrandfamiliesIn Grandfamilies PTSA (GPTSA), our community-based group, the guiding focus is support derived from networking with a number of people having similar family circumstances: most of us are grandparents responsible for raising our grandchildren. The issues inherent in this relationship transcend school boundaries, and our members from across the city—with our community partners–help each other in getting our children successfully through school.

Several situations give an idea of just some of the ways our members continually “step up.”  In one of them, a GPTSA grandparent member saw that two of her grandchildren were having difficulty in school and in danger of failing.  Wanting the best for her grandchildren and not knowing how to address this situation, the grandmother understandably was under great stress.   So she reached out to her GPTSA network.  Members gave her insight into how they had handled similar situations, engaging teachers and administrators in the process.  She found that school staff was more than receptive to supporting her and her grandchildren. They gladly offered every  resource at their disposal to this cooperative, actively interested grandparent.  That might sound obvious and intuitive, but too often caregivers wait until it’s too late to make a difference or don’t try at all to intervene in difficult school situations.  Encouragement from our members let this caring grandmother know that she did have options and that there were people willing to help.

Certainly there are “tip of the iceberg” issues  represented by failing grades and social conflicts at school.   Beneath these, though, are the situations with which GPTSA members most valuably step up to help each other.  In many instances, the grandparent-grandchild relationship at home can be difficult, full of heartbreaking friction.  Wanting so much for their grandchildren and not having the emotional or physical energy they had as young parents, grandparents often can feel overwhelmed by the demands of being responsible for children at an older age.  Our members serve as nonjudgmental sounding boards and sometimes shoulders to lean on during those times.

In addition we reach out to the community with resource fairs that include mobile food bank distributions, free gently used books, school supplies, and health screenings, among other services.

So our members step up to support each other and the community in ways that are practical as well as emotional. Circumstances determine which is more important at any given time

In your community or at your child’s school there is a PTA that needs the help and involvement of caring, committed people. If you are not already reaching out to one of these please consider doing so. You will get as much as you give.

Annette Saunders is president of the Grandfamilies PTSA in Baltimore, Maryland. Learn more about the work of the Grandfamilies PTSA.

National PTA Committee Member Receives Top Award for Community Service

Jose Antonio TijerinoCongratulations to National PTA Diversity Committee Member Jose Antonio Tijerino on being honored with the United States Hispanic Leadership Institute’s Cesar Chavez Community Service Award! He will be receiving the prestigious award in Chicago on February 21, 2014. We had a chance to ask him about the award, and about his work with PTA.

One Voice: What is your involvement with PTA?

Tijerino:  I was on the board with Otha under Jan many years ago and worked on various issues including honoring the children of the Mendez family with the big PTA award for their work in desegregating California schools six years before Brown vs. Board of Education.  I left and then Otha asked me to rejoin when he became president last year.


One Voice: Tell us about the award.

Tijerino: I serve the Latino community and the greatest country in the world –America– through innovative programs to inspire, prepare, connect and position youth for leadership and for industries which are priorities for America.  I’m in a position of privilege because I serve.  To get an award for doing what I love to do for those I’m privileged to serve is overwhelming – especially from Dr. Juan Andrade who is a role model of mine.  But I don’t expect awards — it’s what I’m supposed to do.


One Voice:  How does it feel to be recognized in this way?

Tijerino: The achievement was reached through the work and support of my staff, my board, my sponsors, my family and community partners which include the PTA.  I’m proud of the work we’ve all been able to do together.  I’m just the one who is physically going up to receive the award but it’s on the behalf of those I mentioned.  I’m blessed to be able to be in a position as the head of my organization and having a national platform to “imagine, create and impact,” as I like to say.  Again, receiving an award named after Cesar Chavez and given to me by Dr. Juan Andrade is what makes it even more special.  To get a pat on the back from Juan would be rewarding enough but getting an actual award is very humbling.


One Voice: What advice would you give to other PTA members about community service involvement?

Tijerino: Make an impact by filling a gap in your community, school or workforce by listening to the needs of the community, school or workforce.  Don’t be redundant and do what’s already been done.  Make sure to leverage your expertise, access and passion to make an impact.  And be actionable; don’t wait.  If you want to make change and motivate others, be ready to do all the work and give all the credit and make someone feel good about their involvement so they are invested.  Focus on what you’re trying to change or get done and put everything else aside – it will weigh you down.  How much farther and faster would you run without dragging a bag full of resentment, ego, judgments, conflicts and territory?  You’d get much farther a lot faster.

Goal of PTA program is to Empower Parents, Guardians

Reposted from

MerleneDavisI dreaded parent-teacher conferences, especially when they involved my boys.

Sometimes it seemed the teacher and I weren’t talking about the same child. Behavior allowed in the teacher’s classroom was not behavior accepted at home.

And when the meetings started to involve a team of teachers seemingly versus just me, all I wanted was out of there.

“We are trying to reach parents like you,” said Jessica Berry, family and community liaison for Fayette County Public Schools. Berry is a part of the public schools’ partnership with the 16th District PTA to make our schools less intimidating to parents and other community members.

The National PTA created a program to facilitate that process called Urban Family Engagement Network, and the local district was awarded a $20,000 grant to implement it over a two-year period.

“It is to be used to educate the parents and to get them more engaged in their students’ education,” said James Brown, chairman of the network.

Through a series of nine weekly sessions, parents, guardians and interested community members will meet to learn what makes public schools tick. The hope is that when parents become familiar with how the system works, intimidation will be lessened if not eliminated. They then will become more involved in their children’s schools and with their children’s education.

Organizers hope to add a Spanish component next year.

The next session, which runs Feb. 19 through April 23, will be the second conducted in Fayette County. The first one was in the fall and from that session, one person has decided to run for a seat on the site-based council and another is planning to try for an executive position with the PTA at her child’s school.

The session topics were selected to give parents and guardians a clearer picture of what is going on, Brown said, adding, “It provides an opportunity for them to be introduced to key players.”

For example, he said, Melanie Trowel, who teaches at the Carter G. Woodson Academy and who was selected 2014 Middle School Teacher of the Year, talked about the parent-teacher conferences and acronyms that teachers use.

“Some parents don’t know what questions to ask,” Brown said. “They don’t want to look stupid. She gave them the kind of information they would need and questions to ask.”

Fayette County School Board chairman John Price and board member Doug Barnett explained the schools’ budget in another session, and Superintendent Tom Shelton discussed the various levels of advocacy and the hierarchy of positions in the system.

The network is project-based, meaning each group must think about the issues it has encountered at its school or in the district and devise an action plan that would help alleviate the problem, Brown explained. During the fall session, the projects targeted family engagement, hiring practices and ways to increase faculty diversity, he said.

As incentives, the network can provide transportation vouchers to the sessions and gift cards and gas cards will be given out, and a special prize will be awarded for attendance at the end of the nine sessions, Brown explained.

The network also serves dinner, and the Police Athletic League will provide tutoring and help with homework for children who come with their parents or guardians.

The fall program started with 25 participants and ended with 15. Life sometimes gets in the way. Organizers would like to have at least 30 participants this time around, but they are willing to accommodate more.

Dinner starts at 5:30 p.m. and the session runs from 6 to 8 p.m. Call (859) 381-4176 to register, which is required.

“We have been fine-tuning this curriculum,” Berry said. “We’ve worked hard to really get this down to the nitty-gritty.”

There will even be mock parent-teacher conferences so, with more practice, people like me will have less anxiety. Where was this program when I needed it?

Merlene Davis: (859) 231-3218. Email: Twitter: @reportmerle. Blog:

Top 5 Favorite Study Tips For Elementary School Students: Part Two

In my last post, I discussed 3 of my 5 top studying tips for elementary-aged students. Part two continues the countdown with tips 4 & 5…they may be last, but certainly are not the least! The success of your student relies heavily on your involvement as a parent. Following these tips will certainly help your child prepare for a successful future!

HomeworkTips24. Distraction-free. It is no secret that kids are high-energy and easily distracted, but many children also struggle with attention issues that only exacerbate their “zest.” This is why preparing a distraction-free study zone is absolutely critical: turn-off the TV, put smart-phones away, and clear the area of anything that might provoke diversions. Computers lie in a gray area, as they provide access to some of the most distracting material, yet are required for many assignments. Nowadays, there are some great programs available to address this conundrum (SelfControl, Anti-Social, Self Vault are a few) by allowing parents to block/allow certain websites for during specific time intervals. While these resources help battle the “symptoms” associated with children who have trouble concentrating, there are also programs that help to address the cause—one of which I developed to help my own children. The ifocus attention-training system was a labor of love, and no expense was spared in bringing top experts from the children’s health field to work on research and development. I am pleased to report that we’ve had remarkable results, with studies showing improvements in a child’s concentration, memory, and self-regulation as they have fun playing the Jungle Rangers computer game—the heart of the ifocus system.  You can check out ifocus on our website or on the National PTA Member Benefit Providers page.

5. Everyone is different. I’ve heard that people learn 10% of what we read, 20% of what we hear, 30% of what we see, 50% of what we see and hear, 70% of what we discuss, 80% of what we experience, and 95% of what we teach. While those numbers may not be exact, the main takeaway should be that there are many different ways in which information can be presented and subsequently, many different ways in which we can learn: through visual, verbal, and physical presentations; by use of logic, reason, and systems; or, by means of musical and aural performances. They might prefer to learn in social settings with other people, or alone through self-study. Bottom line: every student is different, and it is important to recognize which learning styles your student responds to best, while also realizing these styles may change over time, by subject, or even by lesson. In my experience, I’ve learned to be sensitive to what is working, what isn’t, and adapt to fit their changing needs.


Michael Apstein is an entrepreneur, father of 5, and grandfather of 3. As the CEO of Focus Education,  Michael has turned his passion for helping his own children succeed into a company that develops products to help all children succeed. Focus Education’s Ifocus system uses breakthrough adaptive learning technology, embedded in a video game, to make learning to focus, pay attention, and build memory skills fun and effective.