National PTA Board Member Honored With Model of Excellence Award for Impact on African-American Students

National PTA board member Dr. Calvin Mackie (left) accepts the Dr. Asa G. Hilliard Model of Excellence Award from the College Board during the 2015 A Dream Deferred conference.

National PTA board member Dr. Calvin Mackie (left) accepts the Dr. Asa G. Hilliard Model of Excellence Award from the College Board during the 2015 A Dream Deferred conference.

National PTA board member and STEM Task Force chairman Dr. Calvin Mackie has been honored by the College Board with the 2015 Dr. Asa G. Hilliard Model of Excellence Award for his efforts in encouraging African-American students to strive for academic success. Dr. Mackie was presented with the award during the 2015 A Dream Deferred™ conference, which brought together educators and leaders from across the country to discuss solutions to improve educational opportunities for African-American students.

Dr. Mackie is an award-winning mentor, inventor, author and entrepreneur; an internationally-renowned speaker; and a former engineering professor. He has become an inspirational figure in education for African-Americans and a powerful voice for STEM.

Dr. Mackie founded STEM NOLA, a non-profit association dedicated to engaging, inspiring and exposing underserved communities to STEM. Since December 2013, STEM NOLA has engaged more than 2,400 K-12 students from more than 200 schools throughout New Orleans in hands-on, project-based activities.

Over the past decade, Dr. Mackie has spoken locally and nationally at K-12 schools, colleges and universities. He has inspired countless students to pursue STEM and succeed in education.

The College Board’s Model of Excellence Award honors the legacy of Dr. Asa G. Hilliard, who exemplified commitment to African-American education through his work as a teacher, psychologist, historian and education consultant.

Being honored with the Model of Excellence Award underscores the difference Dr. Mackie is making in the lives of African-American students by helping them overcome adversity and become successful men and women. National PTA commends Dr. Mackie for his efforts, leadership and the well-deserved recognition.

National PTA Advocates on Capitol Hill for Family Engagement and Reauthorization of the ESEA

National PTA President Otha Thornton discusses the association’s recommendations for reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act with Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN).

National PTA President Otha Thornton discusses the association’s recommendations for reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act with Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN).

National PTA’s 2015 Legislative Conference brought together PTA leaders and advocates from across the country March 10-12 to discuss PTA’s public policy priorities and actively advocate for the education, health and welfare of every child. As part of the conference, National PTA President Otha Thornton brought the voice of millions of parents, teachers, students and families to Capitol Hill, meeting with Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Patty Murray (D-WA), two key Congressional leaders.

Senator Alexander is Chairman of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) and is working to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act/No Child Left Behind (ESEA/NCLB), a key legislative priority of National PTA, with Senator Murray, Ranking Member of the Senate HELP Committee. During the meetings, President Thornton discussed National PTA’s recommendations for reauthorization of the law, specifically, improvements that prioritize family engagement and address the needs of our nation’s most vulnerable children.

More than 200 state and local PTA volunteers also met with their Congressional leaders to discuss key issues impacting our nation’s children, including the importance of family engagement in education and comprehensive reauthorization of the ESEA/NCLB.

In addition to meeting with Congressional leaders, participants in this year’s Legislative Conference heard from Roberto J. Rodríguez, Deputy Assistant to the President for Education, and John King, Senior Advisor Delegated Duties of Deputy Secretary of Education. Attendees also participated in interactive workshops and skill-building trainings on a variety of topics, including ESEA/NCLB reauthorization, family engagement, student data privacy, juvenile justice and delinquency prevention, early childhood education, school safety and school nutrition.

The Legislative Conference and meetings on Capitol Hill were an important opportunity to speak up and advocate for the children National PTA serves. They demonstrated the essential role PTA and families play in supporting schools and student success as well as the association’s commitment to work at every level to improve education for all students and ensure every child has the opportunity to reach his or her full potential.

Heidi May Wilson is media relations manager for National PTA.

Working Together to Help Address Child Hunger


Reposted from the Dairy Good blog

Research shows a positive link between good health, learning and academic performance. However, 16 million kids in America don’t get the food they need, which means their hunger becomes a barrier to learning. That’s right: hunger is a huge educational issue, which I consider a big issue for National PTA and the larger child health and education communities.

Schools are often best positioned to serve as the community’s center for meeting the needs of the whole child, even though the well-being of children is primarily the responsibility of the parents. According to Share Our Strength, while breakfast and lunch are available to kids in need at a free or reduced price, there is a larger than acceptable percentage of kids who are not eating these meals and are therefore still at school hungry.

In three years, I would like to see schools and communities address the issue of child hunger by:

  • Making breakfast universally available for all kids, so it can be eaten by all kids
  • Offering breakfast in every classroom
  • Making summer meal programs available in every community, so it can be enjoyed by every kid in need without stigma

We at National PTA know families are key players in addressing the childhood hunger epidemic. Families want to keep their kids safe from harm and want them to succeed. That said, there are real and valid barriers to doing so – either it’s lack of education and understanding about the resources that are available, it can be a parent’s bad experience with the education system, or it can be an issue of pride or fear of stigmatization.

PTAs, families and schools can partner to tear down these barriers. Together they can:

  • Engage families in the school community and provide better, targeted education about school breakfast, school lunch and summer meal programs available, and the connection between hunger and learning
  • Develop partnerships with food, farm-to-school and hunger organizations to help connect families with these needed local resources
  • Encourage and mobilize our community and local level PTAs to provide necessary provisions for families in the school community who are in need

We’re not alone in this effort. Fuel Up to Play 60, a school-based program created by America’s dairy farmers and the NFL with support from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is working to increase school breakfast awareness and participation to make sure all kids start their day with the necessary fuel to help them succeed through its campaign, Fuel Greatness.

With so many systems in place, children don’t need to be hungry. Through education families can better understand the resources available to them – which can start to make a difference in our schools and communities. Education, real, tireless education, and partnerships across the community are an important first step.

Otha Thornton is President of National Parent Teacher Association.

Special Video Message from President Thornton: A Look Ahead at 2015

As the new year kicks into full gear, I want to highlight some exciting initiatives to come in 2015. Please take a minute to watch this video message for some important updates.

Thank you to each and every one of you for your hard work and steadfast efforts to take action for children and families across the country and your commitment to PTA. 2015 is going to be a great and exciting year for the association, and I look forward to continuing our work together.

#GivingTuesday: Help Make Every Child’s Dream a Reality

Giving Tuesday Web Ad 4The holiday season is a time of hustle and bustle – bargain hunting, shopping for the perfect gifts and spending hours cooking, decorating and preparing for guests. The season also is a time of thanksgiving and for giving back. We’re all familiar with Black Friday and Cyber Monday, but have you heard of #GivingTuesday? December 2, the Tuesday following Black Friday and Cyber Monday, has been designated #GivingTuesday – a day set aside to remind us of the spirit of the season and encourage us to give back to the organizations in our communities working to make a difference and effect positive change.

All children deserve a high-quality education and access to services that will enable them to reach their full potential. But across the country, schools and communities are facing challenges and budget shortfalls, and as a result, important lessons and opportunities are being left out.

Nationwide, PTAs are working hard to fill in the gaps. From supplementing classroom lessons with activities that make learning fun and making sure all children have access to the arts, to teaching kids how to make healthy and safe decisions every day – PTAs are helping schools improve; communities grow and prosper; and making a difference for the education, health and welfare of all children.

In the spirit of the holiday season, I’m asking for your support of PTAs across the country and the important work they are doing by donating this #GivingTuesday to National PTA. National PTA develops programs and resources that PTAs rely on to effect change and fill in the gaps in their schools and communities. The association also empowers parents to speak up and advocate for their and all children – before their school boards, local and state government, and in Washington DC.

National PTA is the conscience of the country for children issues. Through advocacy and family and community education, National PTA has established programs and called for legislation in areas including:

  • Early childhood education
  • Health and wellness programs
  • Family engagement
  • School safety
  • Juvenile justice
  • Arts in education

And because of the work of National PTA, our nation has child labor laws to protect against unsafe working practices and conditions, kindergarten is a part of our public school system, hot lunches are served every day to millions of children in schools, and a separate juvenile justice system exists so that children are not tried and incarcerated as adults.

As the leader of National PTA, I have seen firsthand the positive impact of PTAs across the country on families, schools and communities. With your support, National PTA and PTAs nationwide will continue and build upon programs and efforts that are improving the lives and futures of our nation’s children.

The overall purpose of PTA is to make every child’s dream a reality. Together, we can make this happen.

Thank you for your support of PTA on #GivingTuesday and all year round.


Otha Thornton is president of National PTA.

NEA and National PTA Encourage Nation to Celebrate American Education Week

With co-author Lily Eskelsen GarciaOtha_Headshot_SM

American Education Week (AEW) is celebrated each year during the last full week before Thanksgiving. This year, AEW will be celebrated November 14-20. Founded by the National Education Association (NEA) and The American Legion in 1921, with the U.S. Department of Education joining in 1922, AEW was created in response to 25 percent of World War I draftees being illiterate and nine percent deemed physically unfit to serve their country.

In its resolution, NEA called for “an educational week… observed in all communities annually for the purpose of informing the public of the accomplishments and needs of the public schools and to secure the cooperation and support of the public in meeting those needs.”

Today, American Education Week is co-sponsored by National PTA and 11 other national education organizations. The theme for this year’s celebration is Great Public Schools: A Basic Right and Our Responsibility, a renewed call to all citizens—parents, teachers, education support professionals, elected officials, community leaders, and yes, students—to make our schools great for all Americans.

As part of the weeklong celebration, Tuesday, Nov. 18 has been designated “Parents Day” to encourage parents to visit their child’s school and spotlight the importance of family engagement in education.

While the nation and our public education system have changed a lot since 1921, one factor—family engagement—remains critical to student achievement. Ongoing research shows that family engagement in schools improves student achievement, reduces absenteeism, and restores parents’ confidence in their children’s education. Students with involved parents or other caregivers earn higher grades and test scores, have better social skills, and show improved behavior.

Becoming active in a school’s parent group is an important way to increase involvement. Involvement also encompasses:

  • Setting goals with children and fostering achievement of those goals;
  • Accessing and using children’s academic scores to ensure they’re on track;
  • Frequently viewing the parent portal (or whichever tool their school uses);
  • Developing a relationship with children’s teachers and keeping in touch with them often; and
  • Advocating for improvements in the school building and with local school boards and state and federal government to ensure schools have the resources they need to provide a world class education to every student.

The most significant type of involvement is what parents do at home. By monitoring, supporting and advocating, parents can be engaged in ways that ensure that their children have every opportunity for success.

As the leaders of the nation’s largest education and child advocacy associations, we have seen firsthand the positive impact of family engagement on student success and school improvement. We encourage all parents to take an active role in their children’s education on “Parents Day” and all year round.

Great schools are a basic right and our shared responsibility. To all parents and families, “thank you” for being part of the education team. Find out more on how parents and families can contribute to student success by visiting: and

Otha Thornton is president of National PTA. Lily Eskelsen Garcia is president of the National Education Association.

Focusing on Children and Families in Urban Areas

Lana Ajemian is President of New York State PTA.

NYS_1With a goal to develop, implement and support family engagement and empowerment efforts in multicultural, underserved urban communities across New York, New York State PTA formed an Urban Initiative Task Force in 2012. Over a span of 18 months, members of the Task Force worked together to build a better understanding of the needs of urban communities, develop criteria for establishing sustainable family-school partnerships and create unique service/program models. In January 2014, Buffalo Elementary School of Technology (B.E.S.T. School #6) was selected as a pilot school community for implementation of the initiative.

B.E.S.T. School #6 draws its students from two different neighborhoods on opposite sides of the city of Buffalo. The neighborhood on the east side of the city, in which the school is located, is largely African-American and comprises about 50% of the school population. Another 37% of students live on Buffalo’s west side, far removed from the location of the school itself. This part of the city is home to an immigrant population of Burmese, Arab and Nepalese families, many of whom are unfamiliar with American culture and the English language but are seeking a new life for their children and are eager to do whatever they can to help make this happen. More than 90% of students who attend B.E.S.T. School #6 are eligible for free or reduced breakfasts and lunches. With the combined challenges of language, ethnicity, poverty and neighborhood location, the percentage of students attaining proficiency on state tests is presently about 1.7%.

Once B.E.S.T. School #6 was identified as the pilot school for the Urban Initiative Task Force, members of the Task Force devoted countless hours and expertise to communicating to district administrators, school staff and families the key role of PTA and the importance of family engagement to student achievement and school improvement. In doing so, they garnered interest and built trust among the school’s diverse representative groups – parents, staff and community-based organizations. In July, a two-day parent orientation was conducted. This was followed with an invitation for six identified leaders to participate in New York State PTA’s Summer Leadership Conference. Two parents from B.E.S.T. School #6 attended the conference and left the event excited to bring PTA to their school community.

Passion for inclusivity, a welcoming environment, skillful team building, training and networking brought together New York State PTA and the families of B.E.S.T. School #6, and on Oct. 21, the principal of the school opened her building and welcomed PTA into her school family. Students, parents, teachers, support staff, district administrators and Buffalo Public School Board of Education members gathered at B.E.S.T. School #6 and were eager to celebrate this important “first” chartered PTA of the New York State PTA Urban Initiative Task Force, a nearly two-year effort.

NYS_2Members of the Task Force collaborated with school staff to develop a family-friendly format for the charter celebration event. In recognition of National PTA’s Every Child in Focus campaign and the designation of October as the Month of the Urban Child, National PTA President Otha Thornton joined B.E.S.T. families and staff to mark this important day. And, it was beyond thrilling to have their national president conduct the first installation of the officers of B.E.S.T. School #6’s PTA. One of the officers could not contain her excitement as her dad came to see her installed, saying she had “never been a leader of anything,” and was bursting with pride – as was her dad!

Among small “welcoming” gifts, family pictures were taken through the generosity of New York State PTA’s official photographer, Lifetouch.

As families were leaving the celebration event, several expressed that they felt excited, included, part of a community of support, and that something important was happening here. The event brought 50 new members to PTA, and word is out that two other Buffalo units have already requested charter consideration.

The enthusiasm of all who attended the event was palpable. Most impressive was the feeling of momentum building. The primary goal of the Urban Initiative Task Force is to open the door and empower and support diverse families across New York while fostering partnerships between home and school. With the help of many, Oct. 21 marked the achievement of this goal. Now, the challenge is to build on the momentum and inspire others to also “carry the card that counts!”

View the work plan and framework developed by the New York State PTA Urban Initiative Task Force to help build sustainable family-school partnerships at B.E.S.T. School #6 and in other diverse, multicultural and underserved communities across New York.

#ShareAwesome Rallies Families around Digital Citizenship

Otha_Headshot_SMTechnology and the Internet have created countless new opportunities for learning. Students can now read about virtually any subject from anywhere and can connect with people and places around the world. Teachers are harnessing the power of the technology to bring curriculum alive and modify instruction to meet the unique needs of every child. Technology is essential for the development of 21st century skills that will help students thrive in their chosen careers.

Technology is everywhere. We text, tweet, shop, learn, play games, plan family vacations, and even worship online. Some of us even use technology to track our 10,000 steps each day, like I did during this past summer’s convention.

Personally, I love technology. I use it extensively at my job. And on my many travels for National PTA, I often use my phone to arrange for transportation, confirm speaking engagements and to stay in touch with our state and local units.

But with new gadgets, social media platforms and apps coming out every day, I, like most families, don’t have the time or tech savvy to stay on top of the latest fad.

That’s where good decision-making skills that apply to any digital environment are helpful.ShareAwesome Clever Gram

When I think about the vast online world, I look at it through the same lens that I look at everyday life. The ways you should act, protect yourself and treat others online are not so different from what you should do offline. We all strive to be good citizens in the real world. In the virtual world, we should all strive to practice good digital citizenship.

It starts with treating others as you want to be treated. Be kind. Look out for others.  It should be a place to share what we learn and love, stay in touch with friends and family, and a great platform to support our favorite causes.

National PTA has teamed up with LifeLock to bridge the conversation gap about digital safety, promote digital citizenship and share the awesome ways families and friends can inspire each other to use technology in positive ways to help others.  Helping our children maximize smarter, safer, more rewarding decisions online will go far in reducing everyone’s stress levels when it comes to the use of technology.

Here are five ways we can start:

  1. Share your thoughts but don’t share personal info (i.e., address, phone number).
  2. Follow the rules of the site or app and check privacy settings often.
  3. A virtual friend is still a stranger. Never make plans to meet up offline.
  4. Block, delete or hide people who bring you down. Tell a trusted adult if you feel in danger.
  5. Unplug or power down when walking or driving.

National PTA has built a central online hub of expert information about digital safety, as well as activation tools for students, parents, PTAs and schools to participate in a campaign that we call #ShareAwesome. was built in collaboration with expert advisors from and Common Sense Media. Our hope is that you will use these tools to create a sustained, multi-faceted conversation between parents and students that, hopefully, will allow students to participate in, and steer, the conversation by creating content themselves.

Through the power of digital media—Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Bloggers, e-newsletters—we hope this information will reach every home in America. To generate #ShareAwesome enthusiasts, we have launched a scholarship contest that invites social media users to share a smart and safe decision, uplifting accomplishment, or positive action for the good of others using hashtag #ShareAwesome.

Technology is good, and it’s here to stay. It resonates with children, tweens and teens. It should also resonate with adults in a way that is positive and promotes a happy, healthy lifestyle.  When it comes to the digital world, it’s time for all of us to shift the dialogue from scary and preachy to celebratory, fun, and a part of everyday life.

LifeLock is a financial sponsor of National PTA.National PTA does not endorse any commercial entity, product, or service, and no endorsement is implied by this content.

Building Strong, Effective Family-School Partnerships

NPTA_Media Banner 2014-2016Today, National PTA announced that 170 schools and PTAs from across the country have been recognized as 2014-2016 National PTA Schools of Excellence for building strong, effective family-school partnerships. Research shows that when families and schools work together, student achievement increases, schools improve and communities grow stronger. The efforts of these schools and PTAs to engage and involve families are making a substantial, positive impact on student success and well-being. We are pleased to recognize their hard work and achievements, and we congratulate them on their National PTA School of Excellence designation.

National PTA also released a report today that summarizes outcomes for the 2014-2016 National PTA Schools of Excellence from their participation in the program. The outcomes, which were determined from family surveys administered at the beginning of the school year and then again at the end of the year, demonstrate improved family-school partnerships. During the course of the school year, the National PTA Schools of Excellence achieved:

  • 46% increase in families that always feel empowered to support student success,
  • 53% increase in families that feel they always share power in decision-making related to student success and school improvements,
  • 78% increase in families that feel their school and PTA always collaborate with the community, and
  • 102% increase in families that feel their school and PTA always speak up for every child.

The findings from National PTA’s report underscore the importance of building family-school partnerships to support student success and continuous school improvement.

As a new school year gets underway, it is an important time for families to make a commitment to get involved and schools to commit to partnering with families to ensure students have the support they need to succeed throughout the year. To build effective family-school partnerships, families and schools should make sure they are:

  • Welcoming All Families into the School Community – Families should be active participants in the life of the school and feel welcomed, valued and connected to each other, school staff, and to what students are learning and doing in class.
  • Communicating Effectively – Families and school staff should engage in regular, two-way, meaningful communication about student learning.
  • Supporting Student Success – Families and school staff should continuously collaborate to support students’ learning and healthy development both at home and at school.
  • Speaking Up for Every Child – Families should be empowered to be advocates for their own and other children to ensure that students are treated fairly and have access to learning opportunities that will support their success.
  • Sharing Power – Families and school staff should be equal partners in decisions that affect children and together inform, influence and create policies, practices and programs.
  • Collaborating with the Community – Families and school staff should collaborate with community members to connect students, families and staff to expanded learning opportunities, community services and civic participation.

In addition to being designated as 2014-2016 National PTA Schools of Excellence, two schools also have been honored with the 2014 Phoebe Apperson Hearst Awards for Innovation in Family Engagement. Eden Central PTA in Eden, N.Y., has been recognized with the Phoebe Apperson Hearst Outstanding Family-School Partnership Award. Mountain View Elementary PTA in Purcellville, Va., has been recognized with the Phoebe Apperson Hearst Family-School Partnership Award of Merit. Named after National PTA co-founder Phoebe Apperson Hearst, the awards are the highest honor presented by the association to recognize local PTAs that have effectively implemented the National Standards for Family-School Partnerships. Click here to read about the efforts of Eden Central PTA and Mountain View Elementary PTA to reach and engage more families.

Eden Central PTA, Mountain View Elementary PTA and all of the 2014-2016 National PTA Schools of Excellence are true examples of what can be accomplished when families and schools work together.

As we kick off the 2014-2015 school year, I encourage PTAs and schools nationwide to evaluate their current family engagement strategies, brainstorm ideas for family involvement practices and activities, develop a plan to address barriers and open up new ways for families to support student success, and monitor progress throughout the year in reaching family engagement goals. The National PTA School of Excellence program helps guide PTAs and schools to engage more families in student success and school improvement. Learn more and enroll in the program at

It is critical that meaningful partnerships are established between families and schools in every district and every school. Together, we can help every child reach his or her full potential and make every child’s dream a reality.

Otha Thornton is president of National PTA.

National PTA Family Mourns Passing of Former Secretary-Treasurer Tina Zubeck

Tina Zubeck HeadshotTina Zubeck, former secretary-treasurer of National PTA, passed away on August 4, 2014 surrounded by her family after a courageous battle with Myelodysplasic syndrome. It is with a sad heart that the PTA family says farewell to an exceptional woman.

Those who were fortunate enough to work alongside Tina knew her as one of the most passionate and dedicated advocates for education and the health and welfare of every child across the nation.

Tina felt strongly about the unique role of PTA when it comes to providing support to schools; promoting responsible leadership; and encouraging parents, teachers and the entire community to get involved in the work of nurturing and educating the next generation.

We will always remember Tina for her steadfast leadership and unending commitment to take action and make a difference for the lives and futures of our nation’s children. Tina’s passion for education and the wellbeing of every child was remarkable, and she touched so many lives personally and professionally.

Tina was elected and installed as National PTA secretary-treasurer at the June 2013 Convention. Prior to her election, she served as the Field Service Committee chair on the National PTA Board of Directors as well as a member of the Membership and Strategic Planning Committees.

Tina also served as president, treasurer and legislative vice president of Missouri PTA and was a member of the Platte County High School PTSA and the Show Me PTA. Additionally, she worked for 22 years for the Platte County R-3 School District, most recently serving as a school-community relations and communications coordinator.

Tina received, among other honors, an Excellence in Education Service to Education Award, the Missouri PTA Distinguished Service Award and the National PTA Life Achievement Award.

National PTA is truly honored to have had Tina as a leader. The PTA family is deeply saddened to lose such a passionate and committed advocate and a friend. Tina leaves a lasting legacy.

The PTA family extends our deepest sympathies to Tina’s husband, Bob Zubeck, and her children, Bobby, Ashley and Ellen. Our thoughts, prayers and hearts go out to her loved ones, friends and colleagues.

Otha Thornton is president of National PTA.