The PTA Dad: Adventures in Unfamiliar Territory

Jay Jefferson, PTA President. These are words that I truly thought would never be associated with me. But as the saying goes, “never say never.” So how did this Dad become the leader of a PTA traditionally dominated by Moms, you ask? We’ll that’s a very interesting story that has a few twists and turns. But, here is the short version of my adventures thus far, and the lessons I have learned along the way.

After having relocated to Miami from New York City with my wife and two young children, I was eager to connect with my new community. My daughter entered Kindergarten at Carver Elementary this academic year, so my wife and I wanted to get involved our school’s PTA. We made our interest known to the “then” incoming PTA President, who informed us of two recent vacancies on the Board. We jumped at the opportunity, and agreed to join. My wife became the Vice President of Membership, and I the Board’s Secretary. Yep, Secretary -another position not commonly dominated by Dads. But since my primary interest was really to work on revamping the PTA’s outdated website, I was told that serving as Secretary would assist me in my efforts. Ok, I jokingly thought to myself, “I’m breaking the glass ceiling for all future Dads who aspire to be PTA Secretary.” Further bolstering my confidence, I proclaimed with Dad-like bravado, “I got this…no problem!”

When school began in late August, I proudly assumed my new role at our daughter’s school. After a week or so of introducing myself as the PTA Secretary to fellow parents, school teachers and administrators -the majority of whom are women- I became aware that I might have a problem. Not only had these individuals never encountered a male PTA Secretary, but they had rarely seen a Dad take an active role in school -period. Apparently, all of this was as new to them as it was to me.

Yet, instead of retreating to the background to avoid the awkward stares -which I admit I thought long and hard about doing- I decided to flip the script, and draw more attention to myself. Yeah, counter institutive, I know. But since I was already in the position, I thought I should let my role as Secretary make it less awkward for other Dads to engage with their children at school. And as I jokingly explained to all that gave me that initial look of disbelief after I would introduce myself, “The name of the organization is Parent-Teacher Association, and Dads are parents too.”

After a couple of months, the shock and awe surrounding my role as Secretary waned. My relationship with fellow parents, school teachers and administrators -again, the majority of whom are women – grew better as I allowed my actions to speak for themselves. I had initiated a new weekly PTA newsletter that I would personally edit and print, then have distributed to every parent via our school’s weekly communicator folders. Additionally, I began updating the content to the PTA’s existing website, with a focus of posting more event recaps and photos depicting all the wonderful activities taking place at the school. In doing so, I realized that I was often times the only Dad involved at many of these events. A fact I took personal since I had endured a few months of “Mr. Secretary” jokes and humorous references. What had gone wrong with my plan to have other Dads join me in my quest for equality in parent-child engagement at school? I felt truly defeated.

At that very time, the “then” PTA President decided to withdraw her child from the school, and vacate her position on the Board. In hindsight, I can now say this presumably bad situation presented a good opportunity. I was asked by the remaining Board members to become President, and this recommendation was endorsed by the teachers and administrators. Again, I thought long and hard about the challenges of assuming this new role, especially since I had just started to settle into my old role. Ultimately, I said yes, and my nomination was approved by the remaining Board members, the teacher and administrators as well as the Florida State PTA. I quickly went to work repairing and improving relationships with the teachers and administrators. Additionally, I initiated a rebranding campaign to reinforce the mission of the organization as serving to benefit every child at Carver Elementary by working to ensure they receive the best possible education. I reached out to a cross section of parents and guardians to join the new PTA Team I was building -successfully recruiting six new Committee Chairs. We have since received numerous accolades for the many activities and events we have hosted. In my few months as President, the new PTA Team and I have in the words of one teacher, “brought new life to the school through our positive energy and passion.” Yes, we’ve made great progress, but still have much more work to do -with one of my highest priorities being to encourage other Dads to participate in the PTA, and become active at school. I cherish the fact my daughter knows I love her so much that I want to be involved in her school. I especially like the twinkle in her eye when she says to her classmates, “My Dad is the PTA President.” For that, all the hard work is worth it!

So what have I discovered in my adventures thus far? Well, I’ve learned that there are times when you choose the situation with which to become involved, and then there are times when the situation chooses you. As a PTA Dad, I have learned to embrace both. Furthermore, my quest for equality in parent-child engagement at school will be won one Dad at a time -but we will get there. “I got this…no problem!”

Excited About Service

Let me start by saying how proud I am to be serving as National PTA’s new President. To be able to represent millions of parents and friends of education is exciting. We have a great deal of work to do and I know we are all ready for the task at hand.

As we work through these challenging economic times I want to say how much I appreciate the work being done by the National PTA Board and staff in making sure this association remains strong. Like many of you, my wife Teresa and I have seen our 401k turn into a 200.5. Like many of our employers, our PTA business took an investment hit last year as well, but we are rebounding strong. So far this year PTA is seeing strong returns as the market begins to rebound.

You would think that with the economy being what it is that our convention attendance would suffer; however, this year that wasn’t the case. This past week we were able to host one of our most successful conventions in Fort Lauderdale, with an increase in attendance over the past two years. Our thanks to the wonderful folks with the Broward County Schools, Florida PTA, Broward Center for the Performing Arts and the entire Fort Lauderdale community for making this annual event a home run!

One of the topics of conversation at convention was focused on another challenging year regarding membership. Considering the economy, and seeing other not-for-profits facing the same issue, we’re happy to be in the position we’re in. PTA has some exciting opportunities in the coming years. As we roll out new programs, projects and events you will see a more proactive association; one that will be able to address parents’ issues quicker.

As we do move forward let us all keep in mind that we still have some challenges ahead. The economy will take some time to return to the position it was just a few short months ago. As your PTAs plan for the next school year, let’s work to keep all of the families in your communities involved. If individuals cannot afford a PTA membership, let’s keep them engaged by letting them know that we are ready to help in any way possible.

And let’s stay connected on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/chucksaylors

Until next time!