Save the Date! Get Ready for LegCon 2020

I can hardly believe that the 2020 National PTA Legislative Conference (LegCon) is just a few months away. It has always been my favorite event because it is PTAs’ opportunity to use our voices to improve the lives of children and families.

Advocacy is at the core of our association’s mission and vision. Our legacy in advocacy started over 120 years ago when our founders organized over 2000 parents to speak on behalf of children and continued to lead the way in improving their lives. Through our members’ persistent commitment to advocacy, National PTA has played an integral role in landmark federal education legislation and policies. At this year’s #PTALegCon, we will continue to empower the nation towards making every child’s potential a reality.

This year our theme is PTA Takes Action for Kids! and we will do just that when PTA members from across the national descend on Capitol Hill to advocate for policies that support, advance and protect our nation’s youth.

This year’s LegCon is being held at the Westin Alexandria in Old Town—just a hop, skip and a jump from Washington D.C. We will have the opportunity to network with fellow PTA advocates, meet with policymakers and learn how to shape public policy on Capitol Hill and in your own state. Don’t miss this chance to expand your knowledge and have your voices heard!

As a constituent, your grassroots perspective is extremely valuable to elected officials and their staff. During our #PTALegCon Capitol Hill Day, Wednesday, March 11, you will be able to inform lawmakers about which federal programs are serving our children well and which ones are failing them. Federal policymakers work to improve the lives of children and families and they want to hear directly from the people they represent.

Never underestimate the power of your voice! We all want to improve education, and LegCon 2020 will be the perfect time to call upon the 116th Congress to take action. Let’s let them know how they can make a difference in the lives of all children.

Attending #PTALegCon is also about improving and sharpening your advocacy skills! Regardless of your level of advocacy knowledge, we will have something for everyone! Not only will you have the opportunity to hear from policy experts during our workshops, you will hear from your peers that are experts in diverse areas of advocacy. These experts will guide you through the policy landscape and equip you with the knowledge and tools necessary to effectively advocate on these issues.

You will leave better prepared to engage in policy discussions with lawmakers, advocates and members of your community. We are confident you will return to your home states feeling fully self-reliant and ready to speak for every child with one voice!

Lastly, we are beyond thrilled to announce our Keynote Speaker for the Advocacy Awards dinner is Rodney Robinsonthe 2019 National Teacher of the Year. He is a powerful, thoughtful and inspiring speaker and is sure to bring all of us to our feet!

Join us! Register here to attend the 2020 National PTA Legislative Conference


About the Author:

Yvonne Johnson is the Vice President of Advocacy, Chair of the Legislation Committee, and member of the board of directors for National PTA.

 

What Real-Life Family Engagement Looks Like

When Heather Losneck learned that she had been selected as a National PTA Family Engagement Fellow last spring, she was overjoyed. As president of Berea-Midpark Middle School PTA in Middleburg Heights, Ohio, she was deeply interested in expanding her understanding of how school districts can support transformative family engagement.

She also believed her participation in the Family Engagement Fellowship program would be a compelling reason for the district and community to come together to create more intentional opportunities for the kind of family engagement that truly impacts student success.

A year later, Heather has successfully formed an active and accomplished Family Engagement Team for the Berea City School District. Here’s how she has collaborated with the district and the school board to enhance family engagement practices.

Taking the First Steps

Heather knew she could not accomplish all that she wanted to do alone, so her first priority was to connect with key players she knew could help influence the district, including the school board president, Ana Chapman. Since she was a longtime PTA member, Heather knew Ana felt passionately about family engagement.

As they continued to build their family engagement team, Ana notified her of an outdated family engagement policy that she was interested in revising. Heather, Ana and another dedicated parent, Kim Dettmer, collaborated to rewrite the policy. They used the opportunity to integrate National PTA’s Standards for Family-School Partnerships into their community’s approach.

Ana then brought the updated language to the school board for a vote. Because this policy change was initiated by the school board president, it was a powerful, and relatively quick, first step. The new language signaled a strong commitment to transformative family engagement and created excitement for the creation of a district-wide team.

Forming a Powerful Team

Though their small team of three had achieved an early success, Heather knew their family engagement team still needed more members to be truly transformative. She believed that one of the most important responsibilities as a leader was to empower other parents and caregivers.

So, Heather, Ana and Kim worked to establish a diverse and motivated team of parents, teachers and administrators. An application process—which they promoted using a social media campaign, school newsletters and direct communications from the district—ensured the group was open and inviting, but still manageable in size, and adequately representative of all three cities in the district.

The application process also helped the group to further publicize and elevate the work they were doing. While the application was simple, it provided valuable information that enabled Heather to find out why people were interested in joining the team. They reviewed 60 applications and selected 16 members for to be part of the final Family Engagement Team.

Working to Maximize Impact

The newly-formed Family Engagement Team established three subcommittees that would take on concrete projects to build momentum and create community buy-in for transformative family engagement:

  1. Welcoming Families
  2. Effective Communication
  3. Student Success

To avoid the pitfalls of the work getting stuck in internal processes and endless discussion with little action, they took the time to reach consensus on a clear vision and achievable goals for each subcommittee. Heather shared, “It’s really important not to try to do too much.” She encouraged subcommittees to pick a single, specific project to be passionate about, and then she worked to ensure they had the appropriate resources and empowered them to do the work.

Finding the Keys to Success

The subcommittees have already achieved several accomplishments during their short tenure. Heather credits the momentum to, “checking in with [my] teams regularly and celebrating their successes.”
Of particular note is their work around welcoming families. When a recent survey uncovered that the district could improve in being more welcoming of families from different ethnicities, the Welcoming Families subcommittee collaborated with the district’s new Director of Nutrition Services to add new dishes to the school menu that are more reflective of the community’s cultures.

Their key strategies to successful, transformative family engagement approach included:

  1. Partnering with families who provide their recipes that best exemplify their cultures
  2. A new wellness committee, established by the Director of Nutrition Services, that intentionally recruits parent members.

While food fairs are a regular staple of diversity attempts, the nutritional services approach the Welcoming Families subcommittee used has resulted in a systemic change that directly benefits all kids. It has also opened doors for continuous exchange between families and the district’s Nutrition Services department.

The team has also worked closely with the district’s Communications Director to create a “Before You Visit” link on the district website, which will make it easier for families to find out anything they may know before they come to school.

This initiative was a direct response to parents’ indications that they did not always feel welcome in school buildings and that transitioning from one school building to another was particularly challenging. Rather than simply providing the hours the office is open, the website now includes detailed information such as drop off procedures, sign in rules, good times to visit, who you will meet in the front office, and more.

Creating Sustainability for Family Engagement

Heather shares that the Family Engagement Team’s next goal is to establish a district-level paid position dedicated to family engagement. She says, “In order to sustain the work going forward, it cannot be driven solely by volunteers.”

Collaborating with the School Board President, they are currently analyzing similar positions in other districts, and are eager to begin crafting a job description for the role. The team sees this as a necessary next step to ensure that family engagement efforts are consistent, impactful and effectively integrated to the school district’s overall strategic plan.

We can’t wait to see what they do next!

Stay up to date with the latest best practices in transformative family engagement by subscribing to the Center for Family Engagement’s e-newsletter here.


About the Author: Heather Losneck is one of National PTA’s Family Engagement Fellows and the president of Berea-Midpark Middle School PTA.

 

Voices for Wear Orange

In my community, everyone can tell you where they were the day of the Columbine High School shooting. When I hear anything about a mass shooting, people whose faces I know who were hurt, traumatized, or killed at Columbine, pass through my mind… people whose lives changed the instant a gun fired inside a school.

Many people who were there that day have gone on to have great lives with little connection to the shooting. Some have not been that lucky. Most can easily be triggered each time a new shooting hits the news in our community, Deer Creek… Platte Canyon… the Aurora theater… Arapahoe High School… now STEM…

As parents, we reach out to the PTA families at schools grieving gun deaths of students in other communities, but when we send cards and make donations, it is already too late, and it is not the whole story.

I work in a program within a public school district for students who have been unsuccessful in traditional schools. In the last two years, I have lost three students to gun violence whose names are not memorialized. One was shot by a friend. One was killed by police (with a gun in his hand). One took his own life. These students also have families, educators, and friends mourning them, whose lives changed the moment a gun shot.   All of them accessed firearms, despite gun safety protections available to keep kids safe. The results show that we have not done enough yet.

As a PTA family we have to do more. As PTA advocates, we must talk to our lawmakers and help them understand our legislative priorities about gun violence and urge them to:

  • Fund federal research on the causes and effects of gun violence on youth and in communities, as well as research on evidence-based strategies to reduce gun violence
  • Prohibit the use of any federal funds to purchase or train school personnel in the use of firearms
  • Require a waiting period and a comprehensive background check for any
  • individual prior to buying a firearm from both licensed and unlicensed dealers
  • Restrict internet gun sales including sales of kits, such as bump stocks, that
  • can be used to make or modify guns
  • Ban the sale, transfer, manufacturing and importation of military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines

Most of all, join me in Wear Orange movement and get your community involved in finding solutions.

I look forward to the day when I do not come home and see fear in my kids’ eyes asking when a shooter will come to their schools. I look forward to the day I do not have to discuss reacting to a shooter entering our classroom with my students who already suffer from trauma. PTA is our best opportunity to make that day happen, and kids’ lives depend on it.


About the Author:
Ami Prichard
Mother of three
President of Jeffco Council PTA, Colorado PTA Vice President of Marketing and Communication Elect
Teacher, Jeffco Interim Alternative Educational Setting (IAES) and Homebound Programs

The Road Ahead: Federal Education Funding in Fiscal Year 2020

To understand where Congress goes next in this year’s education funding process, it is important to understand the journey up to this point. The U.S. House of Representatives is currently in the thick of its funding process, which is more commonly known as appropriations. They must, along with the U.S. Senate, fund education programs for Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 by September 30, 2019.

Last month, the House Appropriations Committee approved the House version of the FY 2020 Labor-HHS-Education funding bill. The bill provides crucial funding for education and related programs that serve millions of students across the country, including roughly $76 billion for the Department of Education, which is a 7.2% increase over the amount approved in the previous year.

The bill also provided the Statewide Family Engagement Centers (SFEC) program with $15 million, which is $5 million over FY 2019 funding. With this funding level, the committee sent a clear message that family engagement is a priority and greater investments must be made to ensure parents are at the decision-making table when it comes to their child’s education. The SFEC program is a critical priority for National PTA, and we applaud the U.S. House of Representatives for their commitment to robust funding for public education. Unfortunately, the road ahead to make the bill law is a long one.

The next step for the Labor-HHS-Education funding bill is the House floor where the full chamber will vote on the bill. However, even if the bill does pass the House, it is unlikely that the Senate will pass it in its current form. Both chambers must agree on the bill for education programs to be funded by the Sept. 30, 2019 deadline.

Unlike the House, the Senate Appropriations Committee has not started work on their education funding bill and does not anticipate doing so until a budget deal is enacted to change the spending caps for discretionary programs. Discretionary programs are programs that must have their funding renewed each year in order to continue operating and includes education programs. Under the Budget Control Act of 2011, this year there will be automatic cuts to discretionary programs—translating into a nearly $20 billion reduction to critical education, health and workforce budgets—unless Congress takes action to raise them. If no budget deal is made before the Sept. 30, 2019 deadline, there could be a continuing resolution which would temporarily provide funding until an agreement is made. If no continuing resolution is passed, there will be a government shutdown.

Despite this multistep process, immense gains have already been made for education programs and there is a reason to believe a budget deal could be solidified sooner rather than later. National PTA’s advocates have made their voices heard during the appropriations process thus far. Our advocates helped secure the $5 million increase to SFECs in the House Labor-HHS-Education funding bill and are taking action urging Congress to raise the budget caps to avoid automatic spending cuts to education.

Recent media reports also suggest that both Congressional leadership and the White House are open to a budget deal to raise the caps. While this is a hopeful sign, the education community must stay vigilant until a deal is finalized, so that robust and equitable education investments are made so that all children can reach their full potential. Check out National PTA’s Federal Appropriations 101 resources to learn more about how critical children’s programs are funded.

Take Action—Contact your federal lawmakers and urge them to raise the budget caps to avoid potential automatic spending cuts to education.


About the Author:
Cyrus Huncharek is the Government Affairs Coordinator for National PTA.

Engage Your School to Prevent Online Child Exploitation

June is Internet Safety Month, so this is a great time to learn more about the risks that children face online and what we can do to help keep them safe. In 2018 alone, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children’s (NCMEC) CyberTipline® received more than 18.4 million reports of online child sexual exploitation. The majority of these tips were related to:

Online enticement involves an individual communicating with a child on the internet to commit a sexual offense or abduction. Similarly, “sextortion” is a process of manipulation in which a child is being groomed to take sexually explicit images and/or ultimately meet face-to-face with the offender for sexual purposes. In an analysis of CyberTipline reports, NCMEC found that online enticement took place across every online platform; from social media sites to messaging apps and online games.

It surprises many people to discover how prevalent child sexual abuse online has become, but with 97% of American girls and 95% of American boys having access to a smartphone today, the means by which bad actors can access children online have grown substantially. So, what can PTAs do to enlist families and educators in efforts to prevent children from becoming victims of online exploitation?

To start, consider making “online life” a focus at your next PTA meeting. Engage parents in a discussion about how much they believe they understand about their children’s online behaviors. The PTA Connected program from National PTA has resources to help you create an agenda, but here are a few questions you should ask parents to get them thinking:

  • Do your children post on social media?
  • Which apps do they use?
  • Do they play online games? Which ones?
  • Are their accounts set to private to limit contact to only known/approved users?

Next, PTAs can help educate school staff about online safety and its relation to sexual exploitation. This free online training from NetSmartz®—NCMEC’s online safety program—is perfect for educators who want to better understand digital citizenship and safety as well as the variety of resources available to teach these topics. Parents may also find it a useful overview of how their children may be using the internet, and how they can take action to help protect their kids online.

Finally, PTAs can provide access to resources for parents and educators who are interested in having more safety conversations with their children. NetSmartz® offers a range of tip sheets for both adults and youth about online safety topics ranging from gaming safely to how to talk to teens about sexting. Consider displaying some of these tip sheets in the school lobby during drop-off and pick-up times, or handing them out during meetings and special school events that families attend. Additionally, sending this type of information electronically in follow-up and in regular newsletters allows parents to easily revisit the content.

The possibilities for education around this topic are plentiful, so make internet safety a priority for your PTA this June. With your help, parents can be empowered to take an active role in helping to keep kids safer online!


About the author:

Eliza Harrel is the Director of Education, Outreach, Training & Prevention at the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.

Building an Army to Prevent Bullying

Spotlight on Carlstadt PTA:

Ever since I heard the news about a 12-year-old girl from Rockaway, N.J. committing suicide due to bullying, I couldn’t shake the story.

Maybe I couldn’t shake it because I live in New Jersey, and my daughter was 12-years-old at the time I heard the news. Or, maybe it was because it was unfathomable to me that we lived in a society that would allow someone to feel such great pain that they felt the only solution was to take their own life.

That 12-year-old girl’s name was Mallory Grossman. She was a beautiful young girl with a heart of gold and so much potential. She was an amazing gymnast and cheerleader, and she loved making crafts in her spare time. Unfortunately, a group of students at Mallory’s school didn’t see all of her amazing qualities. They relentlessly bullied her. After Mallory’s death, her mom, Dianne Grossman, started Mallory’s Army to speak out against bullying.

As president of Carlstadt PTA, I love coordinating all the “usual” fun things that most PTAs do—fundraisers, field trips, family nights. But I knew I couldn’t let this news story just fade away, especially with National Bullying Month fast-approaching. So, I collaborated with our PTA board and the school administration to help arrange an assembly featuring Dianne for our middle school students (and parents) in October 2018. This type of somber, anti-bullying assembly was newer for us to sponsor, but felt important.

[Editor’s Note: Carlstadt PTA recognized that this assembly would cover sensitive content and worked hard in advance of the assembly to make sure that families were aware and in support of the planned subject matter, using several forms of communication including their PTA’s Facebook page.]

It was an intense, life-changing assembly. Dianne broke things down in a raw, candid way. She started off by engaging the students in an exercise that helped them see that they do have things in common even if they may not all be friends. Dianne shared her own experience of being bullied as a child at school for being “the poor kid” and described to the students how those words made her feel, and how eventually she began to internalize and believe the taunting and shaming of her classmates.

Thankfully, Dianne was able to overcome the bullying through positive self-talk. Sadly, Mallory could not.

During the assembly, Dianne gave specific examples of the intense bullying Mallory experienced. Dianne did not sugar-coat how ugly things got, which helped the assembled students realize the severity of the bullying. Dianne showed a large poster-sized picture of Mallory on an easel and recounted what the bullies did over time to her daughter. The teasing started with Mallory’s backpack, so Dianne put an X over it in the picture. It wasn’t “cool” to wear a necklace like hers, so the necklace got an X. Eventually, Dianne asked the audience to say “Sorry, Mallory!” as she attempted to erase the X marks from the picture, but of course the marks were in permanent ink and could not be erased. This helped underscore to the students that hurtful words are not easily erased.

Dianne went on to explain how the bullies would not allow Mallory to sit at their table during lunch, how they texted her cruel messages, sent her screenshots of unkind and untrue comments they posted about her on social media, how they told her to kill herself.

The most pivotal moment of the assembly came when Dianne said, “I can now answer those bullies when they asked Mallory, ‘When are you going to kill yourself?’ Because the answer is June 14, 2017.” The students in the auditorium gasped, and many cried.

Unsurprisingly, Dianne had everyone’s full attention for the hour and a half she presented. For most of the assembly, you could have heard a pin drop. Some students needed to leave the assembly briefly to compose themselves. In that moment, I did worry that we had made the issue of bullying somehow too real and too hard for our middle school students—my heart was in my throat as this assembly continued. It’s so hard to know where to draw the line with sharing difficult content, and yet I reminded myself that Mallory herself had been a middle school student when she was bullied by other middle school students.

As I wrestled with my own emotions, I started to notice something quite amazing all over the auditorium: students holding hands, students consoling other students, hugging their friends, students checking on the ones sitting next to them—even students who admitted they were not friends during the earlier exercise. When the assembly ended, some students were still holding hands as they walked back to their classrooms. Not only did they learn the worst that can happen when you bully someone, they were united by it.

I hope that all who attended the assembly were forever changed by it.

As a fellow PTA leader, you may be wrestling with whether or not to sponsor a similar type of assembly at your school. It’s difficult, heart-breaking content. Oftentimes we want to shield our children from these difficult subjects or assume that “it can’t happen here.”

As PTA leaders, we often feel most comfortable organizing a game night or a teacher appreciation luncheon. However, having gone through this experience with our PTA, I would implore you to have your PTA tackle the “tough stuff” just as much as the fun stuff. We are in an important and unique position to drive meaningful conversations among students, faculty and parents.

I’m proud of our PTA for addressing this issue, and proud of our students for embracing Dianne’s message. We can’t bring Mallory Grossman back, but her army is growing.


While the PTA-sponsored event at Carlstadt tackled the issues of bullying and suicide by engaging Dianne and Mallory’s Army through an assembly, an additional option is to host a PTA Connected family night event to facilitate open, proactive dialogue between parents and kids together about issues like online safety, kindness, etc. Hundreds of these PTA Connected events are taking place nationwide during the 2018-2019 school year, with more slated in 2019-2020. Add yours to the growing list! Learn more about PTA Connected, including how to host an event and relevant resources available.

Additional Resources:

  • Connect for Respect Research shows that one of the most effective ways to prevent bullying behavior is to create a positive school climate. School climate encompasses everything that contributes to a student’s experience with a school—from the physical building to policies, staff and peer culture. Use the Connect for Respect (C4R) Toolkit to guide your PTA/PTSA in engaging students in improving the school climate and reducing bullying.
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline We can all help prevent suicide. The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals. Call 1-800-273-8255.
  • David’s Legacy Foundation (Resource Hub)

About the guest contributor
Michele Romano has been a member and volunteer with Carlstadt Public School PTA in New Jersey since 2009. She was a local unit vice president for four years before becoming president in 2018. Michele has two daughters, a teen and a tween.

Lifetouch Memory Mission 2019: A Transformative Experience

 

By Ivelisse “Ive” Castro, National PTA NSR (National Service Representative)

What an honor and a privilege it was to represent the National PTA staff on the 2019 Lifetouch Memory Mission. I was thrilled to share this experience with Esther Parker (National PTA Elections Committee), Rose Acerra (New Jersey PTA President) and Hoang Bui (Secretary/Treasurer of the Iowa PTA.)

This year Lifetouch focused on building hope in the community of Juncos, Puerto Rico by taking a team composed of Lifetouch employees and Shutterfly employees, school administrators and members of national education groups such as ASAA, NAESP, NASSP, NSBA, National PTA and others to serve in rebuilding the Colegio Bautista of Juncos, a K-8 school that’s part of the First Baptist Church of Juncos.

Juncos is south-southwest of the National Park of El Yunque, Puerto Rico’s tropical rainforest. The loss of basic utilities such as power and water only compounded the impact Maria had across the island of Puerto Rico. Among other devastating losses, the damage to schools in the area was severe.

This one-week mission took us first to Atlanta. I was intrigued. I live in Miami, Fla., so I wondered: Why go north to then go south? Why spent two days out of seven available days in Atlanta? Why not travel directly to Puerto Rico to have more time serving there? In Atlanta, I found the answer: Because when you want 42 people to work together as a team, to not be just helpers but servants, to have an enriching, transformative and memorable experience, you need to start by building your team and setting the foundation for success.

On Tuesday evening we traveled to San Juan, Puerto Rico. On Wednesday, we arrived in Juncos and got divided into teams to work on different projects.

After construction on Saturday, we visited the homes of different families in the area to learn more about them. While driving to one of these homes, a student who came with us to translate for the group said something that summed up the spirit of the community.  He said, “I don’t like people asking about what happened to us before, during and after Hurricane Maria. That’s the past. We managed. We survived. We became stronger on our own as a result of it.”

On Sunday, we participated in the church’s service where they warmly thanked us for all we “gave” them—in fact, they gave us more than they can ever imagine. That day, Lifetouch distributed printed pictures of the students taken previously that same week.

This year, Lifetouch accommodated Puerto Rico PTA students from our Missionary Christian Academy PTA, and Kabod Christian Academy PTA. Our students and state leaders made us proud. If you want to get a sense of our time in Puerto Rico, I recommend that you watch these three Facebook Live videos featuring National PTA, the Puerto Rico PTA and their local units:

1) The National PTA team session

2) MCA & Julia Justiniano session

3) Kabod and Vivian Ruiz session

I’m so glad National PTA has this relationship with Lifetouch because I’m not aware of any other opportunity that brings the national education community together to learn and serve other education communities that teach us a lot about them and about ourselves.

I hope we will all continue to support the Lifetouch Memory Mission project by donating (funds will go to the 2020 mission) and by applying to join future missions—the 2020 Lifetouch Memory Mission will be in the Dominican Republic. I can assure you: you’ll gain more than what you’ll give.

This experience will live in me forever! Thank you, Lifetouch and my Memory Mission family. Thank you, National PTA, for the honor of being a representative of the National PTA family. Thank you to my Puerto Rican friends and Puerto Rico PTA family.

Student Data and Privacy: A California PTA Advocacy Story

“What is this, it looks bad?” Is never a text you want to receive, no matter what it’s about, but it’s particularly concerning when it’s about something that will impact your children. But a few savvy PTA leaders sent that exact text to me when I was president of California State PTA in February 2016.

They had been looking on the California Department of Education website for some information for their local legislation conference when they noticed an obscure button at the top of the website which said, “Objection to Student Disclosure.” After reading it, they immediately called and texted me.

I took a quick look and contacted the California State PTA’s Executive Director, Sherry Griffith to do some more in-depth research. We discovered something very unsettling. Due to a federal district court ruling, the court could require information including the name, Social Security number, home address and more data on every student who attended public school in California since Jan. 1, 2008—more than 10 million students—be made available to a court-appointed data analyst so that it could be analyzed for a court case.

Protecting the safety of children and their school records online, while ensuring access to high-quality digital educational opportunities, is critical in the 21st century. Meaningful education data can provide an immense array of benefits to students, parents and teachers. Accurate and accessible student data can assist teachers and families in creating more personalized learning plans to meet the needs of every child. However, no system is perfect, and California State PTA recognized the need for policies that ensure children’s identities are protected online, and families and students have reasonable control over the collection, storage and use of relevant personal education information.

California State PTA has been an advocate of our children since our founding and we have always held a special focus on our most vulnerable children including those receiving special education services, foster and homeless youth and those struggling with poverty. With that, California State PTA had a long history of upholding the privacy rights of its state’s students. It was hard to fathom that a judge would allow such an overexposure of children’s private information.

There wasn’t much time to get the word out to parents that their student not be included in this action—an opt out form had to be filled out, mailed and delivered by the April 1 deadline. California State PTA went into action. We got several key state-wide PTA leaders and staff together to come up with a plan. We would put the word out to encourage parents to opt their children out of the ruling.

We sent an email alert, posted on social media, made phone calls, sent out press releases and took advantage of every communication channel directly to units with clear messaging. We knew that if enough parents took action, our message would be heard loud and clear.

Our campaign was a success, with over a 90% email open rate. Fast and swift action by PTA members, leaders and other parents helped to spread the word far and wide as well. By April 1, the judge had received over 400,000 opt out requests, several letters, news and media coverage and pressure from other agencies to forgo the action and search for another alternative. Due to our quick action, communication and advocacy efforts, the judge chose another method for acquiring the information for the case without students’ personal data being used.

California State PTA believes data, when used with student privacy in mind, can be transformational. Data collected for the California State School Dashboard and Support System and data collected for the California Longitudinal Pupil Achievement Data System (CALPADS) are just two examples of how data helps educators, schools, parents and communities strengthen learning opportunities and promote equity for children in California. When we work to improve our places of learning with meaningful data while ensuring the privacy and safety of student information, students reap the benefits.


Justine Fischer is the immediate past president of California State PTA.

 

A Public Investment in An Average Kid

I consider myself a lucky person.

I tend to win stuff: a trip to an exotic island, an ocean cruise, a skype dinner with Anderson Cooper (when he had his talk show years ago) and even an opportunity to meet a sitting President, but with the celebration of Public Schools Week, I consider myself lucky to have had the public education I received growing up in my hometown in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Was it really luck, though? I attended public schools my entire life—Houston Elementary School, then Colerain Jr. High and graduated from Colerain High School (during the “big hair” 80’s)—without any particularly outstanding academic achievements, volunteer service hours or notable athletic talent that so many high school seniors are required to have these days. I was what most would consider an average kid and an average student.

What was it, then, that made my public education experience enough for me to succeed in life?

It was the promise that my public education was an investment in the future of society and in me. The promise that every child has value and worth and should be given the right to learn regardless of gender, ethnicity, color, religion or socio-economic status. I had an education that fostered my love of art, AND I had teachers whose influence and encouragement would lead me to my career in graphic design and my vocation as a public-school advocate.

In junior high, my French teacher Mrs. Wyatt, sponsored a poster contest for International Week. I entered and, to my surprise, I won! My prize was a beautiful hardcover copy of The Little Prince, lovingly inscribed (in French) by Mrs. Wyatt. I still own it today. Was this the start of my lucky streak? Perhaps. I do know what winning that contest did: it planted a seed that made me think that my love of art could lead to more prizes and, as a tween, that was a great motivator. Merci, Mrs. Wyatt, for planting that seed for future growth.

I also remember my high school art teacher, Mrs. Hilliard, making me pick my drawing out of the garbage when, out of frustration, I’d ripped it off my drawing board and tossed it in the trash. Her faith that I’d started something worth finishing exemplifies just one of the many ways a public-school teacher can positively impact a child. That drawing went on to win a Scholastic art award and I’ll never forget Mrs. Hilliard and her ability to see in me something I couldn’t yet see in myself.

My love of art led me to college after high school and eventually a career in graphic design. My community had made the investment in my public-school education which, as an adult, led me down a path to advocate for the very thing I was afforded so many years ago as a child: an opportunity to succeed through a high-quality, public education.

I live in Michigan now and have given back through thousands of volunteer hours in PTA, advocating for Michigan kids in public education as the Michigan PTA Federal Legislative Chair and in my own children’s school district through public service as an elected school board Trustee. I never forget that all of this is possible because of what society invested in me: the average student, with average grades but with a talent and love for art.

That’s why I’m #PublicSchoolProud. How about you? Read more about Public Schools Week and ways you can support our nation’s public schools.


Barb Anness is the federal legislative chair for Michigan PTA.

Public Schools Are the True Land of Opportunity

Did you know that nine out of every 10 children in the United States attend a public school? Or that there are almost 51 million students in those public schools, being taught by just 3.2 million full-time teachers? It’s hard to grapple with numbers that massive. How is it possible that our public schools offer so many different opportunities for so many different children, all with their own hopes, dreams and goals? I look back on my own public-school education with these numbers in mind and I am amazed at the education I received.

I grew up in South Bend, Ind. My school district didn’t have the most resources, but I remember my school had everything from cooking and sewing classes, shop class, automotive class, computer classes, debate and discussion classes, as well as every sport and musical group you could ever desire to join. Even as my teachers supported and guided me towards my ultimate goal of becoming an attorney, they encouraged me to explore and test out other micro-career paths through those classes. I look back so fondly on those experiences and I know that they helped me become a well-rounded adult.

When I grew up, got married and had children of my own, the question of where they should be educated was a no-brainer. Though we had moved to Colorado, of course our children would be educated in Aurora Public Schools. When we toured the school and met with the teachers and principal before they enrolled, I was struck again with admiration for the sheer amount of choice public schools offer each and every day for each and every child.

Public schools must be a jack of all trades. In addition to the usual classes most people think of, public schools also deliver language services, food pantry services, before and after school care, IB and AP programs, arts programs, concurrent enrollment, along with mental health and counseling services. We so often take public schools for granted, forgetting how amazing it is that every student in this country has the undeniable right to a high-quality, equitable education that provides them the opportunity to grow to their full potential.

And while our public schools educate our children, they also have a profound impact on the people they grow up to be. It is our public schools that will prepare the entrepreneurs, engineers, scientists, lawyers, artists and political leaders who will ensure that our nation will flourish in an increasingly competitive global economy. It is our public schools that provide opportunities and experiences they would never otherwise encounter, and they have done this for over 200 years.

That’s why I’m #PublicSchoolProud. How about you? Read more about Public Schools Week and ways you can support our nation’s public schools.


Marques Ivey is the vice president of advocacy and chair of the legislation committee for National PTA.