This annual event is designed to welcome incoming Parent Association Presidents from member schools and to provide a timely opportunity for past and incoming presidents to share ideas and experiences. A panel with former presidents was followed by a general question and answer period. Topics included: introduction and descriptions of PA workings; communications within school community; nominations and volunteers; budgets, fundraising and community-building; personal time boundaries: and events.
Welcome from Kathleen O’Neill Jamieson, head of National Cathedral School, and from Betsy Mandel, head of the Parents Council of Washington.
Panel of Parent Association Presidents
Mary Baker – President of Landon Mother’s Association (LMA)
Tamra Bentsen – PA President, St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes School
Manar Morales – PA President, St Patrick’s Episcopal Day School
Moderators: Gretchen Neal and Anna Pfeiffer PCW
Mary Baker – LMA’s role is to enhance the lives of our boys at Landon. I have had an easy transition into President, as I was able to shadow last year in the role of VP and to “learn the ropes,” then move into the President’s role this year. I felt I had a year of knowledge and experience going into the job. As President I meet monthly with the division heads, deans and headmaster. We have a great wealth of volunteers.
Tamra Bentsen – The goal for our PA is a “sense of place, peace, and friendship and an opportunity to live our school mission.” Our PA is a collaborative effort with the teachers, administration, deans, and parents. The PA president is elected in May by a panel of parents and teachers. I served one year as President-Elect when I shadow and attend meetings so that I am prepared for the President position. We have open nominations that are done on-line and all parents can offer to be volunteers and/or room parents. Our Head of School attends all PA meetings. We have two evening meetings for working parents or parents with other obligations in the morning. This year we formalized the grocery receipt program and it was very successful .
Manar Morales – President of the PA is also on the Board of Trustees’ Executive Board. It is a two-year term. There is no shadow process. The PA President meets with the Head of School to learn their expectations for the PA. The head also attends all PA meetings. I meet once a month with the head of school prior to our PA meetings. I also meet with the Board Chair to discuss goals and invite them to one of our PA meetings. We hold two general meetings and we ask our PA officers reach out to parents with a formal invitation to attend. The PA sets goals at the beginning of the year and all PA members hear them. This helps to build a team. Volunteers spend a lot of time supporting the school. We are trying to recognize this gift of their time. We invite volunteers to a PA meeting so they can see we are supporting them. We also hold a thank you brunch, send thank you notes or flowers.
Questions were then discussed amongst the panel and audience.
How do you communicate with your school’s parent community?
Landon – School wide emails go out through the communications office. We also use grade specific emails that are generated by the room moms about one every two weeks so not to overload parents with emails. One of three room moms per grade designated to be the “email mom.”
St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes – The PA has a VP of Communications and the school’s Director of Communications approves everything before it goes out. There’s an email “dispatch” that goes out to all three campuses – don’t do many mailings. Use room parents as well to communicate with the parents.
St. Patrick’s – has a VP of Communications on our executive committee that works with the school to manage communications. Room parents send out some email, as parents are more likely to open these emails. PA also has an email “blast,” and there’s a Thursday bulletin that goes out from the school. They also have a post card that goes out at the beginning of each year with the PA mission, a list of the year’s PA activities and the event dates. This is sent out to all the parents. We end the year with a thank you card that lists all of our accomplishments.
It seems that 5% of the people do 95% of the work. What are some strategies to get new volunteers?
Landon – LMA chair designates the room moms and tried to reach out to new people and working moms. Many mentioned being thrilled to be asked.
St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes – talk with the head of the divisions for names of new families or families who have expressed an interest in getting involved. When you reach out to a new mom or dad to volunteer, you are tapping into a huge “branch” of new people that you can also reach out to.
How can you have a transparent process for nominations when there is always the person who volunteers but never really does the work?
St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes – No event has just one chair. If we have multiple co-chairs it seems to work better. We have the sign-up form online so it is first come first serve, though we are able to find a role for the parents who volunteer.
St Patrick’s – We have the first chair pick the co-chair, as a friend asking a friend is more invested to do a good job and not let their friend down.
We had a new head last year and we meet with her monthly to advise her on issues such as the strategic plan. How do I really get a feel for what the main issues are with the parent body?
Landon – I was getting calls seven days a week. Parents look to the PA president for advice as well as someone to listen. If I get repeated concerns/ideas/suggestions I take them to the head of school at our monthly meetings. He then directs me to the right person to address the issue.
St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes – We have a very open communication with the Head of School. Our school also uses online surveys frequently to get the pulse of the parents and can be done anonymously.
How do we promote the PA to parents to help get more volunteers?
Georgetown Visitation – We encourage class reps to pick up the phone during the summer and invite people to sign up to volunteer.
St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes – Our head hosts an event for all volunteers to thank them. It is important to capture the name of anyone who volunteers for jobs big or small and it is very important to remember to thank everyone.
Sidwell Friends School – We call people, even those who usually don’t volunteer and were very successful in getting new parents to sign up to help.
How do you make your PA inclusive to represent your student body?
St. Andrew’s – We make a real effort to diversify room parents and other volunteers by grade, girl or boy parents, backgrounds, etc.
Norwood – We do an open call for nominations for room parents and take the list to the heads for their recommendations. We have grade reps not room parents.
Georgetown Day School – We make phone calls to parents so that we have a diverse group of volunteers.
St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes – We use our diversity/multicultural committee, which holds two spots on our PA, to help diversify our volunteer pool. We hold various multicultural events.
How does your PA help to transition in a new head of school or division head?
Norwood – We held a coffee for parents to come and meet and ask questions as well as a coffee just for the PA executive committee. Since a new head needs to learn the traditions of the school, we created a scrapbook with information and photos of the various events organized by the PA.
What about budgets and fundraising? Grocery Receipt Sign-up?
St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes – we kept a cushion in our budget to roll over to next year.
Landon – grocery receipts – we find it hard to get parents to sign up. It would be easier if we could get the school to sign up parents, possibly on the re-enrollment contracts or through the development office.
St Patrick’s – We too leave a cushion in the budget year to year. We use target emails to get parents to sign up for grocery receipts and then follow up with a thank you that lets them know the success of the program
Sandy Springs Friends School – We have a page on our website with links to sign up and shop and get credit for your school. We send an email at the beginning of the year asking if you want to be on the list and participate so there in no need to re-enroll each year and if you want to opt out you can.
Where do you get the funds for the PA activities? Does your PA do fundraising?
Landon – we are not a fundraising group we just do volunteer work. There are a few opportunities within the Father’s Club for individual donations to certain things like the Debate team.
What do you do to support community building and welcoming new families?
Sandy Springs – described their “First Friends” programs. This is a buddy/family system. They have a “Friends Day” event in September for everyone. It’s a Carnival like event and the MS and US students give tours to new families.
St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes – PA is responsible for a Family Fun Day – this helps to build community as well as fund raise. Merging the two has been a good way to raise money. We have come up with some low cost events as well like a Nursery Playground Breakfast for the families of younger students.
St. Andrew’s Episcopal School – We do more friend-raising than fundraising. We have a “Parent to Parent” committee on the PA board with chairs in the LS, MS, and US to reach out to families. We make personal calls to all new families before each event to formally invite them.
Washington International School – We do a large picnic at the beginning of the year for all families and it is very successful. We also have a spring bazaar that is well attended and is more of a fundraising activity. We work with the admissions office to make calls to welcome new families and hold coffees for new families.
Landon – We too have a welcome picnic, coffees, welcome reception as well as invite new LS and MS families to our book fairs.
Norwood School – we have parent coffees but have found that happy hours by grade are better attended. Our parent socials are at the head of school’s home.
Potomac School – We have done moms-night-out events – these are very successful. These are only social, no fundraising or school agenda.
Sandy Springs – We have grade specific potlucks – adults only at someone’s home. These are well attended.
Landon – We have a spaghetti dinner for fathers and sons on campus and this is an opportunity to sign up to volunteer. We also have a breakfast with a speaker for fathers and their sons before school starts one morning.
How do you deal with parents that call you in your personal time?
Landon — It is important to set boundaries. This might be that you don’t take calls after 4 pm. Or you can take phone messages and then follow up with an email the next weekday.
Washington International School – I set boundaries that I would do PA work from 8 am – 3pm only and after that it was family time.
What is your attendance like at an evening PA event?
Norwood – evening events where parents and teachers were present were very well attended because parents want a chance to talk with teachers.
Georgetown Visitation – we feature a faculty member and attendance was great. They do a presentation and then open it up to questions and answers.
Landon – we have 5 meetings a year and the PA President is responsible for getting the speakers for each. We try to focus on a topic of concern for parents. We have a presentation then questions and these are usually well attended.
Are there any programs specifically for kids regarding drugs, alcohol, stress, depression, etc?
St Andrew’s – we have a “Hot Topics” event to address areas of concern. We have a paid speaker come in and talk with the kids about issues like IMing and texting. Attendance seems to vary based on the topic.
GDS – we have a panel discussion set up by the guidance counselor that includes faculty, parents and students to discuss these various issues.
Stone Ridge/St Andrew’s – We do the Community of Concern events, which is a mandatory drug and alcohol awareness program that is attended by students and a parent.
Several schools expressed an interest in cost sharing to host an event like this: WES, Sidwell, Norwood, Holy Trinity, GDS and Sandy Springs.