The Parents Council of Washington hosted its annual Parents Association Presidents Forum on Thursday, May 10, 2012 at the Washington Episcopal School in Bethesda, Maryland. Current and incoming Parent Association Presidents from PCW member schools were invited to attend this networking event. The program included a panel presentation featuring Erin Seale, PA President of the Langley School, and Mimi Youmans, PA Head Clerk of the Sandy Spring Friends School, who shared their valuable insights on the leadership role of the PA President in their school community.
Following their remarks all of the PA Presidents attending the event engaged in an informative discussion on how to be successful in this important role.
The two Chairs of Parents Association Presidents Forum, Elizabeth Glabus and Melanie Mason, welcomed all of the PA Presidents to this PCW sponsored program. They introduced Mrs. Susan Stern, the Elementary Grades Director at the Washington Episcopal School, who gave a warm welcome to all of the PA Presidents, PCW Board members and guests and presented an overview on the many activities and school sponsored travels of the WES students this spring. Melanie Mason, a PCW Board member, began the Forum by presenting the question, “If I knew then what I know now…” and asked each of the two panelists to share their insights as they approach the end of their PA President tenure.
Erin Seale, the current PA President at the Langley School, began her remarks by suggesting that the role of PA President would be best served by a two year term. Based on her experiences, there is not enough time to look at the big picture and plan for the future when you are primarily dealing with upcoming current events at your school. The calendar is set so early that it is difficult to plan strategically when you only serve for one school year. She recommended to the incoming PA Presidents that they begin their strategic planning now and consider those events that you would like to change in order to better serve the parents and the school community. In addition, Ms. Seale emphasized the importance of the Chair Elect and stressed the need for that parent to be given a significant role in the Parents Association. One of the main events on the Langley School calendar is the Fall Fair, which requires over 100 parent volunteers. Ms. Seale remarked that in past years the Parents Association found recruiting all of these volunteers to be a challenge and they often did not have all of the volunteers needed until the week before the event. Now they manage a computerized listing of all parent volunteers for school events throughout the year, which has been highly successful. The audience discussed several options that schools use to recruit and manage their volunteer listings online, such as Volunteerspot, Survey Monkey, Sign-Up Genius, and PTO Manager. Some Parents Council member schools noted that they have a Parents Liaison, who is a paid staff member of their school, assist them in working with all of the parent volunteers.
Mimi Youmans, the present PA Head Clerk at the Sandy Spring Friends School, spoke to the PA Presidents about her tenure in the Parents Association leadership role. Although the title is Head Clerk, the position is that of a PA President. She also said how helpful it was to her to be the Assistant Head Clerk last year, which gave her an opportunity to “get a great sense of the flow of events last year.” When reviewing her role this year as PA Head Clerk, Ms. Youmans stressed the importance of consolidating communications within your school. Effective and timely communications with parents is an ongoing challenge at most schools, and it is important to find the best way to reach out to parents with information about Parents Association news and events. Some schools include Parents Association news about upcoming events as part of the school newsletter. Others permit the PA to send out information directly to parents either via the Parents Association or through grade representatives. It is important to be creative in your communications and also to effectively market your PA programs and events to your parent community. Most of the PA Presidents in the audience agreed that the school administration reviews these communications before they are distributed electronically to school families. One PA President remarked that it would be helpful if parents could self-select the information they want to receive electronically from the school and the Parents Association by email addresses. There was consensus among the PA Presidents that we must consistently reach out to our parents and follow-up with R.S.V.P.’s and thank you acknowledgements. The PA Presidents noted that virtually all correspondence with parents and families is now done electronically and there is very limited use of US Mail. Lastly, it is helpful for parents to be able to access previous PA announcements and newsletters in the online archives on the school’s website.
Following the presentations by Erin Seale and Mimi Youmans, the discussion on the role of the Parents Association President was opened to a Questions and Answers session for all of the participants. The PCW Co-Chairs, Elizabeth Glabus and Melanie Mason, moderated the discussion and presented several subjects for the panel to consider. The questions and responses included the following topics:
- How does your school communicate with parents during an emergency? The majority of the PA Presidents said that their schools use emails, text messages and robo calls to notify parents during an emergency.
- What is the structure of your Parents Association Board? The Langley School PA Board consists of ten members, including the Chair, Past Chair, Secretary and at-large members. The PA Board does not have a Treasurer, as that role is managed by the school. The Parents Association meets once each month and the Head of School and the Director of Parent Relations are invited to attend. The Sandy Spring Friends School does have a Treasurer as part of the Parents Association Board and the Head of School does not attend PA Board meetings. Holton-Arms has a Volunteer Coordinator position on the PA Board. This Board member serves for a two-year term and uses online sign ups to help connect parent volunteers with various PA committees. At the Washington Episcopal School, the Director of Development serves on the Parents Association Board and the PA President is a member of the school’s Board of Trustees.
- Are Parents Association Meetings open to all parents? One PCW member school has two open meetings each year and minutes of these all-school meetings are published for those who did not attend. At the River School all parents are invited to attend Parents Association meetings. The Langley School hosts a speakers series at their PA meetings to encourage more parents to attend the eight meetings held each school year. At the Browne Academy they host evening speakers and serve food and provide child care to make it easier for parents to attend Parents Association programs.
- How do you use social media to communicate with your parent community? Several of the PA Presidents shared that they maintain a Facebook page to reach out to more parents and that this has been very successful. The Head of School at the Browne Academy has a Twitter account. The Langley School has found Facebook to be an effective way to communicate with alumni students. The Communications Director at the Sandy Spring Friends School manages the Facebook page on behalf of the school community. The Parents Association Presidents discussed that Facebook is more appropriate for “soft news” such as sporting events, photos, etc. The McLean School features more “human interest” stories on their Facebook page.
- How do you encourage more volunteers for your Parents Association? The Heights School plans a Wine and Chocolate evening event in September at which parents are encouraged to sign-up for committees and activities throughout the school year. It is important to remind parents that you will become more a part of the school community if you participate in the Parents Association. Some of the Parents Association Presidents remarked that a personal request or phone call may encourage more parents to volunteer. At the Washington Episcopal School they host a golf outing to invite fathers to participate. Many of the PCW member schools have Fathers Committees and host events for these parents to share in the school experience. At the Sandy Spring Friends School, the fathers have a “Dads Diner” where they prepare and sell food as a fundraiser for the school. Fathers are encouraged to volunteer as grade representatives and to serve on the Parents Association Boards at all PCW member schools.
- Do your schools sponsor auctions as fundraisers? Some of the PA Presidents shared that they sponsor auctions as important fundraising events for their school community. The proceeds from these types of events are directed towards areas such as technology, scholarships and financial aid, after school programs and enrichment programs for teachers.
- How do you welcome new families into your school community? At the Sheridan School the Parents Association works with the Admissions Office to create a Buddy program for new students and their families. In addition, they reach out to the new families throughout the school year. At the Washington International School the PA President meets all of the incoming families and they are welcomed to the school community at a picnic in early September. The Commonwealth Academy prepares a booklet of “Frequently Asked Questions” that is given to all new families as a helpful reference guide and includes a wide range of topics such as PE clothing, auctions, lunch programs, etc. Other schools host ice cream socials and cocktail parties to welcome new students and their parents to the school community.
- How does your nominations and elections process work to build your PA Board? Some of the PA Presidents stated that the nominations are requested on the Parents Association website. Others are selected by a Nominations Committee or the Executive Committee and then often vetted by the school administration. At most schools, the President and President Elect leadership model is helpful in planning for leadership transitions for the Parents Association.
Elizabeth Glabus and Melanie Mason, the PCW Co-Chairs of the Parents Association President Forum, thanked each of the PA Presidents for attending this important event and for their thoughtful and insightful comments. They hoped that the discussions were helpful and wished all of the participants the best of luck in the coming school year.