I am the parent of a child in pre-kindergarten and am newly elected to a PTA board in Brooklyn. Our zoned school is a lower performing and not highly sought after school in a district that is overcrowded because of what the other schools offer. I was hoping to work on improving parent involvement, increasing retention at the school and raising funds for enrichment programs at this school. Today we were told that because of decreased enrollment we are losing a teacher. For now I am focusing on the short term crisis of how to either gain 33 students or raise $125,000 in a few weeks. In the long run we need a parent coordinator (ours has been out since 1/2013), and ideas of how parents could work with the administration to make this a school where parents want to send their children. I would really appreciate any guidance on how to proceed!
Dear Pre-K parent,
You have three tasks -- maybe a dozen, but three to start with. You need to build up the school's reputation among parents of young children. You need to raise money. And you need to engage the administration in forging a new perspective. As you noted, these are long term projects -- you won't see results right away but in their pursuit, you will build up a strong stakeholder constituency. In fact, a strong constituency engaging parents, teacher and administrators, as well as the wider community is key to any kind of school improvement effort. See also what I wrote about ways to attract students to a zoned school in a previous column.
For more immediate results try posting a notice on neighborhood parent listservs to let parents know that seats are still available in your school. You can also post notices on supermarket bulletin boards and in local storefronts. I don't know if 33 kids will show up, but it's a start.
Meanwhile, focus on fundraising, both to get results and to start to build parent support.
Please note that Parents Associations are not allowed to raise money to hire a full time staff person-- you will need to use any funds you raise for enrichment such as arts or after school. See Chancellor's Regulation A- 610 and Chancellors Regulation A-660 for more information about fundraising by Parent Associations. Once you master the labyrinthine reporting requirements as explained in the regulations, here are some ideas as to how to get funds:
Contact your local councilperson. It's the end of the council term and there may be money left over, but don't fail to cultivate the new councilperson. Councilmember discretionary funds are important to schools and the grantor becomes a patron, one who will go to bat for you.
Grant writing. For a comprehensive list of foundations that frequently help fund schools, consult the Foundation Center.
Tried and true fundraisers include sales of holiday wrapping paper and magazine subscriptions, raffles with prizes donated by local merchants or even parents, book fairs and direct solicitation of parents. You know your parent body so the amount asked has to be reasonable for your population. Remember, no request from parents can be mandatory and there can be no consequences for failure to give.
As for a parent coordinator – speak to your principal, who does the actual hiring, and the School Leadership Team (SLT) that helps set priorities. Is there a problem hiring a substitute or replacement? If you need further help, contact your district family advocate or the Office of Parent and Community Engagement.
Finally, if all the energy you and your fellow parents expend does not also inspire the principal, enlist the of the school's support network leaders who provide professional development and other services. Look for other schools in your area that have made a successful turn-around and ask them how they did it. Your hardest task is to move the administration.
You have your work ahead, but you will find it energizing and rewarding.