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The New Face of The PTA

When you think PTA, you think bake sales, right? I think bake sales. Bake sales and craft circles and occasional gatherings of concerned parents at school board meetings.

I do not think of fund-raising drives that bring in six-figure donations and pave the way for major school renovations.

This is because I have never belonged to a public school PTA, I guess. Things have changed since my childhood.

The New York Times ran a piece last weekend on the increasingly male faces of PTA presidents. The focus of the piece was on gender. In New York City, the new PTA leadership at city schools is increasingly male.

What blew my mind, though, was the focus of these PTA activities. They’re not in it for the bake sales. The guys running New York’s PTA boards are going after six-figure donations and ambitious projects like building a new school gym.

As the New York Times says, the presence of men in the PTA follows a larger shift in PTA culture:

The surge in male leadership has, in many places, followed a more fundamental shift in the nature of the PTA. Women with advanced degrees, high-powered jobs and technological savvy have brought a new level of sophistication and seriousness to the business of supporting schools. The changed dynamic — committees that are better organized, deadlines that are taken seriously, goals that are more ambitious, schedules that accommodate working parents — helped make many PTAs more comfortable for men.

It’s not so much that men are changing the PTA, but that a changing culture and a changing PTA have drawn men into these roles.

So leaving aside the gender issue, let’s look again at what these PTA’s are doing. They’re still hosting bake sales. One of the guys interviewed for the NYT piece is a piano player who plays for school concerts. They help out in the ways you’d expect.

But they also take on these big projects.

This isn’t just a posh NYC thing. The PTA at my neighborhood school arranged through the Italian embassy to have Italian instruction for every kid in the school. They wrote a grant to get bicycles and bike safety training for the whole third grade. They cultivate a garden on school grounds and organize a book drive where they give thousands of donated books to the kids.

PTA’s are just more organized, and as a result more powerful, than they were a generation ago. Which is a good thing. All that parent energy is needed to fill the gaps left by school budget cuts. A strong PTA can have a huge impact on a school.

What projects has your PTA taken on? How do they go beyond the bake sale to impact the school?

Photo: Sugar Daze

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