Joining PTA one way to help Hawaii schools
By Kim Fassler
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Kim Fassler
Parents and community members who want to help schools with everything from fundraising to beautification projects can roll up their sleeves and go to work by participating in parent-teacher associations and school councils.
"At the end of the day, it's just fun to get involved and see that you're making an impact on the school," said Greg Chilson, president of the PTA at Kanoelani Elementary School in Waipahu.
Joining the PTA can be as easy as walking up to the front desk at your school's main office. At most schools, teachers will compile wish lists for PTA members, who usually meet once a month.
The Kanoelani group boasts one of the largest memberships in the statewide PTA system and an annual budget of around $100,000. Chilson estimated that between 20 percent and 30 percent of the student body have parents in the PTA.
Besides sponsoring special events like Haunted House night, Pumpkin Carving night and an annual jog-a-thon, the Kanoelani PTA has coordinated clean-ups to rid the school of graffiti that has recently plagued the campus. The group has also pressed the school to re-work lunchbell times, so that students would have enough time to enjoy lunch and recess.
For Chilson, the PTA's mission goes beyond simply raising money.
"People think of the PTA as a fundraising organization, but that's not what we are — we're a child advocacy organization," Chilson said.
Last year, the PTA at 'Ahuimanu Elementary School in Kane'ohe hosted several fundraisers, including the annual Fun Fair, and contributed about $30,000 to the school, said PTA president Bryan Ferguson.
The money included $15,000 for textbooks, $5,000 to $7,000 for computer equipment and upgrades, and money for the fifth-grade field trip to Kaua'i.
"A lot of parents are busy, but the biggest way they can support the school is through fundraising activities," Ferguson said.
Besides classroom supplies, PTAs also aid in teachers' professional development and in some cases even help expand the teaching staff.
While PTAs traditionally have been a way for parents to get involved, community members can also affect decision-making at their neighborhood schools through School Community Councils.
After passage of a 2004 law to increase educational decision-making at the school level, each Hawai'i public school set up a council that consists of the school principal, teachers, non-certified staff, community members, parents and students. The members advise the principal on putting together the school's academic and financial plan, and representatives from each group are elected by their peers.
Roberta Richards, principal of Pauoa Elementary School, said the council has been a springboard for new ideas and has helped her be more creative about fundraising.
"You have people from different areas, so you get a different perspective," Richards said. "If you only have educators, they only look at it one way."