PS Smart Tip: Get Informed and Participate

ItsYourSchlDon’t be one of those 90-some % of the population who don’t take the time to find out who their school board leaders are, then complain when they vote to cut your school’s budget, beloved teachers, or music and art programs. Or co-locate your school. Or relocate your school. Or close you down. Or convert your school to another kind of school altogether, without your input.

We sometimes tend to think THEY did this to US, not realizing that WE-the-people put THEM in the seat of power to begin with. And there are WAY more parents of school-aged children than unions or special interests in this town. It’s just that the majority of school parents have typically been mute when it comes to local voter turnout.
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These are OUR schools, and our local school board reps are OUR elected officials. Don’t let someone else decide it. Know who you’re putting in the driver’s seat of your child’s school experience. Ask questions. Participate. Learn. Vote.
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Did you know that school board reps have discretionary funds for school improvements, upgrades or pet projects? Did you also know that as an ally, your school board rep can look out for your school in a myriad of ways? Take the time to get to know the candidates and make the smart choice for your child’s education. Regardless who you vote for, the main thing is to actually vote.
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PS Smart Tip: Being Pro-Active

No school is perfect, and no school can provide all things to all people. But many times we as parents are the first to see or hear things, either directly on campus or through our children, that could use a tweak, a solution, or an all-out revamping. Now is not the time to sit idly by and expect someone else to solve it.
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Ask questions, talk to others, take a quick meeting with your teacher to find out their perspective and discuss possible solutions, and if you don’t get resolution, talk to the principal. Perhaps you’ve got ideas and some strategic planning or creative problem-solving will fix the issue. Sometimes just letting others know there is a problem that needs addressing is enough to get something adjusted or changed. Sometimes we can solve things in-house, and sometimes we have to take it all the way to our School Board Rep or Superintendent or even the press.
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We tend to forget that these are our schools, our children, our tax dollars. Although others might be “in charge,” when all stakeholders work together collectively and collaboratively, that’s where real community can be built and positive change can take place.

Parent Participation: Know Your Strengths, Know Your Boundaries

by Tanya Anton | GoMamaGuide.com

Now that school is back in full swing, as a public school parent I’ll bet you’re being hit up every which way from Sunday to contribute to your kid’s school. Gone are the days where you drop your kid at the door and expect the school/district/city/state/government to take care of everything else. With reduced budgets and diminished staff, regardless of the type of school you go to, schools need our help. And they are not shy in asking for it.

While parent participation is essential in today’s economy and the best way to build a strong program-rich community at your school, everyone needs to contribute something but it helps to pace yourself so you don’t burn out later.

Ask yourself the following questions: What are your strengths? What are your limitations? What are your boundaries? If you and your partner work full-time and your time is limited, consider writing a lump sum donation to the school.

You can also commit to a monthly payment plan so it is budgeted and spread out over the course of the school year.

If money is tight in your family but you have time to give, consider what you like to do or do best, and give of your time and expertise.

Can you help out in the classroom, or in the office? Can you write grants or the school newsletter after hours? Are you good at organizing or clean up? Can you work in the school garden or lead a fundraising event or man a booth at the upcoming festival? Will you bake cookies or make tamales or sell Tshirts? Can you go after business partnerships and wrangle a technology upgrade for your school? Can you solicit donations or equipment cast-offs or other services or benefits from within your business contacts? Can you chair a committee or mentor some kids or help supervise the play yard? Can you lead a prospective parent tour or special class project or launch an afterschool enrichment program?

We all have something to offer. But we work best when we are doing what we are good at and love to do. Are you a visionary, a connector, a number-cruncher or a worker bee? Do you like to work with kids, with staff, with other parents or alone? Cast your skills wisely and be realistic about the kinds of projects you can take on and the amount of time you can give to the cause. Ask to share duties if you sense you’ve taken on too much.

Every thriving school is surrounded by a strong community of support, both physically and financially. And if everybody offers in a little something, then much can get accomplished without burning out that core few who always manage to do more than everyone else. What is it that you do best and what will you offer to your child’s school? Time, skills, money, or perhaps a combination of all three.

How have you participated in your child’s school? Tell us how. Share your story. You just might inspire someone else.

Want to use this article on your blog or website? You can as long as long as you include this complete blurb with it:
Tanya Anton, author, speaker, public school consultant and advocate, is the creator/founder of GoMamaGuide.com helping parents demystify and navigate their public school options in Los Angeles. To read more articles by Tanya or to learn about her Guidebooks, House Chats, Consultations, and popular Seminars, visit GoMamaGuide.com or email us at GoMama@mac.com.
© 2011 by Tanya Anton, GoMamaGuide.com All Rights Reserved.

Prenatal Boost: The Friends of Playa Vista School

by Tanya Anton | GoMamaGuide.com

Ripple EffectBack in March 2009, I spoke to a group of what I affectionately call “stroller moms” – or moms with toddlers – in Playa Vista, who, like so many of you, were concerned about their future public school choices. Being residents in the recently formed Playa Vista development, they knew there was talk of a new LAUSD school for their community on the horizon, but without it being built yet there were so many unanswered questions.   

What kind of school would it be? What kinds of kids would it serve? Would it meet the needs and high expectations of its residents or should these parents be weighing their odds elsewhere?

With so many unknown variables, you can imagine how hard it would be to feel confident about your neighborhood school, especially when it wasn’t even built yet.

But rather than get discouraged, I shared my experience of working on behalf of a school before my daughter was even old enough to attend, so that by the time she got there we were already part of the revitalization effort. I encouraged these moms to get involved now while the school was being planned, and instead of just taking what was handed to them they had the opportunity to meet and connect with the movers and shakers of the development, the city council, the local district, the district’s Facilities department so they could have a voice in steering decisions, decisions that would directly affect their families. Most importantly, I suggested they think about starting a booster club and begin to organize and fundraise ahead of time so that by the time the school opened in 2012, they’d already be a strong and viable force. It was an inspirational night and I felt the energy in the room, but like so many of my talks, I don’t always hear how things turn out for folks.

This past month (July 2011) I went to see my husband’s band, Venice, aka Pine Mountain Logs, play an outdoor concert in Playa Vista Park. As I walked near the bandshell with my daughter, I noticed a table selling drinks laid with an assortment of papers and info. As I leaned in to get a better look, I saw the “Friends of Playa Vista School” logo and posters and beamed ear to ear like a proud mama. There they were out there galvanizing the hundreds of community members on behalf of their school, the school that wasn’t even born yet. They did it, I thought. They actually did it!

The Friends of Playa Vista School had formed a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, created a board and several committees, built a website, email list, and Facebook group. They were out surveying their community members, gathering support and actively engaging participation. They were organized and already advocating for their future neighborhood school. As I read about the school I learned they’d formed a partnership with LMU’s School of Education, Center for Math and Science Teaching, and College of Science and Engineering. The school will have a math, science, and environmental focus, and the facility itself will be a model of environmentally sustainable design with solar panels, recycled water, geothermal heating and cooling, and is slated to become a LEED Gold Certified school, one of only four in LAUSD with this status and the only one on the Westside of LA. The Friends are advocating for it to become a non-traditional Pilot school with certain autonomies from LAUSD, and through perseverance they were able to remove it from the Public School Choice (PSC) 3.0 open bidding process that typically happens to new schools, meaning they’ve maintained control of their school. Nice work ladies! Brava! I couldn’t be more proud.

To read more about Playa Vista Elementary School (PVES or CRES#22) go to:
www.playavistaschool.org
Join their Facebook page: FOPVES
View the school’s sustainable design plan

The lesson we can all look at here is taking an unknown stress-filled challenge and instead of getting stuck there, turning it upside-down into empowered involvement. It’s amazing what we can do on behalf of our collective children when we’re motivated. It requires faith, vision, effort, organization and outreach. But we don’t have to do it alone. Once we become empowered to do something, we become the central catalyst for improvement and change, and then we inspire others around us and it spreads. Inspiration is contagious and ultimately, transformative.

Rather than spiral downward into disengagement and helplessness, we have the choice to spiral upward into empowerment, connection and transformation. 

I know it can seem impossible, one mom against the big giant public school machine, especially in this economy. But take a look around you. What one little piece can you see at your school that speaks to you, that you see potential in, or have a desire to transform? What steps could you take? How can you become a catalyst for positive change? Share your story. We’re all in this together.

© 2011 by Tanya Anton, GoMamaGuide.com All Rights Reserved.

PS Smart Tip: Socialize

Get Smart, Get PS (Public School) Smart

*Today’s public schools are full of challenges it’s true, but now more than ever is the time to work smarter, to work together to improve our school experience. In this section we’ll offer handy smart tips you can use right now to boost your school community.

Now that we’re nearing the end of the school year, many parents are downright burnt and crispy from all their efforts volunteering, fundraising, organizing auctions, carnivals, book fairs, etc. They need a little TLC. Some appreciation for all their hard work. After all, they’re not getting paid for it, and in many cases it’s the parents’ efforts that end up funding the special programs and enrichments the district can no longer provide.

While some schools are still squeezing parents for donations and to commit to next year’s committees and officer positions, a smarter idea would be to throw a big social event (think potluck or bbq or happy hour) to bring everyone together to bask in gratuitous flattery and mutual admiration. We’ll all do more for the cause when we feel welcomed, connected and appreciated. Moms and Margaritas? I’m in! Might just feel more tempted to join that grantwriting committee with such awesome compadres around me.