Good evening! My name is Tessie Thomas and I am the President of the Montclair Council of PTAs (PTAC) an elected body that represents and supports the whole community.
Tonight we decided to do things slightly differently. Given that there are a few new faces on the Board and with the new leadership, we thought it would be a good idea to talk a little about who PTAC is, what we do, and how we get it done. The specifics here are important as they are the basis of our support to the district and they are the basis that drive engagement and tasks.
PTAC is made up of elected Board members, elected by the elected officers of all the school PTAs. Our mission is to support our PTAS and advocate for all the children. PTAC is the place where all the PTAs and across all schools – issues of common interest. What we have found is that there is strength in numbers and being grounded in the community. It allows us to be a powerful collective and united messenger. We provide the forum for wider issues to bubble up and lean on our direct relationship with the district and Superintendent. We have a formal monthly meeting and there are multiple communications in between. Most of the PTAC members are also involved in multiple district initiatives and Board committees. We are able to bubble up issues and resolve them through action before they linger and become larger issues. Our ears are to the ground and we deliberate and sort through issues prioritizing important ones and not wasting time on only “Noise”.
Beyond the advocacy role, we are also the forum for learning. We all learn together. We support all PTA and parent leaders, more importantly we support those that are newer in their roles. We learn from each other’s mistakes and help save each other time, effort, and money. We help solve interpersonal issues, guide PTAs on challenging issues, are a sounding board for new ideas whether it be related to to teacher stipends or grants, teacher appreciation days, school tours happening now, assemblies, field trips, After School Enrichment programs, fundraisers or galas. We are a resource to PTAs.
Besides the PTA Presidents coming together at PTAC, we are organized as Committees. The Committees are formed by motivated volunteers who are either subject matter experts or feel passionately about a specific area of advocacy. As an example, this year the Education and Special Education Committee is laser focused on the test scores shared by the district and the required follow up actions. The PTAC Committee structure has a major overlap with the Committee structure of the Board. As an example, the PTAC communications committee worked closely with the BOE communications committee AND put together the MPS 101 guide that can be found on the PTAC website. The Community Engagement Committee works on the MPS 101 Transition to Middle and Elementary Schools, this year HAPPENING on February 23 and March 9.
We also conduct special programs like the Reflections Art Program (Entries are currently being judged to send off to the state) the transition series, budget forums, speaker series, etc. I rattle these off, but each of these is an in-depth effort where the volunteers put in long hours to make it happen, with widespread community engagement, and very positive feedback.
We have been most effective by focusing on issues, and not being reactive, and working hard on it for results. As some of you have heard me say – our focus is on “concrete deliverables”. 3 quick examples – formation of the MHS PTA after decades of no PTA at the High School, running a community wide survey on mask mandates to drive a data driven decision on a controversial issue, and community engagement and advocacy for the passage of the $188M Community Investment Bond.
We have a few key takeaways from our efforts and outcomes –
We are volunteers – so there is an automatic self-selection – these are folks who feel strongly about contributing to the community, work long thankless hours, and get things done – as that is the objective.
We focus on results and have little reliance on acrimony, unless warranted, to get things done. We found that trusting the intent of the other side on trying to do right by our children goes a long way on getting things done. We are watchful but our going in assumption in any of these situations is positive.
This is important. We live in an acrimonious time. We live in a time when someone out there thinks it is okay to take a Molotov Cocktail and attack a place of worship. We live in a time when some in law enforcement thought it was okay to use excessive force causing loss of a precious life. We live in a time when some people think its okay to attack and kill people celebrating a festival or shoot people in schools. These are outrageous acts and the thinking or the lack of it that goes behind these acts leave all of us speechless. Together we need to do our part in not letting these things becoming normalized, starting with how we communicate and get things done in our day-to-day. We need to learn to disagree without being disagreeable. We practice this on a daily basis at PTAC.
Just this week, Nishuane was appreciating an Edgemont event that was held at Bradford! Our PTAs err on the side of collaboration. We do have a bias and that is for action and “concrete deliverables”. We err on the side of not seeking glory but keeping our nose to the ground and getting things done.
We look forward to working with the Board in its current makeup. We encourage you to lean on us in situations where you may be limited given your office. We remain focused on the success of our children. Last year, we supported the district’s major stride on fixing the infrastructure. Our theme and focus now is on the learning that goes on inside that infrastructure. We look forward to a great 2023!