Two-a-day PTA meetings, assigned classroom ambassadors and widespread buy-in are are just a few of the unique PTA efforts that have to be made in a city like Las Vegas to have success. The same efforts that resulted in national recognition. This school year three schools in the Clark County School District were selected as National PTA (Parent Teacher Association) Schools of Excellence.
The three schools to receive the award were Richard H. Bryan, William and Mary Scherkenbach and John C. Vanderburg Elementary Schools. Receiving this award is no small feat. Only four schools in Nevada and 173 schools nationwide were designated for the honor this year.
So what does it take for a school to receive this award?
For Assistant Principal Sandy Tomburo, the keys to success begin with the PTA and their level of involvement. For Scherkenbach Elementary School PTA President Jennifer Munoz, it starts with having a supportive school staff. When both of those elements are in place, they can work together to motivate the students, who are the most influential link to getting their parents involved.
All schools seem to face challenges in getting parents involved and Scherkenbach certainly has its share, starting with the fact that the school is not located in the heart of the neighborhood it serves as more than half of its 719 students are bused to the school.
The school is located on the far northwest side of the valley and is bordered by US 95, neighboring James Bilbray Elementary school and some housing developments to the east. On the north side, there is nothing but high desert where coyotes run and the sound of jets from Nellis Air Force Base making their runs to/from the Area 51 Test Range echo in the miles of open landscape.
Munoz and PTA Secretary Hallie Goetz are two of the board members for the school and for them, the secrets of success can be found in the approach they take to creating a fun, family-friendly environment.
“For many parents, when they hear PTA, they just groan and think of endless fundraisers,” said Munoz. “While we do fundraisers, we make sure we have a new activity every month and every classroom in this school has an assigned PTA representative.”
Having a representative assigned to every classroom makes every teacher feel supported according to Goetz.
“We have a really good group here where parents really care about all the students in the school and not just their child’s classroom,” said Goetz
Having all these factors in place still does not ensure success according to Munoz, who cited PTA members should have input into the selection of activities while understanding that not all parents can contribute the same amount of time to helping.
“In order to get the level of involvement we have, we realize that it just can’t be the agenda of the officers in what we want to do,” said Munoz. “We have to get input and participation from all segments of our community.”
Participation is important but Munoz and Goetz know that also means rotating assignments, so it is not the same group for everything, which can easily lead to burnout.
Understanding different parent work schedules and family commitments is also important, so they schedule morning and evening meetings in order to make sure as many parents as possible have the opportunity for input.
“Every parent wants to help, but that is not always possible, so we look to give them ways to contribute besides by donating,” said Munoz.
The other key element in making everything click is the rapport with administration.
“Our PTA is fantastic and we are happy to support them in their activities,” said Tomburo. “Once they have decided what their activities are going to be, we help by providing the communication between them and our parents and staff. We have good staff participation here because they feel supported by the PTA in their efforts.”
The framework that is in place at the school has been an asset as the district and its school transition to its new operating model under Assembly Bill 394.
“We just had our elections for the School Organization Team and with what we already have in place, it should be a smooth transition,” said Tomburo.
Munoz said the PTA is looking forward to the reorganization.
“It’s exciting to know that you are going to have a voice in saying ‘this is my school and I want to help to make it better,’” she said.