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How can we increase participation at PTA meetings?

Nov 2008

Hi, I'm not sure if this question is best for the advice list or the schools list but i'll start here... Our wonderful oakland public school has lots of parent involvement but our PTA meetings have very low attendance. We're trying to get more folks out and for some reason we're having a hard time. I'm looking for some feedback on how other ptas conduct their meetings... Do you have board meetings separate from general pta meetings? Do you combine them? Are there any schools out there with some great ideas on how to get parents out? We've tried providing childcare, lectures, dinner but nothing is really sticking. Thanks in advance for your tips! anon


I am a 2nd year PTA President and I used to worry about this. Now I think small meetings are a blessing, depending on who shows up. If people are showing up because they want to be involved and want to support the group, it's great. However, sometimes folks show up who want to stir the pot and/or vent about stuff that bores/irritates the rest of the parents. Unfortunately, some parents can be quite negative and hypercritical. I'm not sure they realize how they sound to others.

If you are not getting a quorum to do business, that is a problem. One suggestion is to take each of your board members aside and explain to them why it's important to be able to do PTA business at meetings. Also, your teacher rep (if you have one) and your principal can cast votes too.

I think separate board meetings are important so the entire group doesn't feel obliged to approve the specific language in contracts, develop/evaluate programs, or craft the budget. That's really the board's role because they have the big picture of what the needs are, how much money you have raised or plan to raise to support the programs, and whether it's realistic to implement something given the number of active volunteers you have.

You can also try the following:

-ask various program coordinators and committee chairs to give
quick ''updates''. If someone sees their name on the agenda, they
are more likely to show up.
-publish the agenda before the meeting and keep the meetings as
short as possible. Parents have short attention spans.
-remind people ''in person'' or via phone call to come on the day
of the meeting. Sometimes busy parents just forget.
PTA mom
That's always a challenge. We've tried different things at our Berkeley elementary school and at one meeting had over 100 people show up! Generally, though, it's around 40-50. There are 300 families at our school all-told.

We jump-started the process by paying a teacher from each grade to attend the first annual PTA meeting. Each teacher led a break-out group of grade-level parents. The principal gave the keynote presentation explaining the direction of the school. We made sure the meeting was well organized, engaging, informative, and participatory. By paying teachers, we also had them call all the parents in their class to invite them to the meeting. It worked!

Once we broke the barrier and got people to experience a PTA meeting, as long as we kept meeting topics relevant and meetings participatory and well-executed, people kept coming back. PTA meetings that involve the minutia of planning events kill the energy, though some of that is necessary and can be fun.

There always need to be a draw, though. It's even good to have at least one annual meeting with no business. One year that meeting was with a speaker who presented on discipline skills and methods. Another year it was a speaker presenting a film and facilitating a discussion on race issues. Both were very well attended, very well received, and kept PTA participation high.

Our executive board meetings are always separate. By following the PTA by-laws, we realized we needed to add the principal, a teacher liaison (a teacher), and a Parliamentarian to our board. Those additions have also made a huge difference! Hope this helps. Good luck! Anon, former PTA president


You might start by trying to figure out why people aren't coming to the meetings. Is it lack of interest? transportation issues? safety concerns? not enough publicity? work schedules? Once you can identify the barrier(s) to participation, you can start to take steps to address them.

Personal outreach in general is the most effective engagement tool. If your school has room parents, try having each room parent personally reach out to other parents in their class at drop off and pick up, or make phone calls about the meetings. Advertise widely. Send home flyers, put up posters, have an 'auto-call' go out to all the households. If your school has significant non-English speaking populations make sure you are doing outreach in other languages and providing translation. You might rotate the time of day the meetings occur (alternate between day and evening to accommodate different schedules). If you have a core group of people who come, have each one of those people recruit additional parents to come with them. In other words, use the base of participation you have, and build upon it. Often people on the ''inside'' of the PTA can feel like martyrs, a few doing all the work. While people on the ''outside'' may not be clear on what is needed, how to engage, or why it is important.

I'm happy to talk through other ideas, if that would be helpful. Good luck! Abby


I missed your original post, so apologies if you're already doing this. Our PTA meetings are very well attended and I can tell you that one of the primary reasons I go and participate is because our PTA provides free childcare at the meetings (for kids who are potty trained). They hire a few sitters and a couple of parents and they feed the kids pizza. My kids actually look forward to going each month because they know they'll have a good time with their friends. Happy PTA participant
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