For many parents, PTA is a generic term that applies to any parent group that teams with teachers and administrators within the school.
However, of 29 schools in Pasco County that have parent groups, just 15 are PTAs, an abbreviation for Parent Teacher Association. The rest are PTOs (Parent Teacher Organization) or some other name.
So what's the difference?
PTOs and other groups tend to work in isolation, concentrating on the issues and needs within one particular school. Some, such as Fox Hollow's POPS (Power of Positive Parents) are run solely by teachers and administrators who offer parent workshops about three times a year.
PTA is broader in scope, working at the local, state and national level. Conferences held throughout the year provide financial and organizational guidance to PTA leaders. PTA has lobbied for issues, such as the school-lunch program, that directly affect children. Now, as budget cuts increasingly threaten education, there is a growing trend in PTA to become more political.
Although there are structural and political differences between these various organizations, there is one common goal: meeting the educational needs of children.
A PTA story
Jean Muller has been a PTA member for more than nine years. She is the PTA president at Sanders Memorial Elementary School in Land O'Lakes where two of her children, John and Jaclyn, attend school. She also was instrumental in getting a PTA up and running at Pine View Middle School where her son, Matthew, is an eighth-grader.
Muller first joined PTA when Matthew entered kindergarten. Like many other families today, both she and her husband, Gilbert, were working outside the home. "There was no time for me to volunteer at the school and find out what was going on that way. Joining PTA was a logical choice," she said. "It put my mind at ease to know more about the environment where my son was spending so much time _ to know he was safe."
Over the years, Muller's involvement in PTA has played an important role in her children's education. At meetings, Muller was informed of the new curriculums that were being introduced.
"I learned how these curriculums were being taught, and by checking my children's schoolwork, I would know whether or not these new methods were effective and then provide feedback to the school."
She also became familiar with the administration and teachers throughout the school. Along with familiarity came preference, and although Muller says she has never requested a specific teacher, she has asked for a certain teaching method. "Some teachers are more enthusiastic than others," she said.
Muller and other PTA members are planningfund-raisers for the coming year at Sanders. In the past, the PTA has financed enhancement and anti-drug programs that the school could not afford otherwise. This year, funds are earmarked for new playground equipment. "It's one of the drawbacks of having an established school," Muller says. "When equipment wears down, it's the school's responsibility to replace it."
Although fund-raising is a part of every PTA program, Muller's said Sanders is trying to get away from the "bake-sale image." "We want volunteers to work hard on building political muscle," she said.
The Nationwide America 2000 and state Blueprint 2000 plans will be turning local schools over to the community, she said, and school advisory councils will be involving more parents in the decision-making process. "We want parents to be aware of the new Legislature and encourage them to vote for their children," she said, adding, "Whenever there's a budget crisis, children suffer."
A PTO story
Frank Corona is the newly elected PTO president at Cypress Elementary School in New Port Richey where his daughter, Lindsey, is in fourth grade. For two years Corona served on the school's advisory board, but this is his first year as a PTO member.
Corona is a contractor. His wife, Anne, works as a secretary for a local dentist. Because Corona is self-employed, he can arrange his schedule to spend anywhere from 10 to 20 hours a week at Cypress.
Corona says he loves every minute of the time he spends at Cypress. He has met all the teachers to discuss their classroom needs and learn how those needs can be met. He also enjoys the suggestions he gets from students. "The other day, one kid asked me if I could get the "fish guy' to come to our school again this year. Now, I'm not sure who the "fish guy' is," he said "but he's on my agenda."
The PTO at Cypress has its share of fund-raisers planned for the coming year. There will be ice cream socials, spaghetti suppers and a carnival. "Every dime that's brought in will be spent on a child," Corona said. "That's what we're here for."
PTO meetings are held monthly at Cypress, but leaders are constantly talking with one another, said Corona, who has an "open-phone" policy that allows parents to call him any time up until midnight. "These parents have put me in a position of trust," he says.
Lately, Corona has been busy gathering information from PTA groups throughout Pasco and Pinellas counties, and he has been pleased with the support he has received. He concedes that PTAs have more political clout, but said, "We're the same organization in theory; we're all people who care about kids."
Corona said he is determined to do the best job possible in leading the PTO at Cypress. He attributes his enthusiastic approach to a tragic loss that he and his wife suffered. One year and three months before his daughter Lindsey was born, his infant daughter Courtney died from medical complications after living just one day. "When something like that happens," Corona said, "it changes your value system."
Corona advises parents who are concerned about their children and their well-being to join any parent/teacher group their school offers.
"You don't have to have a college degree to want to help, and you get so much out of it," he said. "The neatest thing that has ever happened to me was one day when I was walking down the school hallway with my daughter, and I heard her whisper to a classmate, "That's my dad!'
Calling all parents
Note: This list, provided by the School Board, contains schools with parent/teacher groups, and the contact person. Parents can join any time. Interested in starting a PTA? Call Linda Vanyur at (813) 996-6028.
Bayonet Point Middle School PTA, Debra Pelc
Calusa Elementary POST (Parent Organization Supporting Teachers), T.
Centennial Elementary PTA, Judy Schaper
Cypress Elementary PTO, Frank Corona
Deer Park Elementary PTO, Jeff Savino
Fox Hollow Elementary POPS (Power of Positive Parents), Richard Tauber
Mary Giella Elementary PTO, Peggy Reid
Gulf Middle School Academic Teams, Richard Koop
Gulfside Elementary PTSA, Claudia Perrell
Hudson Middle School PTSO, Joanne D'Angelo
Lacoochee Elementary PTO, Janelle Ballard
Lake Myrtle Elementary PTA, Karen Stillman
Mittye P. Locke Elementary PTA, Sandra Boleyn
Moon Lake Elementary PTO, John Pfeifer
Pasco Elementary Parents and Teachers for Children, Janet Parks
Pasco Middle School Parent/Volunteer Advisory, Alice Deschryver
Pine View Middle School PTA, Karen Tucker
Quail Hollow Elementary PTA, Donna Sanborn
Richey Fundamental Elementary PTA, Joyce Rose
River Ridge High/Middle PTSA, Rena Jones
San Antonio Elementary PTA, Kaye Scharber
Sander Memorial Elementary PTA, Jean Muller
H.Schwettman Adult Education Parent Information Group, Debbie Wichmanowski
Seven Springs Elementary PTSA, Brenda Pettry
Shady Hills Elementary PTO, June Maniscaloo
Woodland Elementary PTA, June Reed
Call the schools for more information.