The D65/202 Evanston/Skokie Council of PTAs is the umbrella organization for all the school PTAs and PTSAs in Districts 65 and 202. The organization’s mission is to “advocate for all children, fostering the education of the whole child,” by providing communication, parent education, taking stands on issues, serving as a forum, and working with school boards, the administrators, parents and guardians, and the community.

A Guest Essay by Mindy Wallis, PTA Council President

With the end of another school year in sight, the PTA Council held a meeting on May 7 to ponder where it has come from and where it is going. Or, to paraphrase Sigmund Freud, “What do parents want?”

 Over the years, the PTA Council has been responsible for coordinating Tune Out TV Week, the State of the Schools address, and the Phyllis Ganser PTA Volunteer of the Year Award.  It has also provided parental representation on District committees, such as District 65’s Strategic Plan, Technology Study, Differentiation/Enrichment Study, Middle School Study, Wellness, and Communication, and the District 202 (Evanston Township High School) School Improvement Team (SIT).

Two years ago, the Council created a Yahoo group that has proven to be the most effective tool to accomplish its main purpose of disseminating pertinent information and organizing networking opportunities among all the schools.  The list offers Council members a venue to ask questions and share best practices.  It played a vital information-sharing role for parents to discuss proposed changes to the District 65 bell schedule and to support families after the Aquan Lewis tragedy. 

While the e-mail list sometimes generates lively discussions on hot-button issues, there has not been comparable enthusiasm or interest in the everyday management of the Council.  Individual school PTAs have been very successful at engaging their parent bodies in efforts to raise funds, provide programs and support families.  Meanwhile, the PTA Council has found it increasingly difficult to find members to take on leadership roles.  Participation in monthly meetings has languished.

The success of our virtual community seems to be taking a toll on our face-to-face community. What does this mean for the future of the PTA Council as an organization? How can we continue to serve parents, work with school boards and administrations, and advocate children’s education when we can scarcely get a quorum together one Thursday night a month?

Several suggestions were made at our last meeting: Change the meeting schedule, hold fewer administrative meetings and more informational ones, create more networking opportunities for school PTA presidents. But none of these addresses the essential question: “What is the role of the PTA Council in Evanston/Skokie school community?”

One answer may lie in a new initiative that has come from the Council this year – a focus on “Fostering Healthy Communities.” The impetus came from the Council’s one subcommittee, a legislative task force that acts as a liaison with our lawmakers in Springfield and Washington.  The Task Force, chaired by Bob Heuer, solicited input from nutrition services officials and experts from around the country to devise a resolution highlighting state and federal legislation that could spur improvements to school meal and wellness programs.  

This month, we hope that individual PTAs will take a vote in support of this “Healthy Communities” resolution.   We will be approving the resolution at our May 21 meeting, and will then ask our school boards to do the same.

We have invited representatives to come to the meeting and make brief presentations on their school’s wellness, nutrition and green initiatives. By sharing information about things like school gardens, green fundraising, recycling and healthy meal options, we hope to begin to build towards greater collaboration around the District and in the community.

We have also extended invitations to the D65 Green and Wellness Committees and the Evanston Food Policy Council.  Anyone else interested in these issues is also invited to join us on May 21 at 7:00 p.m. in the Board Room of the D65 Administration Building. You are also welcome to join the conversation on the Council’s Healthy Community Google group:http://groups.google.com/group/evanston-health?hl=en. 

The PTA Council needs the energy, enthusiasm and ideas of this vibrant community to serve the needs of parents and children.  Help us move forward by joining us at our next meeting, following us on Twitter: http://twitter.com/EvPTACouncil, or participating in a virtual conversation on our wiki: http://ptacouncil.wikispaces.com/brainstorming.