A group of Rancho Santa Fe School District parents is requesting that a committee be formed to examine the possibility of bringing a Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) back to the school, in addition to the existing Rancho Santa Fe Education Foundation.
In recent months, a group of about 25 parents have met several times to talk about giving the school a PTO — questioning why there isn’t one, if there is a need for it and if it is something that would be feasible or advisable for the school.
More than just bake sales, the parents want to create a genuine collaboration with the school and a forum to discuss school issues.
The group is not committed to any specific outcome, said parent Sarah Neal. The crux of the issue is whether parents are valued contributors to the educational process.
Parent Diana Knickrehm said while the Rancho Santa Fe Education Foundation is a very important organization, raising $1.2 million for the school annually, there is a need to strengthen the parent-school relationship.
“Nearly all top-performing schools have a channel for parent input and representation that is vibrant and dynamic,” Knickrehm said. “We need to create that here at Rowe.”
Alexia Bregman, president of the Foundation, said their organization shares a lot of the same concerns and have been working on plans to reorganize the structure of the Foundation. At public meetings on May 13 at 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. in the Performing Arts Center, the Foundation will announce a new Community Connection arm.
“We’re hopeful that they will be as excited about the new developments as we are,” said Bregman. “We think it’s cohesive with what they want and everybody ends up in a happy place.”
While the Foundation hopes to iron out the final details of how its nominating committee will work and whether it will need to change any group bylaws at its April 20 and April 27 meetings, Bregman said they “jumped the gun” and shared what they had in the works with the PTO group because they felt it was in line with what they were discussing.
The Foundation’s Community Connection piece plans to have six town hall events per year, as well as monthly forums to get parent input on issues. Minutes of the forums will be shared and, if necessary, issues will be taken up with the school board and RSF School District Superintendent Lindy Delaney.
Bregman said the Foundation’s revised structure would include five arms: the parent organization, annual fund, finance, marketing and the endowment. Each arm will have two representatives that will sit on the executive board.
Currently, the board has 21 members and this will streamline the structure, Bregman said. The Endowment, which has reached $4.7 million, will also have a formal board, which will be introduced at the May meeting.
Superintendent Delaney said that she was open to having the PTO conversation but not sure of the need.
“Our Education Foundation is a vital, hardworking organization made up of parent volunteers. In my opinion there is not a need for another parent organization in our school,” Delaney said, “It would be my hope that the parents interested in organizing a PTO work alongside of the Education Foundation to affect any change needed. We have a wonderful school community and the best way to maintain a strong school is to work together.”
There was a time when R. Roger Rowe had both organizations — the PTO and the Rancho Santa Fe Endowment Fund merged to form the RSF Education Foundation in 2007. At the time, the idea was to clean up the fundraising message for parents as it had become increasingly difficult to raise the necessary funds. In the past, the PTO fundraised more frequently and in smaller amounts for classroom supplies and teacher salaries while the Endowment solicited much larger, long-term gifts and focused mostly on keeping low class sizes.
“When the PTO and Foundation merged, the unintended consequence was that an important piece was lost and that’s the parent engagement piece,” Knickrehm said.
“Parents need a venue to come together, share experiences, gain input on topics of education to enhance the school and provide a collective feedback to the school. That channel has fizzled.”
After the group of parents came together on bringing back a PTO, they tasked Neal and Knickrehm with finding out more information. They assert they are not spearheading the effort and they don’t intend to be “rabble-rousers,” they are simply raising a question.
“We value the Foundation, we don’t want to disrupt what they’re doing because it’s really important,” Neal said, noting that the Foundation is a model organization for other school districts and is extremely successful, if not the best, in what they do.
Kickrehm said there is a concern that the Foundation isn’t necessarily representative of the parent population, as it is a corporate structure not a membership structure. Positions can only be held if the person is a donor at a certain level and Knickrehm said the nominations process is not as transparent as it could be.
“Everybody should have a voice no matter what level of donation or participation they have,” Knickrehm said.
Superintendent Delaney operates with an “open door policy,” meaning parents are welcome to come to her at any time with any school concerns. The parents complimented Delaney for her willingness to meet with any parent, but they said they feel it would be more effective for the superintendent to hear about issues from a PTO rather than have 20 separate conversations with individuals about one issue.
Rather than being “bogged down with squeaky wheels,” a PTO could encourage the administration to be less reactive to concerns and more proactive by engaging more parents and hearing ideas that push the school forward, Neal said.
Knickrehm said having more parent involvement would acknowledge that their ideas and opinions are valued. If they are more involved in the process, even if the end result was not what they wanted, she said parents would be satisfied that their voices are being heard and it would result in “less headaches” on the backside.
It may slow down the decision-making process, but it would be more efficient in the long run, Neal said.
Most of the funds raised by the Foundation go to keeping small class sizes, which is a universal priority. But as Neal pointed out, a PTO allows teachers and parents to initiate funding for additional resources such as equipment or supplies.
“It really builds our sense of community for parents to come together and collaborate with the school to make changes that are important to the overall parent community,” Neal said.
A lot of issues the parent group has raised are some of the same concerns shared by the Foundation, Bregman said, most notably that in order to be involved on the Foundation board, parents had to either contribute a certain amount of funds or to take over a leadership seat.
“We realized it was increasingly difficult because not everyone wants to do that, there wasn’t a capacity to join the Foundation without being a part of it,” Bregman said.
Under the new Foundation structure, people will still have the capacity to take leadership roles or volunteer if they want to but they won’t have to take a leadership role to attend and contribute at the town halls or forums.
“We never really had that before in the Foundation structure,” Bregman said. “We realized that it was important to have more of a community relationship, that had gotten lost over the last couple of years and we’re excited to be bringing that to the community, allowing everyone to participate in the Foundation by virtue of the fact they have a child in the school.”
Bregman said she has shared the Foundation’s plans with the parent group that is interested in forming a PTO with the hopes that they would see that their goals were aligned.
“They are dead set on having a new parent organization and I’ve asked them to give us a chance and see we are very authentic in our desire to do this within our school Foundation,” Bregman said.
Bregman said that while she will welcome input and feedback on the Foundation’s organization structure, it would ultimately be up to the Foundation board to decide what makes the most sense for their organization.
Bregman said she has been open with the PTO group and even offered one of the parents a leadership role at the Foundation.
“I absolutely support them advocating for themselves and they absolutely should if they feel their needs aren’t being met,” Bregman said.
The conversation about a PTO is still one the parent group would like to have. They understand there are still many questions to be answered: Could two organizations slow things down? Do parents really want to be engaged? Is this something that a majority of the school community wants?
What it comes down to for Neal and Knickrehm is the parent engagement. Knickrehm said that yes, gathering parent feedback is “messy” but discussions and debate should be tolerated.
“Even at a small school it still makes sense to do things the best way,” Neal said.