EDITOR’S NOTE: Community Newsmaker is a monthly series that sheds light on topical issues through the eyes of local newsmakers. Today, Richmond County Council of PTAs President Monique Braswell talks about her views on the evolving role of PTAs in schools, the potential impact of HR 1162 and communication with local leaders.
Monique Braswell became the PTA Council president in May 2011 when she made it her goal to increase parent participation and advocacy at schools in Richmond and Burke counties.
A mother of four from Brooklyn, N.Y., Braswell was homeless when she moved to Georgia eight years ago. She received help from the CSRA Economic Opportunity Authority and today serves on the organization’s board.
Braswell acts as the overseer of the individual PTAs at 48 schools in the area and attends Richmond County Board of Education meetings to be the PTAs’ voice in the decision-making process.
She has helped raise membership numbers to historic highs in the district. The Richmond County Council now has 10,795 members, compared to 4,966 in 2007.
Accountability has been a priority in her presidency, Braswell said. School PTA presidents receive regular training from the state and district levels, where parent leaders learn how to document budgets, recruit and work with principals.
The members are working to make the core of PTA about more than fundraising.
“The face of PTA is definitely changing,” Braswell said.
ROLE OF PTA
One of Braswell’s first tasks upon taking the presidency was to boost membership numbers and participation from parents. She said some were reluctant to join the PTA at their child’s school because they feared they couldn’t offer enough time.
She began convincing members that any kind of involvement helps. If parents can’t come to a Saturday function, maybe they can design a flier on the computer at home or drop paperwork off at an office one afternoon.
“We say ‘Hey, we have your voice. You can come in and pitch in when they can,’” Braswell said.
Leaders have also worked to change the stereotypical image of the PTA in recent years, she added. They have shifted away from being strictly fundraising entities to acting as advocates for political and community issues and being more involved in the educational process.
“Years ago PTAs were expected to sit in the school all day, take names, serve, volunteer and make copies and raise money,” Braswell said. “That was PTA years ago. In today’s economy, parents really can’t afford to sit inside the school and sit at the desk and do those kinds of things. They give as much time as they can.”
Besides getting more people to sign up for PTA, the parent involvement inside the schools is up 23 percent from last year. Braswell said the goal is to get parents involved in the day to day workings of a school rather than just sign up, pay dues and disappear.
Braswell has been an outspoken opponent of the constitutional amendment passed by the General Assembly earlier this year giving the state authority to establish charter schools over the opposition of local school boards. She has worked with local educators and politicians to inform the public about the details of the bill and has criticized Sen. Hardie Davis, D-Augusta, for voting for the amendment after the Richmond County Board of Education passed a resolution stating its opposition. Other Democratic members of the county’s legislative delegation voted against it.
Braswell said she supports charter schools run by local systems, such as Jenkins White Elementary Charter School, because the community has a voice in how it operates if there is a problem.
If Georgia voters approve the amendment in November, a state committee will have the power to review charter applications and give them permission to open. In those cases, the local boards would not have control of the schools in the district, even though the charters will receive state funding that opponents say should go to local districts.
State-run systems, she said, are less accessible and transparent.
“I called the state three weeks ago. I’m still waiting to get a return phone call,” she said. “It’s not fair.”
Opposition to HR 1162 has been a focal point of the Richmond County Council of PTAs and will continue to be until voters see the referendum in November.
“This is the time that the parents’ voices need to be heard,” Braswell said. “If parents don’t know now, this is the time to take your voice back.”
Braswell said the relationship between parents and the school board could be improved.
“I don’t think that this board is responsive enough to parents, and it’s not the board’s fault either,” Braswell said. “It’s the parents’ fault. We allow it to get this way.”
Braswell said it might seem that parents don’t care about issues. It also appears that parents only participate when there’s a problem, she said.
But the reality is that parents are often just uninformed or misinformed. Braswell said she would like parents to be more a part of board’s decision making – especially on issues such as bus routes or in implementing the state’s waiver of No Child Left Behind standards.
However, it will take more effort on both sides.
“You’re not going to get a lot of information if you don’t seek it,” she said. “As parents we have a large responsibility. We must do our part. Our part is not just sitting back and waiting on a delivery. Our part is to get in there and get in the trenches and say ‘What does this mean? How did this happen, How can I help?’”