From Providing Clothes to Explaining the Common Core, Jefferson County PTA Delivers

I have said that if I were to start a business, the first people I would call to staff it would be some of the parent volunteers I worked with on the PTA.

My local involvement in public schools began as a member of the PTA at my daughter’s elementary school (she’s in college now). The school depended on our group of committed parents for so much – and the parents always responded quickly and effectively.

No need was too big or too small. If the school needed computers, a plan was designed to deliver. If a student needed a belt, he had three by the end of the day.

Recently, I had coffee with Heather Wampler, the President of the 15th District PTA, which is the umbrella association for all of Jefferson County Public Schools’ parent teacher associations.  I was reminded that the PTA is still staffed with talented and committed individuals.

I wanted to hear about the work the volunteers are doing to support our 102,000 students, and was especially interested in the drive for clothing to stock its Clothing Assistance Program (CAP), one of the PTA’s outstanding efforts over of the past few years.

Further, I knew our PTA had been involved in briefing families about the Common Core State Standards, and how the new standards will change the way their children will be taught and assessed.  Our district group has won two competitive grants from the national PTA to fund this effort.  I wanted to know the next steps.

While I did get updates on these outstanding efforts, I learned something more: Our 15th District PTA, in collaboration with Anne Malone, JCPS Coordinator of Homeless Education, is reaching out to homeless shelters and has started weekly sessions for families about how to support their kids in school.

Wherever the need arises, that’s where the PTA shows up.

And, while there is a nice district-wide awards dinner at the close of the year, there is no recognition that matches the time and commitment of these volunteers.  While the recognition is important, these parents don’t give of themselves just to get a trophy.

We talk about parent involvement a lot as a school board. It means many things: serving on the school’s site-based council, running for an office in the local parent association, volunteering to sell tickets to the fall festival. But, our PTA knows the most important parent role is supporting kids so they can do their best work at school.

Heather explained that’s where they start with these families at the shelters. They are lending a hand to them at a fragile time in their lives, and helping them keep their kids on track.

They are telling them about the new standards, and giving them ideas on how to keep track of their children’s assignments and to ask the right questions to keep them thinking and engaged in learning.

Joining the PTA isn’t often the first concern for a parent wondering where their family is going to live, but it was on the mind of one of the attendees.

“I’d like to get involved in the PTA,” said one Mom. “But, am I qualified?”  Heather assured her that she was, of course, and that being involved in your own children’s education is where to start. She also said they would be glad to have her as a volunteer. There’s a place for everyone.

JCPS has an exemplary PTA association, and it is something to be proud of.  It is truly a quiet giant.

So far this school year, it has provided clothing to 4,000 students, twice the number served at this point in previous years.   It held a “Wear It Forward” event in August in partnership with WAVE –TV to collect new and gently-used clothing.

Since adopting the new standards in Kentucky, our PTA has explained the Common Core State Standards to more than 13,000 individuals at business and community meetings.

This work is ongoing. Sharon Whitworth, the JCPS Parent Relations Specialist said of the standards effort, “I have been in the PTA for 36 years and have found that our recent work connecting with parents about the Common Core State Standards has been the most rewarding project that I have ever been a part of…. we are on our way to making all of our students college and career ready.”

The beauty of the PTA is that it is driven by volunteers truly committed to the work.
It takes resources, and the PTA depends on parents and the wider community to step up. For example, the CAP is staffed on a schedule of volunteers from JCPS schools and stocked by donations of used clothing and funds for new uniforms. Grants have supported the common core training sessions.

Now, the PTA is plowing new territory – reaching out to the approximately 15,000 homeless children who attend our public schools.

Just like my local experience, the PTA sees a need and designs a way to deliver.
For information on our PTA, or on how you can help, go to www.15thdistrictpta.org, or contact Heather Wampler at 15thDistrictPTA.President@gmail.com or Sharon Whitworth at Sharon.whitworth@jefferson.kyschools.us.

About Debbie Wesslund

I served on the Jefferson County Board of Education, Louisville, KY, from 2007-2014 and continue to be an advocate for public schools. There’s a high-level dialogue about public education that swings from positive to negative, with many who seek the spotlight voicing an inaccurate picture of our public schools. Words matter. They get lodged in our public perceptions, creating a narrative that doesn’t reflect the real story. There’s so much more to public education, and much worth applauding in Kentucky and across the country. The stakes are high: public education is the most serious public business we are about as a community, a state and a nation. We must continually renew our resolve to support public education. There’s always more promise in building something up, than in tearing it down.
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