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New PTA President Focuses on Parent Involvement, Diversity


Shirley Igo, the new National PTA president, discusses how the organization plans to further its goal of increasing parent involvement in the schools. Included: Information about new PTA resources for parents.

ImageEducation World: How has the role of the National Parent Teacher Association (PTA) changed over the years?

Shirley Igo: Throughout our history, the PTA has always worked on addressing important education and health issues affecting children. Our mission -- to speak on behalf of children, to assist parents, and to be strong advocates for public education -- has stayed the same, only our methods and messages have changed over the years. We've been advocating for greater parent involvement for 105 years; now we use our Web site and broadcast e-mail newsletters to reach parents and teachers with information and resources.

From my perspective, these are electrifying times for PTA. Technology offers new means of communicating with more people than ever before and the exploding diversity of our nation also poses real opportunities -- opportunities to revitalize our organization; opportunities to learn from new cultures and share new experiences; and opportunities to expand the circle of adults who advocate for children. Now more than ever, PTA has to be an organization that, not only welcomes, but also embraces diversity.

Respecting differences and actively supporting tolerance have been core principles of the National PTA since its inception in 1897. In August, National PTA begins offering "Respecting Differences," a free, Web-based resource guide for parents and teachers that promotes diversity. This fall, National PTA [also] begins researching the cultural needs and traditions of our nation's Hispanic families as it relates to furthering National PTA's mission of parent involvement. We will work to create a cultural adaptation of advertising messages to make it powerful and meaningful to Hispanic families. Plans are to debut the second language campaign at next year's national convention in San Antonio, Texas.

EW: What message about the PTA would you like to give to parents and teachers?

Igo: We often hear celebrities and role models advising children to "stay in school." I would like to send that same exact message to parents -- to stay in school. Stay involved with your children's school. Get to know their teachers. Ask how you can support their learning at home. Volunteer for school activities and events when you can or support your PTA. When parents get involved, children do better in school and in life. When parents get involved, school quality improves. Parent involvement is the number one factor affecting student success -- regardless of socio-economic status, ethnic/racial background, or the parents' education level.

EW: What are your goals as National PTA president?

Igo: Parent involvement remains the central focus of all National PTA efforts and we're working to meet the needs of today's families. As national president, my goals include providing training opportunities and materials to help parents be effective advocates not only for their own children, but also for all children; and to provide leadership as a national organization in assisting parents and school leaders to establish comprehensive parent involvement programs in every school. A third goal is to work organizationally to reach out to all parents and families, and to be relevant to the needs of a diverse population.

This e-interview with Lynne Rominger is part of the Education World weekly Wire Side Chat series. Click Wire Side Chats to go to our Wire Side Chat archive.

More About Shirley Igo

Shirley Igo of Plainview, Texas, is this year's National PTA president. Igo served as the National PTA's vice president for legislation from 1995-1999. She also was president of the Texas PTA from 1990-1992.

EW: I understand PTA membership has not grown much over the past ten years. What would you do to address this?

Igo: National PTA is facing the same issues many grassroots volunteer organizations are facing today -- people claim to have less time to devote to volunteer activities and organizations. While National PTA's membership has actually remained steady over the past decade, we are striving to get more parents involved in their children's education by providing resources, services, and benefits that are meaningful to today's parents. We provide resources online where parents can access information 24 hours a day, seven days a week, without attending a meeting. We are working with schools and communities everywhere -- rural, suburban, and urban -- to attract not only those who come from the ranks of traditional families, but single parent households, blended families, grandparents, and other caring adults. And we're letting people know that PTA is a national organization with volunteers and child advocates in every state working to be a voice for children. Our national image campaign launched this summer is helping us do just that.

EW: Why do you think membership in other parent groups, such as the Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) has been increasing ?

Igo: I'm not sure what statistics you are quoting, but whether parents join PTA or another parent involvement organization, the result is good for student achievement and success! It's true that PTAs are not organized in every school -- we are in 29 percent of public schools -- so there is tremendous room for growth and to get parents involved in their children's education. I speak out very passionately on behalf of the education and well being of children, and I applaud any parent or adult that does the same, whether they happen to be a PTA member or not.

This e-interview with Shirley Igo is part of the Education World weekly Wire Side Chat series. Click Wire Side Chats to go to our Wire Side Chat archive.