I’m setting up a website for the PTA of my daughter’s school here in Silver Spring, Maryland. The current post is You can help the PTA by shopping! The PTA treasurer made me aware of three retail chains that will contribute money to the school in proportion to purchases. There is of course some setup to be done, both by the PTA/school and by the supporter/purchaser.

For two of the chains – Giant and Target – supporter setup means linking your store card with the school. I already had a Giant card, and it was very easy. I don’t have a Target card, and wonder why I can’t apply for the type of card I want online – but that’s another story.

This post is more about the third chain – Safeway – or rather, about the way in which shopping at Safeway can result in the chain contributing to the school. It involves a firm called eScrip, of which I’d never previously heard. I became curious about eScript as a fundraising program, and about eScrip as an organization.

As a fundraising program, it stands out from the other two (i.e. Giant and Target) in a couple of ways. First, you deal with eScrip, rather than dealing directly with the store. Those who run their own websites and use commission programs might be reminded of the difference between using Commission Junction and doing affiliate setup at the merchant’s site.

Second, eScrip allows you, not only to register store cards, but also credit cards (and other cards too, but I’ll focus here on credit cards). You can register a credit card with eScrip. If you buy from a merchant that’s signed up from its end, your use of that credit card with that merchant will automagically result in that merchant donating to the school you told eScrip about. eScrip asking for my credit card made me ask about eScrip.

eScrip is a private company. I think that it’s a for-profit. escrip.com doesn’t provide a lof of information about the company itself. But it does have an FAQ including questions such as: who is ESI (Electronic Scrip Inc.), how do I know it’s legit, and who founded the company. eScrip.com links to a Better Business Bureau page, on which eScrip has an A+ rating. Googling does show up many fundraising organizations using eScrip.

I think that ESI is legitimate. I should probably provide my credit card number so that the school benefits when I use my credit card at Amazon and other participating merchants.

Interesting organization, this ESI/eScrip. Interesting stuff, this fundraising. But that’s just what I think. What do you think?

Planning a PTA Website

September 7, 2010

I just got back from the first PTA meeting of the school year at Highland Elementary School, where my daughter Maddie has just started first grade (and where my son Max is likely to start kindergarten next year). I wasn’t able to make any PTA meetings last school year.

One of priorities for the Highland PTA is getting more parents involved. I see a website as a means toward this end, in that it would be available all the time, while real-world PTA meetings can never be. The site would also make involvement easier for some parents able to be involved anyway, but who might want to get or provide updates between meetings.

Were I to set up the site right now, my priorities would be as follows.

  • Provide updates on PTA activity. Some updates might be meeting-based (reminder of meeting, here’s what was discussed, etc.), some between meetings (we’re weeks away from the next meeting, but what do you think of this?).
  • Solicit input, especially from parents and teachers who are not able to attend meetings at the school. No time is good for everyone: this morning’s 9am meeting was well attended, but still must have excluded many families.
  • Be multilingual, or at least bilingual. The Highland community speaks many languages, with Spanish and English being particularly prominent.

I’ve done some searches on terms such as PTA website. There’s a lot of stuff out there, including:

  • PTA sites at the national (US) and state (MD) level.
  • A PTA website builder site. First reaction: the nonprofit side of my brain says that it seems expensive; the for-profit side sees an opportunity in the PTA website builder business, if my pro-bono efforts at Highland go well.

Now,to solicit input on PTA websites. I’ll send out a few emails. But if you, dear reader, have thoughts on PTA sites, please share them here, especially if they include links to successful PTA sites.

The Superintendent of the Boston Public Schools, Dr. Carol R. Johnson, came to Roslindale Community Center this morning to listen to local parents. These are the personal but public notes of one parent. I’ll link to any other accounts of the meeting as I become aware of them.

Nut-Free ZoneI arrived a little after the published start time of 10:30am. The door proclaimed the room to be a nut-free zone. That’s good news, since parents have been known to get nutty (myself included). There was further good news inside in the form of coffee and mini-donuts (yes, Dunkin). I’d say that the room was set up for about 100 people. There were fewer than that when I arrived, and many more than that when CRJ arrived.

Two signin sheets were passed around. One asked for name and some demographics. Most of the people who signed it before me identified themselves as female, 25-54, and looks around the room reinforced that. The other signin sheet had Philbrick in the lead in terms of school affiliation at the early stage at which I saw it. A later show of hands suggested that “Haley wins.”

The superintendent was running late, on her way from a meeting in Dorchester. Councillor Rob Consalvo said a few words while we were waiting for her. At 11.05, she arrived and he introduced her. The message of his introduction was that “Doctor Johnson gets it.” Her opening was appropriate: thank you all for being here; sorry for being late; let me introduce some other members of the team. All the Roslindale principals were present.

Here are the questions and points from the parents, in the order they came up. I’ve captured the questions, rather than the answers, because I wanted to listen to CRJ and to her answers. My overall impression is that she good at listening, at appreciating multiple sides of an issue, and at gently giving people a side of the issue other than the one they raise. To illustrate this, I’ll leave in my notes on her response to the first question. The question was about the issue central to the meeting: changing schools from K-5 to K-8.

  • Change to K-8: economic necessity? It would help economically, in that it would consolidate facilities. But some parents prefer smaller, more intimate schools.
  • Advanced work: can it be accomodated in a K-5 school?
  • Assignment policies are inhibiting parental involvement, whereas involvement could be increased with K-8 in Roslindale, more walk zone slots,…
  • What is the possibility of K-6?
  • Boston is divided along lines of race and class: look around the meeting room and see that it’s not representative of Boston families.
  • There’s no real/good school choice, especially for grades 6-8.
  • Why put resources into “the K-8 thing” when we could fix what we already have, especially by making schools safer? (Next parent reinforced the same point.)
  • What’s the process for making decisions about changes to the school system?
  • On the aborted merger of Bates and Mozart into one K-8: it failed because the schools would have shrunk in terms of classes within each grade.
  • What decisions led to the establishment of the new pilot school in the particular form it is taking?*
  • Need more spaces in local schools for autistic kids.
  • There has been a lack of transparency and involvement in the decision-making process.
  • Improving the Irving school, and guaranteeing that the Roslindale elementary schools will feed into it, would be better than the current “scattered to the wind” regime.
  • Let’s be aware that the next few years will be a period of transition. Parents are flexible, but want to know where there kids will end up in the future.
  • City Councillor John Tobin, who arrived during the meeting, reported that he hears a lot of support from his constituents for the K-8 idea.
  • Would like to hear more from CRJ about what is going to happen.
  • Account of how the BTU pilot school* got to be the way it is: the programs, including grade 6, are being designed by teachers who are also parents.
  • The Haley school improved because parents were determined that it would do so: what would it take to make the same happen for the Irving school?
  • 6th grade transition presents “a dilemma and a nightmare.”
  • Fear that the small K-5 schools will become less chosen and hence less viable, leading to question: could 6th grade be added to exam schools, rather than to K-5?
  • Need more “social cohesion,” which is threatened by things like advanced work and exam schools.
  • As a new superintendent, how do you think that the things you’ve seen elsewhere might apply in Boston?

CRJ had to leave at 12:40, running even later than when she arrived. Despite starting late, the meeting was actually a little longer than scheduled. Other members of her team were able to stay on for further discussion (but I wasn’t).

I heard about the meeting through the Haley school, where my daughter has just started in K1. (So far so good, thank you for asking.) I didn’t see any advance notification at the Boston Public Schools site when I checked.

The meeting did turn out to be nut-free, in that the tone of discussion was reasonable. It wasn’t just the parents who were well-behaved: the kids who were at the meeting were very good and patient.

By the way, there is a wireless network in the Roslindale Community Center. But it is secure, and hence not available to the community.

That’s all from me for now. If you have written up your own account of the meeting, or of related issues, please let me know and I’ll link. If you have comments, please feel free to make them here.

* From the Boston Public Schools site: A new K-8 pilot school governed by the Boston Teachers Union (BTU) would open in the former Parkman School building in Jamaica Plain. The same web page gives further details of the recommendations in CRJ’s “Pathways to Excellence” plan.

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