To wrap a very busy day, I had a Happyland PTA meeting last night. Frankly, I was NOT looking forward to it--the agenda was pretty full and some topics could lead to disagreements. I know my mind and vision for the Happyland PTA, but since I can sometimes come off as a forceful personality, I try to quelch myself and bite my tongue. As president, it's awfully easy to get my way--but I don't want to be that kind of leader. The group has to make the decisions, or else they don't get behind things 100% and support our initiatives. If I throw my weight around, resentment and grumbling follow and people won't get involved or stay involved.
Yesterday morning a lady called me (I'll call her Grandma D)--she's a senior citizen working in a classroom in our district. She'd attended her granddaughter's class in another district and fell head over heels in love with the Smart Board they used. She then asked our district's administration to buy some SmartBoards.
In short, the technology situation in Happyland is dismal. I heard from one of the horse's mouths that they planned to buy 3 Smart Boards for the elementary school for next year. Happyland has about 800 students. Clearly the technology initiatives for the building fall far short of the needs. The plan is fragmented and makes inefficient and wasteful use of technology and without a clear vision, the staff training is equally ineffective. The result is One Giant Mess. A Mess that I've dabbled in before and a Mess I'm quite knowledgeable about.
In previous meetings, Happyland PTA has decided NOT to throw good money after bad, refusing to fund any technology for the building because it's such a clusterf*cuk of mismanagement and poor decision making. We have decided to create a committee to advocate for change in front of the school board. It's about the only place where meaningful change can take place.
Meanwhile, Grandma D didn't like the response she got from the main office and went out and charged a Smart Board to her credit card and presented it to the classroom teacher she works with. She didn't want the class to have to share the Smart Board, it was a personal donation to one classroom with a desperate hope that administrators would be SO blown away by technology in the hands of these youngsters that they'd go out and buy more Smart Boards.
Trouble is, Grandma D can't afford the Smart Board. She called me to ask if the Happyland PTA can help her hold a raffle to raise money to pay for the Smart Board. I told her she may use our next event as a venue to sell tickets--but that's it.
There were (predictably) reasonable concerns about this after she pitched her cause at our meeting last night. After she left, I reminded people, "This is Grandma D's raffle, not PTA's. We only promised her a spot for a table and people walking past. We made no other promises. She is in charge of this raffle, it was her donation, this is her cause."
Part of me feels bad for a sweet old lady with a heart bigger than her wallet. Her enthusiasm is awesome. Her methods? Well, that's the problem, isn't it? You can't make a private donations with strings attached and then ask other people to pay your bill. You can't dump technology in schools and expect it to automatically be a good investment. Smart Boards require training--I'm betting the teacher who now has this technology is using about 1/4 of it's potential. It's a fancy toy, but is it enriching curriculum? And then there's the question of technology and curriculum--which should be the driving force? Without a strong curriculum and technology director in place, the result is a hodgepodge of pieces unrelated to one another--and most likely NOT benefiting students. What happens when one classroom out of four in a grade level have full-time access to technology? What happens to these kids next year and the year after when they return to classrooms without Smart Boards?
I'm not against Smart Boards. I do believe it is one of many powerful teaching tools. Yet other gadgets cost less money and provide students many of the same advantages. I'm not against private donations. I do take issue with impulsive donations that haven't been thought through.
It's a muddle, I tell you. But happily, the rest of the meeting went really well and the Happyland PTA accomplished the agenda items on time, with healthy discussion and with clear plans for our goals and visions for the future of Happyland Elementary.
That? Makes me feel pretty darn good.
Spill it, reader. What challenges is your PTA facing? How's your group handling it?