22 Aug 2014
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Patch Instagram photo by tinynewyorkkitchen
Patch Instagram photo by tinynewyorkkitchen
Patch Instagram photo by tinynewyorkkitchen
Patch Instagram photo by tinynewyorkkitchen
Patch Instagram photo by tinynewyorkkitchen
Patch Instagram photo by tinynewyorkkitchen
Patch Instagram photo by tinynewyorkkitchen

Can Miller-Driscoll’s PTA Be Saved?

Executives voted out! Online insults! A heart attack!? After last week’s debacle where does Wilton's K-2 PTA go from here?

Can Miller-Driscoll’s PTA Be Saved?

Oy vey! What’s going on with Miller-Driscoll’s PTA?

If you were out of town for February break, you missed a doozy of a week!

To catch you up, five days before break Miller-Driscoll’s PTA voted out its sitting president and vice president “due to non-fulfillment of job responsibilities, and other Miller-Driscoll Bylaws violations.”  

The vote happened during a meeting held at the school the morning of Monday, February 13, and overseen by state PTA representatives.  It was an emotionally-charged gathering:  several members raised voices and hurled accusations; some even stormed out.

administrators and teachers who were present vigorously objected to the vote—charging it was a last-minute addition to the agenda, they refused to support the effort to remove the two board members; they showed their objection by leaving the meeting. The school’s two vice-principals returned at meeting’s end to angrily ask parents to leave school grounds.

Full disclosure: I was at the meeting and witnessed what happened; I also wrote about it last week’s . I’m friendly with some of the people at the center of the drama, and I’m trying to remain fair in writing about it.

It’s also important—and slightly humorous—to note:  I’ve been told that some people mistakenly thought I was a main player in the brouhaha. While I am a paying member of the Miller-Driscoll PTA (I have a child who attends school there), I hold no leadership position, and only volunteer to help with Women in History Day. I was not a participant in or leader of the events that occurred. Perhaps because two other people who hold leadership roles on the PTA are also named Heather, it could explain why I might have been mistakenly thought ‘responsible.’

The meeting was the culmination of what some Miller-Driscoll parents have called a tumultuous year. According to what several people have told me, as well as online allegations, it was a year filled with fighting between some members of the executive board and other PTA chair people. It appears as if the year of discord centered on intangibles of personality disputes and power grabs, as well as on more concrete charges, like accounting discrepancies and failure to follow the rules.

In the days that followed the Feb. 13 meeting, the situation worsened. Online reports furthered the name-calling and finger-pointing, both on and elsewhere. There were accusations and innuendo about crimes and misdemeanors:  unnecessary parking spots for PTA execs (and questions about whether PTA funds paid for signage), irregular accounting from last year’s winter carnival, adult online bullying, emails to school and district administrators maligning other board members, plots to prevent one another from future BOE membership, and more. None of it was confirmed or concrete.

Then, someone anonymously started an inflammatorily-titled Facebook page, “Occupy Miller-Driscoll,” (which has since been taken down). for their conduct at the meeting. Another PTA board member resigned of her own accord. And, in a shocking and most disturbing turn of events, one of the vice principals involved was reported to have suffered a heart attack a few days after the fractious meeting—which some people linked to what happened during and after the meeting.

At the least, the last two weeks are an embarrassing PR disaster. But it’s much worse than that:  it’s ripped open a breach of trust, good behavior, good intentions, and cooperation, and it will take a long time to repair.

Today’s column isn’t about assigning blame—that’s pointless. It wasn’t the cause of just the ousted members, the current board members, the district PTA board members, the administrators, the Superintendent, or the parents. It’s everyone’s fault. What happened before, during and after was conduct unbecoming to everyone.

What really matters is what happens next.

First and foremost, we need to recognize that the PTA has done much good up until now—and that it can continue to do so. The members are hard-working volunteers who spend an inordinate amount of time helping the school, with fundraising, time commitments, programming, enrichment, teacher support, and more. The organization needs to be respected, not maligned, and credit is due to those who give of their time, selflessly and generously.

There needs to be commitment from the PTA leadership from this point forward to act in a manner that merits this respect. Petty online snipes and grievance-airing will only further hurt and damage the reputation and good work of the organization. No matter who did what, this promise should to come from each leader.

For all of the members, why not create some sort of oath for parents to sign—a pledge to put the kids first, and our own egos last. We ask the kids to sign something similar in school, at the beginning of each year, asking them to promise not to bully others, and to treat each member of the school community with kindness and respect. Why not do it ourselves as a symbolic gesture?

The organization’s bylaws need to be tightened—it seemed from the meeting that there was some question about whether the current bylaws are sufficient and comprehensive—and then published and made available to the membership.

Which brings us to the most important point of all:  There needs to be more transparency, both about what happened and moving forward. Too much confusion and too many questions remain about what prompted the vote to remove and what transpired since. Why did it happen without advance notice of the entire membership? What will be done to prevent this from occurring again? Allow members to ask questions and answer them candidly. This isn’t about continued blame, but it is about clearing the air.

As well, bridges need to be repaired—in both directions—between parents and administrators. Trust needs to be regained. There should be some face to face reconciliation.

I’d suggest a nighttime meeting between parents, PTA leaders and school administrators—working parents have expressed they want a time that accommodates their needs too, and it’s clear that people don’t want events to disrupt our kids’ school days any further. Adequate advance notice would be something appreciated as well.

As parents and teachers, we’re supposed to be the ones teaching our children about effective problem solving and about cooperative relationships.  We need to set the example about how to move forward from upheaval, for the kids and for ourselves. We need to learn from the experience and repair any damage that’s been done. I’d hate for people to think twice before paying membership dues to join or before donating.

Because I’d rather be writing about the doozy of the success of the Miller-Driscoll PTA's Winter Carnival than the thousand some-odd words I had to write above.

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