Monday, November 21, 2016

Message from New NYS PTA President

Dear dedicated NYS PTA advocates,

I am excited and humbled by the opportunity to serve as your new President. While I know many of you attended our 120th Annual Convention, many were unable because of family or other commitments. I wanted to share the speech that I gave at our annual banquet as well as my email address, president@nyspta.org.

I look forward to meeting and hearing from you all over the next two years, and hope you will embrace my theme ‘Leading the Way’. As always, continue the amazing work you do each and every day to support our children and families and don’t forget to share your ‘Why PTA’.

Warm regards,
Gracemarie Rozea, President
                                                                                             

Thank you and good evening.

I am humbled by your decision to have me lead the work of New York State PTA and partner with the most outstanding volunteers in New York State as your President. I have traveled a long trail to arrive at this moment, and have learned so much from so many along the way. My path was not through a career in education or involvement on school boards. My experience is what one gains through the eyes of a parent, and has afforded me the ability to consistently offer perspectives and opinions closely aligned with those of the majority of our membership.

When my husband and I started our family, we lived on Staten Island, in New York City. We chose to send our children to a Montessori school as an alternative to enrolling them in a New York City public school system that we felt to be overburdened, understaffed, and unable to provide enough of a challenge for those curious minds we knew so well. We knew it was important to find an education that would inspire and motivate our children, and acted to make choices that would accomplish exactly that. 

So, when we decided to move to Massapequa Park on the south shore of Long Island, the real estate agents quickly came to understand that the only possibility of earning a commission from us involved showing us homes in School District 23. That was a non-negotiable requirement. We had done our research and we were determined to land in that District. We eventually found our home, and I immediately set out to be involved with my children’s education.

After I enrolled my boys in the Birch Lane School, I had my first exposure to PTA, at back to school night. The PTA was there, selling memberships, and I felt it – this was where I could make a contribution. A new neighbor told me that I needed an invitation to go to a PTA meeting. I didn’t know any better – what I knew of PTA came from a song about Harper Valley. You all know how that one goes! 

Curiosity got the best of me and I started searching for information about PTA. I found my way to some PTA websites, which weren’t quite what they are today, but I soon learned that despite my neighbor’s warning, PTA was not an exclusionary club for the in-crowd. I joined the Birch Lane PTA and became a class mother, and my journey with PTA began. 

So when people asked me, “Why PTA?”, the answer came quickly. My ‘why’ was Matthew, Steven, Grace, Tom and George - my five children and a determination to do whatever I could do to optimize their educational experience. I felt a responsibility to be sure that it was the best it could be for them

I am so proud that they all went through the public school system successfully and went on to higher education. PTA was there with them - every step of the way – providing programs to enhance their academic program while actively advocating for them and all children. 

I mentioned that feeling I had as a young mom – a responsibility to make my children’s educational experience the best it could be for them. I knew it was the right thing to do. I had learned that from my parents. Working as a class mother and later a newsletter editor, I hadn’t yet had experienced the revelation that the best way to make it better for my children was to make it better for every child. I continued to volunteer and take on new challenges from PTA, and at some point; I’m not exactly sure just when; I realized that my mission was the mission of PTA. 


It was no longer just about my children. There was indeed, a “bigger picture”. My answer to “Why PTA?” had certainly changed. I came to understand that it was imperative that we harness the awesome energy of our hundreds of thousands of Parent and Teacher members to advocate for those who hold the keys to the future, yet have no voice of their own – our children.

I’d imagine that each person sitting in the room this evening has at some point thought about what their ‘why’ is. I suspect that many of you were like me, and your ‘why’ came from within your own home. But those of us here tonight have seen the PTA accomplish great things, and the answers to our ‘whys’ have morphed into a passion – a passion to widen the reach and influence of PTA. 

We no longer ask ‘why’– we just get out there and DO. We see the canvas that needs to be painted and the tasks in front of us to make that “bigger picture“ more and more beautiful. That kind of passion is what has supported 120 years of advocacy on behalf of children in New York State and in our country.

Having had the incredible experience over the past two years of working with the field and grassroots, I have become acutely aware of the need for a pipeline of future leadership. Many units have had difficulty finding individuals to serve in leadership positions. Unaddressed, this problem is one that will eventually find its way to the state level, as without organic growth, our ability to progress will be suppressed and our effect will be diminished. To ensure a stable future for New York State PTA we must chart our course and adjust our direction now

Over the course of the next two years, there will be a focused effort to develop a robust Leadership Development program – at the State level, at the Region level and at the unit and council level. We will be implementing exciting new opportunities for training, offering micro-training sessions, regional conference call trainings, and a redesigned structure of training events, recognizing the lifestyles and considering the needs of the modern-day volunteer. 

We will also take a fresh look at the configuration of our regions. Some regions enjoy the luxury of having many volunteers, while others struggle with just a few, and the load is carried on too few shoulders. We will find the way to ensure that we have strong units, councils, and regions in every corner of our state.

It is appropriate now that I share the theme for my administration - New York State PTA – Leading the Way. The theme is depicted by a compass with an eight-point compass rose. A compass’s needle will always point north (except for some places in the Adirondacks, the North Country people can tell you about that) – but it points to the magnetic north.

You’ll notice the little shift between the two norths on the pin. True north is the north you see on a map – your destination. It’s very important to know where you are heading, but equally as important to consider how you will get there. I chose the compass because it reminds us that by relying only on the narrow advice of the north-pointing needle without compensating and making necessary adjustments, it is easy to drift off course.

I have recently given great thought to those who came before me and encouraged me every step along the way in my PTA journey. I remembered all the times I received their counseling. They guided me well, and noticed when I strayed towards a ‘magnetic north’. They gently guided me back to the more direct path. I ask each of you to discover the way to your true north destination. 

Think of your goals and what you want your legacy to be. Use your moral compass - your values already align with those of our great association. And don’t forget, someone will always be there to redirect you if you lose the trail. Together, by using PTA values, purposes, vision, mission and beliefs as our guide we will continue the great legacy of PTA and carry the association forward into the future.

During my term as your President, I plan to use my compass to guide me to each of our regions. I want to hear what our members have to share so that we, as an association, can be supportive and responsive, actively working together to help stay on our course. All children must have the same opportunity for educational success. 

We need to enable each and every Region, Council, and Unit to develop the strongest leaders possible to carry our association forward, embracing the mission of PTA, and continuing our advocacy, collaboration, and communication to ensure that opportunity and potential for success remains in place for every child for the next 120 years and beyond.

Please let the compass on this pin be a reminder and direct you to the resources that New York State PTA has available for you. We have a resource guide, strategic plan, our bylaws, our advocacy documents, and will soon be developing a new website. Use these resources; let them set you in the right direction for your work on behalf of children.

I know that I can count on each of you to continue to enrich New York State PTA as we chart our course over the next two years, ‘Leading the Way’ to make every child’s potential a reality.


Friday, October 14, 2016

Throughout the State

Over the past few years I have had the opportunity to take part in region and unit events throughout the state: from Long Island to Niagara Falls and most areas in between. I was invited to speak or give training to unit and region members, but the cool part is what I learned from speaking with you, the members.
  • What you want from your PTA 
  • What you want for your schools
  • What you want as teachers
  • What you want as parents 
  • What you want for your student
Members throughout the state may have different ideas on what is more important or how to get there, but the end result is the same. Whether the background is rural, urban or suburban, the one thing that everyone agreed on, is that all of the above should make a difference to helping every child make their potential a reality. 

Parents and teachers want to know they are being heard. The voice that we have as parents and teachers is critical, which is why we have been excited to participate this past year with various NYS Education Department initiatives which included having parents from the grassroots represented on the:
  • Standards Review ELA and Math Committees (These 14 parents from throughout NYS have decided to continue to meet with NYS PTA to keep their voice heard.)
  • Committee of Practitioners (There are now parents from the grassroots from Westchester-East Putnam and Central Hudson representing us to bring the voice of parents with children in school to the table.)
  • ESSA Think Tank (Although a Federal program, our voice is being heard on how it will be implemented in NYS.)
  • Committee for Principal Standards (The NYS PTA Rural Schools Specialist from the Northeastern Region will bring the parents voice to this process.)
  • Connecting members across the state with BOCES superintendents for greater statewide collaboration
You can continue to have your voice be heard by us and the powers that be at state and federal level. For NYS PTA we have put out a survey to ask "What you Want" and we will be releasing those results soon.

The NYS Education Department has extended the period to provide comments on their proposed ELA and Mathematics Standards from November 4 to November 14. To review the proposed ELA Standards and submit your comments, click here. To review the proposed Mathematics Standards and submit your comments, click here. If we want change, we need to let them know what we want; so please take a few minutes to submit your ideas.

There are still more exciting events about to occur throughout the state including our Reflections Roadshow in Genesee Valley this coming weekend and our 120th Annual Convention in Saratoga Springs from November 11-13. I am so excited to participate in these and other events and hope to see many of you there so that we can continue to hear the voice from the grassroots member!

~Bonnie

Bonnie M. Russell
NYS PTA® President
Communicate to Advocate!
everychild.onevoice.®
president@nyspta.org

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Back to School, Already?

Can you believe that school is starting this week? Although summer vacation is coming to an end, the start of school is a time of excitement for our students, teachers and us as parents.

With the new year comes new opportunities for our children as they meet their new teachers, figure out their new schedules and meet new friends on the bus, playground, classrooms and cafeteria.

We as parents can sometimes feel just as nervous as they do when all of these new beginnings come together. We want to be confident and available to help support our children through their transitions, but we sometimes are just as excited and nervous.

NYS PTA is glad to offer parents and teachers resources and programs that can help make the new year a great one. We offer resources and articles from our many different publications available on our website and sent directly to our members that have provided email addresses with their membership form (click here for the publications page).

Our social media sites (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and recently added Pinterest) are other great places to get daily updates on many different topics from different sources. If you don't already follow us on the Mobile app, please start!

Our Mobile Phone app is a great resource that can be downloaded from your app store. Download the app to your phone today for access to many resources including our publications and access to our Take Action web page to help you advocate on your own throughout the year.

Starting this year we will also be sending out bi-weekly member newsletters that will sometimes include video messages from myself or other guest bloggers. Below is our first video message:



We hope you will continue your membership or consider joining us for the first time. Just click here to access our newest online membership system where you can Become a Member in a matter of a few minutes! #CarryTheCardToBeAPartOfChangeAndTakeAction

Wishing you and your family a great school year as we work together for every.child one.voice® to help make every child's potential a reality.

~Bonnie

Bonnie M. Russell
NYS PTA® President
Communicate to Advocate!
everychild.onevoice.®
president@nyspta.org

Friday, July 29, 2016

Summer Flies By - PTA Still Advocating!

NYS PTA Sends Comments on Every Student Success Act (ESSA) to the U.S. Department of Education:  Yesterday, NYS PTA sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Education which summarized our comments and concerns with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) which you can read by clicking here

The letter, along with a press release which you can read by clicking here, was also sent late Thursday, July 28, to the NYSED, media, Educational Conference Board and legislative contacts.

We appreciate the intent of the new law; to enable more state and local input and control of our education system, more state and local control and input over standards, assessments and accountability measures and increased family engagement and focus on parental involvement under ESSA.

We do, however, urge caution regarding attempts in regulation to abrogate local and state control and decision making that was a cornerstone of ESSA. We are concerned about certain proposals in federal regulation and want to ensure that parents continue to have the right to make informed educational decisions for their children, especially in areas connected to assessments.

Comments can be submitted to the U.S. Department of Education as a state PTA, unit/council or by an individual. The deadline to submit is Monday, August 1, 2016 and you can submit your comments through Regulations.gov.

Summer Leadership Conference (SLC) is a Success: We hope you are all having a great summer and finding time to spend with your children. This past weekend NYS PTA had the opportunity to come together with over 200 of our members at Utica College for our Summer Leadership Conference to have fun networking while attending many of the over 40 workshops offered on leadership and advocating for the whole child. 
The attendees also brought school supplies to donate to Watson Williams Elementary School in Utica as part of a Community Service project led by our Youth Member, Lyndsey Petrofsky. Thank you to everyone who participated in the drive.

Attendee Candy Ditkowski shared in her own blog post (click here to read) that one of the items that stood out from her about the weekend is, "If your PTA unit can effectively communicate with one another, you open the door for more creative ideas, and in the process, set your PTA unit on a course for longevity." 

I also agree with her that as the weekend closed, "There is still much work to be done. However, after this Summer Leadership weekend, there is now an entire group of advocates who are empowered to move forward and do some really amazing things for every child." Thank you Candy for sharing what the weekend meant to you.

To access SLC workshop materials from our website click here. (They are also available from our mobile phone app; just go to SLC Schedule, click on the workshop, and scroll to the bottom to see the files. You can also follow the events of the weekend through our tweets as summarized in storify by clicking here.

~Bonnie

Bonnie M. Russell
NYS PTA® President
Communicate to Advocate!
everychild.onevoice.®

president@nyspta.org

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Announcement of New Executive Director

The New York State PTA welcomes Kyle McCauley Belokopitsky, Esq. as our new Executive Director, to begin at the end of June, 2016. 

Ms. Belokopitsky has specialized in education policy after years of working in both the New York State Senate and Assembly.  She currently represents New York State United Teachers, serving as a PK-12 education lobbyist working on state budget and education funding, and other high profile issues such as testing, learning standards, teacher and principal evaluation and receivership.  

Prior to serving our state’s teachers, she represented the NYS Council of School Superintendents as Assistant Director for Government Relations and the New York State Catholic Conference as Director of Government Relations.

She has been admitted to practice law in New York and the District Court for the Northern District of New York, and teaches Law and Criminal Justice at Hudson Valley Community College and has taught Education Law at The College of St. Rose Graduate School of Education. She is extremely active in the NYS Educational Conference Board, and is a member of the National Association of Legislative and Political Education Specialists, the NYS Bar Association, and a former member of the NYS Management Association for School Law Attorneys. 

Ms. Belokopitsky devotes her free time volunteering at numerous organizations and most importantly, she currently serves in a variety of ways at her son’s school, Gardner Dickinson in North Greenbush.

Ms. Belokopitsky has said, “I am tremendously excited to work with the dedicated staff and team of accomplished leader volunteers to continue the mission of supporting our schools, parents, students and educators. Increasing advocacy and media coverage will allow PTA's influence at the Capitol and across the state to grow.

“Working in concert with region leaders, I hope to continue to re-grow membership and engage parents at the grassroots level in new and innovative ways. Continuing to work with, and increasing the connections with the Education Department and Board of Regents will only benefit our members, and expanding relationships with other educational organizations, including other parent groups, will be critical.

“I am honored and humbled to lead this amazing organization, and hope to work together in supporting what we already know - that PTA makes a difference in the lives of our children each and every day.”  Ms. Belokopitsky offered. 

Ms. Belokopitsky's vision for our future is exciting, as we work together supporting what we already know – that PTA makes a difference in the lives of our children each and every day with everychild.onevoice.® as we Communicate to Advocate!

Ms. Belokopitsky resides in Wynantskill, NY with her husband Doug and two sons, and can be reached at execdirector@nyspta.org, on twitter at @kbelokopitsky, or at 518-452-8808. 

Educational leaders from across the state had this to add:

“I have known and worked with Kyle since she was employed by the New York State Council of School Superintendents, where she brought considerable ‘Albany insider’ experience to the Council, with well-established personal contacts and an in-depth knowledge of how best to work within the system to achieve desired results. Over the years, Kyle has consistently been among the most active and contributing individuals to the Educational Conference Board, frequently assuming a leadership role. Over the time we have worked together, Kyle has earned my respect and admiration.  I believe that she will make an outstanding Executive Director for the PTA.  She has my unqualified recommendation for this position and I look forward to continuing to work with her in this new role.” John Yagielski, Chair, New York State Educational Conference Board.

“Kyle brought creativity, connections, and a tremendous capacity for hard work to our organization.  She made lasting contributions to the Council of School Superintendents during her nearly three years with us.  PTA chapters, parents and students themselves will benefit from all those strengths and from the critical knowledge she has gained about our state's education system. We look forward to continuing to work with Kyle and the New York State PTA and wish both good fortunes in the years ahead.”  Robert Lowry, Deputy Director, New York State Council of School Superintendents.

“As a professional lobbyist and lawyer, Kyle Belokopitsky has a wealth of knowledge about public education advocacy issues, having represented both public and parochial schools as well as teachers and superintendents. She is also a parent of a school age child, which solidifies her credentials as an outstanding choice to be the Executive Director of the NYS PTA. The NYSSBA staff and I look forward to continue working with Kyle in her new role.” Timothy G. Kremer, Executive Director, New York State School Boards Association.

“Kyle Belokopitsky is a consummate professional with tremendous knowledge of education policy and holds a real commitment to parents having a meaningful voice. She will be a great asset to the PTA and we look forward to continuing our collaboration with the PTA.” Billy Easton, Executive Director, Alliance for Quality Education.

~Bonnie

Bonnie M. Russell
NYS PTA® President
Communicate to Advocate!
everychild.onevoice.®
president@nyspta.org

Friday, April 8, 2016

Budget Update

NYS PTA Response to NYS Adopted Budget 
On Monday, April 4, school districts received their state aid allocations according to the final vote by the NYS Senate on Friday, April 1. An overview of funding issues that NYS PTA advocated for, with what was included in budget bills and what was not addressed, is now available from our website by clicking here.

At the end of the document, we also pinpoint certain items we believe will be discussed until the end of the legislative session in June. Your continued attention to advocacy efforts and our advocacy messages is important. 

During this session, many last minute issues were responded to with our Education Conference Board (ECB) partners in response to concerns from our constituencies.

UPDATE: An Opportunity for Parents to Share Your Voice on a NYS Learning Standards Committee
Last Thursday we sent out a Voter Voice email to all of our members that we also shared with other parent organizations throughout the state concerning the NYS Education Department (NYSED) request that parents help review and revise the ELA and Mathematics Learning Standards during 2016-17. 
The Standards revision is first; assessments will be addressed later. NYSED has asked the PTA to help with the marketing of this request along with working together on the nomination process that will determine who will be selected for these committees.
As of Thursday, April 7, 151 completed applications have been received. The breakdown of those applications is that 87 parents have applied to participate on the ELA Committee and 64 parents selected the Mathematics Committee.
The application deadline is April 14. For parents interested in being considered for one of these committees they can start the application process from going to our website by clicking here. 

Thank you for continuing to Communicate to Advocate with us for the children of NYS!

-Bonnie

NYS PTA® President
Communicate to Advocate!
everychild.onevoice.®

president@nyspta.org 

Monday, March 14, 2016

Advocating in Albany and in Washington

Since my last message, we have been extremely busy. In response to the governor’s budget proposal, NYS PTA responded on our own and in some situations in partnership with the Educational Conference Board with the following:



Legislation/Education Conference and Lobby Days: We joined with our members from NYS PTA at our Legislation/Education Conference in Albany where we continued the conversation on the above topics and heard from specialists in the field who are dealing with these issues on a day-to-day basis.



Check out our YouTube page to see video of NYS Regent Judith Johnson talk about Regent Priorities.

You can also check out a great video presentation from the EPIC Theatre Ensemble Student Performers (in collaboration with the Campaign for Educational Equity).

Guided by Epic artists mentors, and researchers from the Campaign for Educational Equity (Teachers Colleges, Columbia University), this student theatre ensemble presented: 10467 - "Why do we stand down when we should stand up in the battle against educational injustice? And how do we conceive and construct a new value system where someone's zip code doesn't damage their educational opportunities?"

The day after, we brought 18 advocates to meet with NYS Senate and Assembly representatives and staffs to share our opinions and ask for their support with the above issues. Our member advocates throughout the state joined our ranks to share their views on virtual lobby day where close to 4,000 letters were sent to our legislators about funding our schools. (You can still send your messages from our TAKE ACTION page.)

One of our delegates from the Western Region, Candy Ditkowski, shared her thoughts about the experience in her blog post, "Party of Five". You can check it out by clicking here.

Advocating for Statewide Family Engagement Centers in Washington: We then took our advocates to Washington, DC where we had the opportunity to attend many workshops to prepare us for our Hill visits on Thursday.

We had the opportunity to meet with representatives from Senator Chuck Shumer, Senator Gillibrand, Representative Katko, Representative Israel, Representative Tonko, Representative King and Representative Rice’s offices.

We met with them to ask for them to sign onto a letter of support to fund the Statewide Family Engagement Centers that are within the new ESSA legislation. We had very productive conversations and embraced the opportunity to share our views with our federal legislators. Those we met with were very open to supporting this important legislation. If you follow @NYSPTA on Twitter, you can see some direct and re-tweeted quotes and pictures from the visits and from throughout the week.

Thank you for continuing to Communicate to Advocate with us for the children of NYS!

-Bonnie

NYS PTA® President
Communicate to Advocate!
everychild.onevoice.®
president@nyspta.org