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,

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.