When I became principal of a middle school in New Jersey, I heard how supportive our parents were. Behind the veil, there’s always something to work on and I wanted to explore that. My first PTA meetings reassured me that we needed to find a way to improve the drastically low attendance. At the meetings, we typically see about 12 to 15 attendees, usually the executive board and a handful of parents. Since we have 1,250 students, that meant only one to 1.3 percent of parents were attending our five PTA meetings each year! That was not a percentage to be proud of.
The only time in recent history attendance jumped was when I presented on the PARCC online standardized assessment. More than 250 people came, many of them to challenge the cause. The meeting went fine, but I wished I could recapture the volume that was there that night for the many professional development learning opportunities at our PTA meetings.
We view faculty meetings as professional learning opportunities. I felt that the same needed to be brought to PTA meetings. What a wonderful venue to teach parents about and collaborate with them on ways to help their child achieve in school. The PTA meetings could be highly engaging opportunities to get parents interacting on dealing with anxiety in school, bullying, attendance, preparing for secondary school, and lots more. But what would the point be if only a fraction attended?
I always knew in my heart that more parents wanted to be involved. How to get them to a meeting? We tried Ask the Principal Night, Pick Your Topic, and more, but nothing came close to that PARCC night.
And then it hit me: If they can’t come, why not bring it to them? Technology offers this accessibility. I brought in a livestream and used our community-wide call system to ask families to watch the meeting live at the link sent in the message.
There were 14 parents at the PTA meeting, but when I checked the live broadcast, there had been 176 viewers. I thought it was a typo. I went back and checked and—sure enough—176 viewers! Quick math tells me that we jumped from 1.1 percent to 14 percent, a 12-fold increase. Wow! The next day I sent out a blast with the good news and another promotion: If you didn’t get to watch live, you could still see us offline by clicking on the link. An additional 52 viewers watched offline, for a total of 228 or 18 percent of our parents.
You could argue that 18 percent attendance is still low. However, I would challenge that the only time we ever got that close was PARCC night and that was hostile. These are purposeful professional development opportunities for parents and faculty. I’d rather have 18 percent than 1.1 percent attendance.
This year, our first PTA meeting had 15 parents in attendance and 276 viewers (23 percent)!