The Virginia Parent Teacher Association held its first annual members’ conference since the pandemic began on Saturday, gathering days after the Youngkin administration released a critical report on the performance of the state’s K-12 public schools.
Virginia PTA President Pamela Croom said in an interview that the conference at Atlee High School in Hanover County “is an exciting time to bring our leaders together, to re-energize them so they can take information back to their home communities… and equipping them with tools, resources and services so that they are equipped to work within their communities [and] work with parents in their own school.
Virginia PTA, chartered in 1921, is a voluntary, nonpartisan organization focused on advocating for children. There are more than 175,000 members in more than 950 schools in Virginia.
Education Secretary Aimee Rogstad Guidera gave a brief overview of the administration’s recent report on education and answered some questions from PTA attendees.
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The report, which state education officials released Thursday, found that Virginia’s public school closures during COVID-19 have exacerbated existing declines in student achievement, learning loss the most “devastating” affecting black and Hispanic students and students living in poverty.
Guidera said on Saturday that work was underway for the state to “reconfirm” its commitment to accountability and transparency to ensure high standards in education.
“I see the role of the state as ensuring access to quality education for every child in Virginia. That we set the standards, that we set the guidelines on how to do it and [that] we ensure that there is equitable access to quality education. Guidera said in response to a question.
Croom said the Virginia PTA was still evaluating Thursday’s report.
“We support our students. We believe in our students, we believe they are going to school doing their best, Croom said. “If there is concern about how our children actually perform in school, we need to look at how we fund our schools and make sure we fully fund our schools.”
Other speakers included Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., and Virginia PTA Child Advocate of the Year award winners Alicia Atkins, school board member for Henrico County, Del. Carrie Coyner, R-Chesterfield, and Senator Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond.
“Don’t forget to help your school, help your community,” Warner said.
“It’s unfortunate in many ways – not necessarily because of you – you kind of become the focal point of the culture wars,” he said. “Generally, in most cases (they) have nothing to do with how you go about taking your child and their peers through a good educational experience in public schools.”
Warner spoke about federal funding for schools, food insecurity and broadband access, the latter of which received cheers from the crowd. Upon completion of his remarks, unbeknownst to Warner, he became a recipient of the Virginia PTA’s Honorary Life Membership Award.
Meta Viers and Jessica Garrison, PTA members from William Ramsay Elementary School in Alexandria, flew in from Northern Virginia for Saturday’s conference.
“Let me be frank about this. We are part of a Title I school and have a very diverse community,” said Viers, the school’s PTA secretary.
“We focus a lot on the basics, making sure children have breakfast in the morning and supporting the services they need. We really try to make sure that we get a good amount of parent engagement and involvement and that our voices are heard.
At every PTA meeting, there are three language interpreters, Garrison said, to support the immigrant populations that feed the school. William Ramsay has four official languages: English, Spanish, Arabic and Aramaic.
Garrison said the school’s PTA has worked hard this year to ensure not only that the students and the school in general are supported, but also the parents.
Parents want to be involved as members of the PTA, but they struggle, not always receiving communication in their native language, said Garrison, the PTA treasurer.
Garrison and Viers said with high food insecurity at William Ramsay – where all students receive free breakfast and are entitled to free or reduced lunch – it was “a positive thing” at Saturday’s conference to see representatives from other school communities concerned about food insecurity across the state.