You might remember a parent teacher organization (PTO) from your own days in school — running bake sales and family fun fairs, helping out in classrooms and organizing fundraisers. If we take a minute to think back, we’ll often find that PTOs bring back fond memories for most of us.
Well, guess what? PTOs are not reserved only for the K-12 crowd anymore! 🎉
As an early childhood educator, you know all about the role parental involvement can have in student achievement. And it’s not just the kids who benefit.
Parent involvement builds a community that’s invested in making your center shine. An engaged parent organization builds support for early childhood education and helps fuel greater recognition for this important work.
Not only that, having an active community of parents is key for recurring enrollment and revenue — two things every center needs in order to thrive.
Today, we’ll explore how a parent teacher organization could be an asset to your preschool or early learning center and the steps you can take today to start your own school PTO.
Today’s parents have a whole different set of challenges. Learn what works for modern parents in our guide to Marketing Your Preschool to Gen Z and Millennial Parents!
A parent teacher organization (PTO) or parent teacher association (PTA) is an organized group of parents who volunteer to support the school and its students through a variety of initiatives. They collaborate alongside teachers, staff and administration to carry out their mission.
The organization often consists of a core group of parents who vote on or are assigned roles such as, President, Treasurer, Secretary, etc.
In most cases, all parents or caregivers are welcome to be part of the PTO or PTA as regular members without leadership positions.
People often use PTO and PTA interchangeably.
PTO stands for parent teacher organization, while PTA is a parent teacher association. Though these parent organizations share a core similarity in their mission to support your preschool and students, the distinction between the two is important.
PTAs are part of a national agency called the National Parent Teacher Association, which has been around for an impressive 120 years. The school PTA is part of the state PTA, which is part of the National PTA.
As part of a national association, PTAs receive resources like training, family programs, fundraising ideas, expert advice and more. Since it’s a national and statewide group, the network of support and advocacy is robust across the country.
The National PTA also has a long history of education and child welfare advocacy at the national level.
It’s important to note that PTAs are required to follow the rules of the National PTA and have a nonprofit or 501(c)(3) IRS status. Additionally, membership dues are required in order to be part of the National PTA.
A PTO is an independent parent organization. In a PTO, parents and caregivers are not dues-paying members of a larger network. Members of a PTO are free to create their own bylaws, parameters, requirements and mission.
Without a national association guiding their structure and activities, PTOs are often focused on parental involvement and parent-teacher partnerships within their own school and local community.
Either choice can be the right one for your preschool depending on the elements that best align with your parents and community.
While not every preschool chooses to have one, a PTO or PTA can help you create a high quality learning center.
The presence of a preschool PTO can help transform the experiences of students, parents and staff — essentially your school’s entire community.
Let’s dive a little deeper into each of the core benefits of having a PTO at your preschool or early learning center.
First and foremost, having a PTO or PTA gives parents a chance to get involved and that in itself is a beautiful thing.
Research shows reduced parental engagement has a huge impact on a young child's development. A PTO connects parents with one another through a shared cause they’re passionate about: their kids.
When people come together for a common cause, it creates a sense of belonging.
That’s true for any setting where groups of humans are involved and it’s true for your center too. The sense of belonging created by an engaged PTO translates to trust and loyalty between the school and parents — which organically translates into increased student retention and positive word of mouth.
Having a PTO is also a gateway for parents and caregivers to get involved in a capacity that fits their busy lifestyles.
Some parents may not be able to serve on the PTO due to busy work schedules, but they can still participate in PTO events, support fundraisers, or lend a hand with one-day initiatives like a book sale.
Whatever level of involvement they’re comfortable with, a PTO creates ways for parents to play a more active role in their child’s educational life.
The presence of an active parent teacher organization also opens the lines of communication between parents and centers.
With a PTO in the mix, directors and administrators have a representative body of parents and caregivers to discuss important matters with, collect feedback from, and help them stay in-tune with the realities of the student body and family community.
Talk about an incredible resource!
At a time when child care staffing challenges are at an all-time high, the PTO provides crucial support to your preschool.
For starters, an engaged PTO can help teachers meet their curricular needs.
Fundraisers for classroom supplies, providing hands-on help in the classroom, and generating community support through local events are just some of the initiatives a great PTO can deliver.
Your PTO can also help craft learning experiences for kids.
Is one of your PTO members an artist? Great! Invite them to lead a paint-and-learn activity. Got a fellow educator in the group? Ask if they can help set up a mentorship program with middle schoolers.
The best part of tapping into your parent community for support is that these enriching experiences don’t require any additional work from your time-strapped preschool teachers.
The PTO also gives schools the opportunity to do community outreach through events and fundraisers. Parents have diverse connections to local businesses and groups that can help your preschool stay tuned in and top of mind.
The presence of a PTO brings two kinds of value to your school: financial and intrinsic. Both make a tremendous difference in early childhood education.
The financial value a PTO provides is primarily through fundraising.
Your preschool PTO may raise money for particular needs like classroom supplies or new technology, or general operating expenses. They also coordinate the elements needed for successful fundraisers, which takes another big thing off your to-do list.
But the intrinsic value a PTO adds should not go unnoticed!
Having a PTO is an affirmation of the value of early childhood education and your school. It legitimizes early learning and makes the school part of the local community by extending its reach beyond the classroom.
After weighing up the many benefits, you might be thinking now’s the time to set up a PTO at your preschool.
Let’s get you started with the major steps!
When assembling a PTO, start with a smaller group of dedicated parents and caregivers to get the organization off the ground.
A great place to start is by looking back at any parent surveys or net promoter score (NPS) data you might have.
Early childhood education leaders like Gigi Schweikert, CEO of Lightbridge Academy, run regular NPS and customer surveys with parents to gauge satisfaction and loyalty to their unique child care brand.
If you’ve got the data, use it to find out which parents are the most positive, enthusiastic and committed.
For a productive PTO, you’re looking for individuals who are ready to put in the time and energy — especially in the first years.
Once you have your core members, work with this founding group to decide whether a PTO or PTA is more suitable for your school.
Some schools feel a PTO is a better fit as it’s an independent group that can be more flexible in making changes from year to year. Others prefer the national support and solid foundation provided by the PTA.
Consider the major differences that identify the two before deciding:
|Part of a national organization||X|
|Independent organization with your own rules and bylaws||X|
|Required dues for membership and IRS nonprofit or 501(c)(3) status||X|
|Focus on school efforts plus a wider national lens of advocacy||X|
|Focus on school building and local community||X|
Another thing to consider if you go the PTA route, is that you may want to secure insurance — especially if you will charge dues or apply for nonprofit or 501(c)(3) status.
Now that the initial brass tacks are out of the way, your PTO needs a mission statement.
A PTO mission statement will help guide your newly founded PTO’s actions. This can be especially helpful at the launch of a new PTO, as there is essentially a blank canvas for ways to generate support for the school.
Fundraising? Advocacy in the community? Hands-on involvement? Unique student experiences? Or maybe all of the above!
A PTO mission statement guides the vision and the action that follows.
For example, this PTO mission statement from Monmouth Beach Elementary School in New Jersey is singularly focused on fundraising support.
The mission statement clearly explains both its reasons and its focus:
The Monmouth Beach PTO is an organization founded by parents of Monmouth Beach students and Monmouth Beach School faculty members motivated to enhance the quality of education available to children attending the public Monmouth Beach School.
With state and federal regulations severely restricting the use of taxpayer dollars allocated to the school budget, it is clear that these hard-earned dollars cannot be stretched to develop all of the programs needed to fully enrich our children's education. At the same time, continued value must be given to the public school system that serves the entire community. Therefore, there is a need to establish additional funding sources in order to support that system.
With that goal in mind, the Monmouth Beach PTO will identify specific programs and projects to benefit the Monmouth beach Elementary School and establish fundraising efforts to support these programs. It will do so with the assistance of volunteers committed to the success of the Monmouth Beach Elementary School.
The Monmouth Beach PTO will select programs and projects that will directly enhance the intellectual, cultural or physical education of all Monmouth Beach Elementary School Students. Fundraising efforts will be developed with respect for the rich history of Monmouth Beach and its citizens and with a sense of community and fun that celebrates its bright future.
All efforts of the Monmouth Beach PTO will focus upon what is in the best interests of the children of Monmouth beach.
You can even go a step further and support your PTO mission statement with clearly defined goals like this example from Tillman Elementary School in Kirkwood, Missouri:
PTO Mission Statement: The Tillman PTO (Parent-Teacher Organization) is an organization whose purpose is to strengthen, enhance and encourage the educational and social environment of Tillman Elementary. Its goals are to complement the school curriculum with additional opportunities for parents, teachers and students to learn, socialize, communicate, and grow.
Alright, you’ve rounded up a small group of passionate parents. They’ve decided the organization’s framework, structure and mission — now it’s time to start dreaming and planning!
Answers to these questions will help you define your PTO’s earliest actions and activities.
Every PTO is only as strong as its members.
Over time, more parents and caregivers may start expressing an interest in joining the PTO. And that’s great news!
As the group takes on more members, the PTO can expand activities and create dedicated committees to focus on specific goals, projects and initiatives.
Clearly, a PTO can be an amazing asset to your students, families and school. But it’s not enough to start the organization, then step away.
Positive connections with all the parents and caregivers at your school — including the PTO — depends on trust and communication.
With MomentPath’s parent communication features, you can easily send updates via a secure message center that runs just like your parents’ favorite social media platform.
Preschools deserve support from everyone involved.
With a stellar PTO and the right approach to family engagement, your school will excel to new heights.