By Deborah Notis
It is an exciting time in the Byram Hills school district as the BHPTSA, the Parent Teacher Student Association, is growing and re-branding itself. The BHPTSA is dedicated to creating a sense of community and unity for the parents, teachers, school administration and students in the Byram Hills school district. With the extremely capable Abby Woodworth at the helm, the BHPTSA will continue to foster a familiar, safe and productive environment for the children.
“I’m so proud to say that there is a renewed and reinvigorating spirit among our community as parents recognize the amazing and important programming we provide for their children and them, and they want to be a part of that,” states outgoing BHPTSA president, Lara Stangel. Stangel, who served as BHPTSA President for the past two years, oversaw approximately 14 BHPTSA Board Members, 20 Assistant Vice Presidents, and 200 class parents. This valuable group of volunteers helps to unite the Byram Hills families, the teachers and the district administrators into a cohesive community.
Throughout her tenure, Stangel spearheaded multiple groundbreaking initiatives such as revamping the school spirit-wear line, creating an Advocacy Committee, and moving the Byram Hills PTSA directory online. The effect of these programs resonated throughout the district.
The completely new school spirit-wear line, organized by Merchandising Committee Chair Hollie Levy, brought innovative ideas to make Byram Hills-wear more current. This had an even greater impact as the increased sales have helped to fund several other programs, including the Health and Safety program and the Author Book series.
The new Advocacy Committee provides parents, teachers and community members with a forum in which to gather information regarding ever-changing, state-based educational expectations like the common core, budget cuts and teacher assessments. The Advocacy Chair, Danielle Fox, took the community’s feedback to Albany during the last year, to hopefully help them to make real and effective changes in the education system.
Bringing the BHPTSA directory online was a significant accomplishment, only made possible by the hard work of long-time members, Diane Rowan, Susan Deangelos, Katie Herbert, and Deepak Thadani. The new, eco-friendly directory is available on computers, iPads, and mobile phones, giving the Byram Hills community easy access to all of this information.
Incoming BHPTSA president Woodworth is hoping to enhance the programs that Stangel implemented and to build several other programs designed to strengthen the bonds amongst community members and the school district. She is working to increase enthusiasm for the new online directory, understanding that some families still appreciate that hard copy, go-to book. Woodworth is also trying to fill the bucket of BHPTSA volunteers, creating an even stronger support network for the schools, the children, and the community. “In past years, we were begging for volunteers. This year, we plan to reach out to the community as early as possible to encourage greater involvement from the get-go.”
Coman Hill Vice President Petrie Verma stresses the importance of encouraging families with younger children to join the BHPTSA right away. “The most important thing is the children,” notes Verma, who is excited about the “recent infusion of parents with younger children getting involved with the BHPTSA.”
To that end, Woodworth is implementing several “get to know you” activities, targeting kindergarten families and families new the school district. First, she is planning a kick-off event for younger families to become acquainted with each other and the BHPTSA. This event will hopefully be held off school grounds, at a volunteer’s home, so that people can become acquainted in an informal, relaxing setting. She is hoping to have several movie nights and other school-based events to get families together, inside the schools throughout the cold winter months. And, she wants the kindergarten to host an end of the year picnic to celebrate the children’s first school year in the district. She is counting on the support of current BHPTSA volunteers to make all of this possible.
“I have an all star team of volunteers. My job is really easy because most of our volunteers have been helping the BHPTSA for years. They are the pros,” states Rob Furman, H.C. Crittenden Middle School’s Vice President. He stresses that much of the heavy lifting–the organizing, the managing, and the implementing of programs–is done behind the scenes by a skeleton of volunteers. As a result, Furman thinks that it is these “invisible” volunteers who have the greatest impact on the Byram Hills community.
While he likes to let his committee chair people run their programs on the middle school level, Furman sees his role as a facilitator for Crittenden and the entire district. “As members of the Executive Board, the Vice Presidents work for all Byram Hills schools and all budgets.” The Executive Board’s team works exceptionally well together, and Furman credits Treasurer Nanci Keltz for getting rid of bank fees for the BHPTSA and facilitating the DiCicco’s supermarket donation program, a program that gives one percent of all DiCicco’s sales directly back to the school district.
While the Executive Board works together to oversee the programs throughout the school district, one of President Woodworth’s most important responsibilities is to organize class parents in every school. Class parents play an invaluable role in the BHPTSA, acting as the link between the teachers, administration and families. Woodworth will work closely with her Vice Presidents, Toni Nieves at Byram Hills High School, Furman at H.C. Crittenden Middle School, Sharon Eder and Dana Goldman at Wampus Elementary School, and Verma at Coman Hills Elementary School, to make sure that the class parent program is running smoothly.
The class parents, vice presidents, and President Woodworth are also responsible for getting the word out about upcoming programs offered by the district. This year, the BHPTSA is proud to sponsor several programs for parents and children, and to help enhance the classroom experience. This year, parents can look forward to a seminar led by Ron Lieber, author of The Opposite of Spoiled and A Global Village Cookbook, and students will participate in activities like Halloween Window Painting, Nutrition Week, and Colonial Crafts Day. Woodworth credits the BHPTSA volunteers for their work behind the scenes to make sure that the activities run seamlessly.
Woodworth is also contemplating re-branding the BHPTSA during her tenure. In the past, the BHPTSA had a student representative on board to act as a direct liaison to the students rather than relying on their parents’ voices. However, since there has not been a student representative in several years, Woodworth thinks that it might be time to drop the “S” and become the BHPTA.
Woodworth has another vital role as a liaison with the Board of Education. A member of the Board of Education is always at the BHPTSA meeting, and the BHPTSA President works closely with the Byram Hills Superintendent, Dr. William Donohue, to update the Board of Education as a voice for the community. Both Stangel and Woodworth rave about their experiences with Donohue. “I’m so grateful and lucky to have worked collaboratively with Dr Donohue during my term. His support and guidance have been key to the BHPTSA’s success,” states a smiling Stangel.
Dr. Donohue, who meets with the BHPTSA president and officers every month, sees himself as a partner, helping them to enhance their productivity. In Donohue’s opinion, the BHPTSA “makes our schools into a community for every child. They provide ready-made channels of communication. In addition, they are important advocates for our schools, providing information to parents.” Overall, this helps to create a much tighter community.
Ultimately, Coman Hill Vice President Verma credits the incredibly close-knit community with creating a successful parent-teacher organization. And Stangel agrees, stating, “This community has a team that is exceptionally dedicated to its schools and children. I’m so proud of all we have done as a group over the last two years during my presidency.” She graciously passes the torch, offering, “I’m confident our incoming President, Abby Woodworth, who is absolutely amazing, will continue this work and strive to fulfill the mission of the National PTSA, making every child’s potential a reality by engaging and empowering families and communities to advocate for all children.”
Deborah Notis is a freelance writer and owner of gamechanger, LLC, a free referral service connecting Westchester families to highly qualified instructors.