Advocating for education

McGilvra PTA spreading the word about small community school

Advocating for education

Advocating for education

The small size of McGilvra Elementary, the kindergarten-fifth grade school in Madison Park, has always been considered an asset among parents, but the school is now in a precarious position because of shrinking enrollment.

The school’s Parent Teacher Association, however, is trying to change that, however. Lara Pomernacki, the McGilvra Elementary PTA fundraising chair who has two children currently enrolled at the school, said she and other PTA parents are trying to raise awareness about the small neighborhood school and advocate for its future in the neighborhood.

Pomernacki said, in Washington, state funding for schools is based, in part, on how many students are enrolled in a school. Not only has enrollment dropped in Seattle Public Schools because of the COVID-19 pandemic, in recent years, fewer families have opted to enroll their students at McGilvra.

“We are a small school to start with, so any decrease in funding will certainly decrease our programs,” Pomernacki said.

The problem is not that there is a shortage of families with small children, Pomernacki said. McGilvra’s boundaries covers Madison Valley and on the other side of the arboretum, as well.

“We know we have a lot of families in the area that choose to go to private school,” she said. “I think the difference in the demographic is it’s a fairly higher income area, and so, again, a lot of people just default to private school.”

Mostly, those families have been sending their children to private schools throughout Seattle, “but there’s a pretty heavy concentration of private schools in the central area that are within walking distance of those families,” Pomernacki said.

Loss of enrollment and COVID is also affecting how much the McGilvra PTA can help the school.

In recent years, because of inadequate funding from the state and the school district, the school’s PTA has compensated for positions the school district has not been able to fund, thanks to PTA fundraisers. The school’s PTA raised enough money to pay for a counselor, the art program and a math and reading specialist. Last year, however, the math and reading specialist positions got combined into one position.

The art teacher is a part-time position, and she goes into the school at least once a week to work with the children.

“The kids absolutely love her, and having her in the class after the pandemic, I think, really saved a lot of the kids,” Pomernacki said.

The school’s counselor, for whom the PTA contributes a portion of the position, focuses on the social and emotional learning for the children, which has been important this year as the children return to school in person after a year of remote learning.

The math and reading specialist has also been important helping children catching up in their learning, Pomernacki said.

“The math and reading specialist, they can work with kids who need a little extra help, and one of the main things I see is they are able to work individually with the kids that need the extra help, and that takes the burden off the teacher, and it’s really what some of the students need, that extra attention,” Pomernacki said.

Parents and PTA members, however, are concerned positions may decrease further in the upcoming years if more parents choose to enroll their children in private schools and the school district allocates fewer dollars to McGilvra.

At a recent meeting with district administrators, PTA members had questions about operating costs and whether state funding could eventually provide for a counselor in every school.

“The goal is to get a counselor in every school eventually, but that’s not going to happen in the next year or even two,” Pomernacki said. “If the district can fund that, then that would take the pressure off the PTA for sure.”

The McGilvra PTA won’t know what positions they will help fund until this spring.

It will vote on the budget and submit a grant to the school district in mid-March. The PTA will decide what it can afford to pay for and how its funds should be allocated in early March.

“In terms of fundraising, we’re really willing to do the work to get our kids what they need, but it’s becoming more and more clear we can’t continue to ask our families for the amount that we’ve attempted to raise in the past,” Pomernacki said.

In addition, just raising that has been a challenge in the time of COVID. The PTA has not been able to host the auctions it has in the past, nor the other events in which children have mainly participated since the school district has stated schools were are closed to outside activities, which has limited the fundraising options for PTA’s.

“And I think that’s kind of shed a little light on the fact that continuing to ask parents to fund these positions is probably not sustainable in the long term,” Pomernacki said.

Fundraising is also only a portion of the PTA’s role, Pomernacki said, but it should be focusing more on advocating and getting what the children need. Instead, so much effort is spent on fundraising.

PTA President Neala Kendall said PTA’s like McGilvra’s funding school positions also creates an equity issue as PTA’s at other schools cannot raise those funds to do the same.

“Our goal is to provide the services that we think our kids in our community need,” Kendall said.

She wishes, however, that SPS would fund staff so that PTA’s didn’t have to.

“And that is definitely something that we and other schools will be strongly advocating for this legislative session,” Kendall said.

To help address some of these worries, the PTA has adopted a three-pronged approach to try and improve the situation, Kendall said. The plan adopted focuses on community building, advocacy and fundraising.

“We really think that those are all really important,” Kendall said.

Part of their strategy is to work with other PTA’s, and they have already reached out to the Montlake and Stevens elementary PTAs to share ideas and hear what those schools have been doing to raise funds and advocate for their schools.

She said Montlake and McGilvra PTAs have also committed to dedicate a certain amount of funds to other under-funded schools in the area.

Even with its concerns, Kendall and Pomernacki want people to know that McGilvra is a great school, with teachers who care about students’ emotional and academic welfare and committed administrators.

“Why people choose private schools is sometimes a mystery to me,” Pomernacki said.