Partner Spotlight: Giving parents a voice in public education

Partners Post, October 2015

Tara PurcellTara Purcell first got involved with the PTA when her son was 5 years old. He is 24 today.

She stuck with it for nearly 20 years because she felt it was so important for parents and communities to have active partnerships with their public schools, which open their doors every day to "every single child."

Purcell rose in the ranks to become the president of the Mt. Carmel Area PTA and later a regional vice president. Today she is serving her second term as the Legislative and Advocacy Chair for the Pennsylvania PTA, keeping the 50,000-member organization up-to-date on key state legislation. The PTA also hosts training sessions with parents who want to learn how to advocate at the local and state levels.

"I like to make sure everyone knows that the laws are only there because we are the ones who put them there," said Purcell who works as an administrative assistant and parent liaison for the Mt. Carmel Area School District.

Over the years, PTA members have made a big difference at the local, state, and national levels, Purcell noted. The accomplishments range from getting new textbooks into public schools to passing state legislation requiring educators in grades 6 through 12 to get suicide prevention training.

Purcell recounted a story of how "one group of mothers got together over a kitchen table" and ended up passing a National PTA resolution that led the Environmental Protection Agency to take action to improve the quality of indoor air in schools.

For the current state legislative session, the Pennsylvania PTA has outlined priorities that focus on school funding reform, health and safety, and environmental protection.

PTA of PA LogoPurcell enjoys telling parents just how much of an influence they can have when they advocate for better schools for their children. Ten phone calls about a policy issue will get the attention of a state lawmaker, she said, but when the PTA mobilizes parents, and lawmakers end up getting 1,000 calls, "they really are going to sit up and take notice."

Even though both of her children are grown — her son is now a corrections officer, and her daughter is attending college — Purcell is still going strong with the PTA. Her term as Legislative and Advocacy Chair for the Pennsylvania PTA runs until 2017.

"Parents as advocates not only for their children but their schools is so important because they are the ones who will make change happen, whether it's serving on wellness committees, PTA boards, or as volunteers, which our schools are so in need of," Purcell said. "It takes everyone to raise a child today."



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