Probably one of the most interesting experiences I ever had in my life was when I was the president of the West End School Parent Teacher Organization (PTO).
The road to the PTO presidency was short yet circuitous. My son attended third, fourth, and fifth grade at West End from 2003–2006, and I started getting involved with the school’s PTO when he first attended school there. Then in December, a few parents came up to me and started encouraging me to run for the school board.
So I went to the board office, picked up a petition, got the required number of people’s signatures on it, got it notarized, and returned it within a few days. Then my life got interesting. The day after it was announced in the newspapers that I was running for the school board, I found a dead rat on my front doorstep.
Maybe someone was trying to tell me something? Maybe it was a chew toy from one of the neighborhood cats? I never told my family about that incident until after the election was over. That could have been disastrous, but luckily, nothing ever came of it.
I put up a good fight against three incumbent candidates, only losing by 67 votes. I guess the voting public just wasn’t ready for an independent voice on the board yet.
After the election, my friend Debbie Saffioti, who was the current PTO president at the time, approached me about running for president. With nothing else on my plate for a while, I threw my hat in the ring, and at the last PTO meeting in June 2004, I was elected president for a two-year term. The timing couldn’t have been any more perfect -- when my son left West End after finishing fifth grade, I’d be finished with my term. We’d both go out together.
I knew I was doing the right thing when a few days after the election, I ran into my good friend Vincent Borelli at an American Cancer Society Relay for Life event, which was being held behind the old high school that year. I told him I was a little disappointed that I didn’t win the school board election and thought I had let a lot of people down.
Then he said something to me that I’ll never forget – “Sometimes you can affect change better in the district as a PTO president than you can as a board member.”
So I began my term with two goals in mind – (1) to encourage more men to participate in the PTO and in doing so, be even more of a part of their kids’ lives, and (2) to raise enough money so that the fifth grade classes would have to pay as little as possible for their big field trip to Medieval Times at the end of the school year.
Unfortunately, I didn't reach my first goal. By being president, I tried to lead by example to get more men involved in the organization, but for many families in Long Branch, the men were just too busy working to participate as much as I did. Seeing that this was the way it was, I decided to concentrate more so on fundraisers so that there’d be plenty of money for activities and the fifth grade field trips.
With the help of the PTO membership, we were able to have numerous assemblies and a school picnic at the end of both school years that I was president. We also held a dinner at Tuzzio's catering hall for the teachers during Teacher Appreciation Week both years.
In 2005, that year’s fifth grade class only had to pay $25 a student for their class trip. The following year, when my son was in fifth grade, the PTO raised so much money that the class got to go on their class trip for free. I got a real kick out of seeing the kids’ faces both years when several commercial buses pulled up in front of the school to take them on their class trips -- first class all the way.
When my term was over in June 2006, I was ready to hand the reins over to someone else. Being PTO president had been a rewarding experience for me, but it was time for some new blood to take over.
I’ll always cherish the time I spent with those kids, along with meeting and working with the parents as well as the great teachers and staff at West End School, all of whom played an integral part in making my term in office a great success.
(You can also follow Kevin Cieri’s blog on his Facebook page, “Jersey Shore Retro” as well as on Twitter at @jsretro).