Flex Academies President Joshua Chernikoff interviewed Ashburton PTA President Laura Chace. Chace explained how her PTA’s partnership with Flex has benefitted their school’s large student population. Flex’s total package has allowed the staff and PTA to focus more on their specific jobs and responsibilities.
Flex Academies: Talk to me about the partnership between Flex Academies and Ashburton.
Laura Chace: We brought Flex in this year to run our afterschool program because we have a very large student body and a very large school, and it was too much for parent PTA volunteers to handle on their own. Flex not only brings the coordination but they also bring a higher level of running a business to it, where you have background checks on providers and a check-in system and a check-out system for the kids. So there is a different level of responsibility and security and it just makes everything run more smoothly. Flex provides the people on site who manage our afterschool activities for us, so we don’t have to have a parent volunteer do that anymore.
FA: We work with a lot of different schools — some are bigger and some are smaller, but one common thread is volunteer burnout. How real is volunteer burnout for PTAs?
LC: Well, it’s very real because it’s with any organization that you have, whether it be the PTA or any other group, a small number of people who do the bulk of the work who always step up to the plate. That’s a phenomenon that happens everywhere with every group and it’s the same in PTAs. So you have a group of parents who are constantly volunteering and at the end of the day, people’s situations change. They take a part-time job, they might go from part-time to full-time. They can’t dedicate the time they did before to the PTA, so your pool of candidates is limited. And in a situation like our school’s, we have such a large community and so many kids doing activities that the parents volunteering were spending a lot of time running around chasing all of the loose ends that come with running an afterschool program. Whether it be making sure that the teachers for the afterschool program are in the classrooms when they are supposed to be, that it’s staffed appropriately, if someone is stuck in traffic, if the provider is stuck in traffic, calling to the school to tell them that, making sure that the parents are called if there is an issue — when you have one or two parents trying to do that for hundreds of kids, it becomes a full-time job. The volunteer burnout is going to happen when you are putting that much on a parent volunteer.
FA: Something you mentioned before was the onsite coordinator, which I think is one of the hardest parts for any PTA to provide if they were to try and run an afterschool program on their own. So can you talk about the onsite coordinator position and what that has meant for Ashburton?
LC: I will tell you that the onsite coordinator position has been, I would say, even more helpful for our administration at Ashburton even more so than for our PTA. What happens is the onsite coordinator has to make sure that the provider is in the classroom monitoring the kids, that the kids are in the classroom where they are supposed to be, that basically the trains are running on time and everybody is where they need to be. For parents, that is important to know. You want to know your kid is in the right place. For an administrator, it’s very important because in the past, if a provider wasn’t on time those kids would have to wait in the office. There wasn’t a person that was dedicated to be there on site to watch those kids. You can’t have elementary kids unattended. For the administrators, it’s been a huge weight off their shoulders. They aren’t the ones now that have to go down a phone tree and call 25 parents when a provider is late or have all these kids in the office while they are trying to do all of the other duties of their regular full-time jobs.
FA: Another thing that keeps it interesting when we start working the schools is that, especially big schools with well established programs like Ashburton, it’s a big decision for a PTA. It may not seem like it to an outsider, but I understand that it is a big decision for a PTA. Can you talk about how you finally made the decision, which was not an overnight one, to work with Flex? And then, what is the reaction from parents who might not have been on board to begin with?
LC: Well, I think you are right. It’s not an easy decision. The thing that made it a little easier for us to make in the end, was like I said, our school is huge. We have over 900 children, so the staff and the administration simply just do not have the time anymore. . . not that they wouldn’t want to handle it, but we can’t keep putting issues on them that are outside the school day, because they have a job to do and they are already stretched thin. So we knew we had to do something different to take this piece off of the school and also off of the parent volunteers who weren’t able to dedicate all the time that is necessary to make this work. So we almost had a perfect storm of ‘we have to make a change’ and then we had heard about Flex from other schools. Their PTAs said they had implemented it and it was great and it was working, parents were happy, schools were happy, PTAs were happy. So it made it a little easier for us to make that jump. I would say that in general parents have been happy with it. We had to internally decide what would be the implication of the decision. Would our offerings be fewer or narrower, would they be expanded, what would be the benefits and disadvantages? In the end, the pros outweighed to cons very much so, that we still have a robust offering from Flex. We have more accountability and monitoring of the system and the choices and the classes. So in the end, for us it was a good decision, and we are happy to have Flex monitoring and managing that for us.
FA: Well, we appreciate you guys as a partner as well. When we look for schools we look for a strong administration and strong PTAs and you guys have both of that, so we hope we have many more years of providing afterschool programs at Ashburton.
LC: Yes, we hope so too.
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