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Can Miller-Driscoll’s PTA Be Saved?

Executives voted out! Online insults! A heart attack!? After last week’s debacle where does Wilton's K-2 PTA go from here?

Oy vey! What’s going on with Miller-Driscoll’s PTA?

If you were out of town for February break, you missed a doozy of a week!

To catch you up, five days before break Miller-Driscoll’s PTA voted out its sitting president and vice president “due to non-fulfillment of job responsibilities, and other Miller-Driscoll Bylaws violations.”  

The vote happened during a meeting held at the school the morning of Monday, February 13, and overseen by state PTA representatives.  It was an emotionally-charged gathering:  several members raised voices and hurled accusations; some even stormed out.

administrators and teachers who were present vigorously objected to the vote—charging it was a last-minute addition to the agenda, they refused to support the effort to remove the two board members; they showed their objection by leaving the meeting. The school’s two vice-principals returned at meeting’s end to angrily ask parents to leave school grounds.

Full disclosure: I was at the meeting and witnessed what happened; I also wrote about it last week’s . I’m friendly with some of the people at the center of the drama, and I’m trying to remain fair in writing about it.

It’s also important—and slightly humorous—to note:  I’ve been told that some people mistakenly thought I was a main player in the brouhaha. While I am a paying member of the Miller-Driscoll PTA (I have a child who attends school there), I hold no leadership position, and only volunteer to help with Women in History Day. I was not a participant in or leader of the events that occurred. Perhaps because two other people who hold leadership roles on the PTA are also named Heather, it could explain why I might have been mistakenly thought ‘responsible.’

The meeting was the culmination of what some Miller-Driscoll parents have called a tumultuous year. According to what several people have told me, as well as online allegations, it was a year filled with fighting between some members of the executive board and other PTA chair people. It appears as if the year of discord centered on intangibles of personality disputes and power grabs, as well as on more concrete charges, like accounting discrepancies and failure to follow the rules.

In the days that followed the Feb. 13 meeting, the situation worsened. Online reports furthered the name-calling and finger-pointing, both on and elsewhere. There were accusations and innuendo about crimes and misdemeanors:  unnecessary parking spots for PTA execs (and questions about whether PTA funds paid for signage), irregular accounting from last year’s winter carnival, adult online bullying, emails to school and district administrators maligning other board members, plots to prevent one another from future BOE membership, and more. None of it was confirmed or concrete.

Then, someone anonymously started an inflammatorily-titled Facebook page, “Occupy Miller-Driscoll,” (which has since been taken down). for their conduct at the meeting. Another PTA board member resigned of her own accord. And, in a shocking and most disturbing turn of events, one of the vice principals involved was reported to have suffered a heart attack a few days after the fractious meeting—which some people linked to what happened during and after the meeting.

At the least, the last two weeks are an embarrassing PR disaster. But it’s much worse than that:  it’s ripped open a breach of trust, good behavior, good intentions, and cooperation, and it will take a long time to repair.

Today’s column isn’t about assigning blame—that’s pointless. It wasn’t the cause of just the ousted members, the current board members, the district PTA board members, the administrators, the Superintendent, or the parents. It’s everyone’s fault. What happened before, during and after was conduct unbecoming to everyone.

What really matters is what happens next.

First and foremost, we need to recognize that the PTA has done much good up until now—and that it can continue to do so. The members are hard-working volunteers who spend an inordinate amount of time helping the school, with fundraising, time commitments, programming, enrichment, teacher support, and more. The organization needs to be respected, not maligned, and credit is due to those who give of their time, selflessly and generously.

There needs to be commitment from the PTA leadership from this point forward to act in a manner that merits this respect. Petty online snipes and grievance-airing will only further hurt and damage the reputation and good work of the organization. No matter who did what, this promise should to come from each leader.

For all of the members, why not create some sort of oath for parents to sign—a pledge to put the kids first, and our own egos last. We ask the kids to sign something similar in school, at the beginning of each year, asking them to promise not to bully others, and to treat each member of the school community with kindness and respect. Why not do it ourselves as a symbolic gesture?

The organization’s bylaws need to be tightened—it seemed from the meeting that there was some question about whether the current bylaws are sufficient and comprehensive—and then published and made available to the membership.

Which brings us to the most important point of all:  There needs to be more transparency, both about what happened and moving forward. Too much confusion and too many questions remain about what prompted the vote to remove and what transpired since. Why did it happen without advance notice of the entire membership? What will be done to prevent this from occurring again? Allow members to ask questions and answer them candidly. This isn’t about continued blame, but it is about clearing the air.

As well, bridges need to be repaired—in both directions—between parents and administrators. Trust needs to be regained. There should be some face to face reconciliation.

I’d suggest a nighttime meeting between parents, PTA leaders and school administrators—working parents have expressed they want a time that accommodates their needs too, and it’s clear that people don’t want events to disrupt our kids’ school days any further. Adequate advance notice would be something appreciated as well.

As parents and teachers, we’re supposed to be the ones teaching our children about effective problem solving and about cooperative relationships.  We need to set the example about how to move forward from upheaval, for the kids and for ourselves. We need to learn from the experience and repair any damage that’s been done. I’d hate for people to think twice before paying membership dues to join or before donating.

Because I’d rather be writing about the doozy of the success of the Miller-Driscoll PTA's Winter Carnival than the thousand some-odd words I had to write above.

Amo Probus February 27, 2012 at 12:04 PM
I do not think its possible to move forward unless all PTA officers resign and other parents take over. The atmosphere is too poisoned for the current crop to remain in office. PTA bylaws should also be amended to exclude PTA officers from future employment at the school. The PTA should focus on persuading the school to promote education over school employee salary and benefit inflation.
DavidCrays February 27, 2012 at 02:38 PM
For complete story click here http://www.examiner.com/stay-at-home-dads-in-hartford/miller-driscoll-pta-scandal-the-complete-story
Cathy February 27, 2012 at 02:51 PM
When I was a paraent of a child in the WPS system, (K-12) thru 2010, I witnessed the sort of behavior that has been exhibited in this recent episode of PTA life in 'Stepford'. I, along with many others, opeted to walk away from the PTA because of controlling personalities - some of whom are current participants - that think that they know what is best. These gals can be extremely deceptive and manipulative and it is a shame, because they keep others from being willing participants in that organization. I applaud the people who publically told their story because there are tons of untold stories just like this one.
Got 2B Kidding February 27, 2012 at 04:33 PM
Just to be clear Mr DC - in spite of saying you are done commenting ... you comment again for the umpteenth time. Mrs Tecci and Mrs Wilcauskas after this embarrassing chapter of a horror story in the name of "what's best for our kids " you actually think this Town would vote for you to sit on the Board of Education - seriously the Board of Education ?? (Don't try for the Library Trustees, Trackside or the Wilton Y either please !) . And who is this PTA Council - that can just stack the deck, change an agenda and call for a vote of dismissal to suit their purposes against the presiding officer of the meeting's wishes - without full disclosure of their intentions and without plenty of advanced notice ?? Sorry - that leadership has to go too !! The upside is there will be plenty of new volunteer spots available for those interested in taking part in the future for our kids !! Dr. Richards - What is the process to sign up and help ?
Lee Aydelotte February 27, 2012 at 05:02 PM
Like I said earlier. Vermont has a great slogan. "take Vermont back". Well all you motivated people please "take Wilton back"!!! Bravo HBH for another well written article!
Jeanie C. Riley February 27, 2012 at 07:39 PM
Well this is just a little Peyton Place and you're all Miller-Driscoll hypocrites.
Susan February 27, 2012 at 09:42 PM
Thank you for this recap. I completely agree that there's no moving forward until all parties involved step down from their current positions and then a "take back the town" meeting is convened. Frankly, I'm appalled that Ms. Teece and Ms. Wilcauskas have not voluntarily stepped forward to apologize for their roles in this mess and offered their resignations. Shame on you both. Nancy, thank you for your voice in this.
Ronni McLaughlin February 27, 2012 at 09:45 PM
As a former PTA president for the high school and former member of all the school PTA boards I find this very petty and disturbing. The PTA is to enhance school programs and such FOR the children. If some cannot get passed their own egos they should resign.
carol ball February 27, 2012 at 10:17 PM
Sing it Jeanie! http://youtu.be/4ivUOnnstpg
Mike Sheehan February 28, 2012 at 02:43 AM
The PTA should be suspended for the rest of the school year and the professional teachers should finish out the year. Then if the PTA can regroup, the board and officers should be open for election in the fall, but no current officers or directors could be nominees
Jeanie C. Riley February 28, 2012 at 03:39 PM
Well this is just a little Peyton Place and everyone involved is full of . . . .
Jumpin Juniper March 01, 2012 at 08:37 PM
There is a picture, on the Patch, of parents dressed up as famous women last April. They look ridiculous and happy and dedicated. They are the people who should be in charge of the PTA. The volunteers who are ready to pitch in, dress up, get dirty and have fun with and for the sake of the children. I'd like to see that entire board gone - enough. Grow up. Every school has the group of volunteers who think they are the only ones capable of running things properly; the ones who can really work with the administration; and the ones who want and need the praise. They wouldn't be caught dead as Betsy Ross or Betty Ford. Clearly all parties have way too much time on their hands - Facebook, blogging, letters - you all lost, and so did the school. We look ridiculous. A real lesson to other PTAs in what NOT to do - parking spaces? Pu-lease.
ppamom March 02, 2012 at 05:28 AM
Where is Cheryl JG in all of this? I find it interesting that she lead her VPs out to the slaughter, not to mention, let a situation become a laughing stock. I have yet to talk to a single parent who has had a successful interaction with this woman. Why has Richards allowed her to remain principal? She is so ineffective and now it's showing...
JJ March 03, 2012 at 04:48 PM
I have to say, I am disturbed by two issues: 1) Has anyone asked how Dr. Brown is doing? (I hope well and recovered) 2) Note David Crays is making a profit off of his comments. Not a huge one....but still the precedent is troubling....he made a CHOICE to direct us to his website that he profits from. While it is great that the entrepreneurial spirit still exists in the USA, this was, in my mind, a very inappropriate way to show it.

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