Male leaders remain rare in parent groups locally
Michael D. Clark reports:
Daniel Colpi is no stranger to being the only guy in a room.
That happens a lot when you are the dad who is also a Parent Teacher Association president.
Though Colpi’s children attend Lakota Schools – the second largest school system in Southwest Ohio – he is the lone male among the district’s 22 PTA school leaders.
Men are in leadership roles at a few other Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky school districts – Lebanon, Kings, Oak Hills and Cincinnati Public Schools.
But overwhelmingly, the region’s PTAs and its similar Parents Teachers Organizations remain as they have been since well back into the last century – female-dominated.
But more men are stepping up, local and national school officials say.
That’s good, says Colpi and other PTA dads, because men are missing out if they assume the school groups are “women-only clubs.”
“Being the only guy in the room didn’t bother me much, and besides, I’m like the prize poodle at the fair,” jokes Colpi about the attention he receives at school meetings.
“I introduce myself as ‘I’m Daniel Colpi, and yes I am a guy.’ ”
At a recent luncheon honoring volunteers – 95 percent women – at Liberty Early Childhood School in Butler County, nearly all were were chatting him up.
“Inserting male role models into the schools … can not only help your own children but all the children in the school district,” he says. “Certainly we have great teachers here in Lakota and I don’t knock or diminish them at all, but most of them are women.”
Officials at the national PTA headquarters in Chicago say they don’t keep data on the number of male memberships, other than the group’s most recent stat: 22 percent of its 5 million members are men.
PTO officials also don’t track membership by gender.
Officials at both groups say an emphasis on including more men has been a larger part of their missions in recent years.
Tim Sullivan is founder of the national PTO Today in Wrentham, Mass.
“Anecdotally, we are seeing an increase in dad involvement at the leadership level,” Sullivan says.
“As PTOs and PTAs become less traditional and hidebound – for example, the mom’s club, the 7 p.m. Tuesday meeting or the 10 a.m. Wednesday meeting being the very traditional communication means – there’s been an opening for involvement from many who in the past have felt less able to lead.
“My sense is that this change has come from necessity, as it’s harder than ever to find really committed volunteers, so the doors have to be opened more widely.”
Bring your male perspective along with sense of humor
Stacey Wood, mother of two Lakota students, says Colpi delivers much more than the novelty of gender diversity.
“He absolutely brings the male perspective and he keeps the (PTA meeting) conversations moving along. But mostly the kids love him.
“They are used to seeing us moms.”
Dave Siebert, father of two schoolchildren and president of the Lebanon Junior High PTO, says humor is essentially for softening the bumps into any gender stereotyping men might experience.
“There are going to be some situations that crop up that you are really going to have to take with a grain of salt and laugh at.
“Whether it’s an email from somebody who says ‘attention all PTO moms’ or somebody sends a bouquet of flowers to the PTO, it’s nothing personal and you just have to have a good attitude,” Siebert says.
At Cincinnati Public Schools, the region’s largest school district, there are very few dads in charge of PTO or PTA groups.
Of the 14 elementary principals who responded to The Enquirer’s request, only one had a dad in charge, Yosef Yisrael, at the Academy of World Languages in Evanston.
It’s a problem, said CPS board member Chris Nelms, who is a big supporter of male role models in an urban district where many young boys have none.
“A lot of men don’t necessarily see themselves in an advocate role,” Nelms says.
“The PTA is traditionally maternalistally driven, so many men aren’t as apt to get involved.”
Emails sent to the ‘ladies’ of the PTA
Bernie Combs, a longtime member of Northern Kentucky’s Newport High School’s PTA, still chuckles when he gets emails sent to the “ladies” of the PTA.
“My advice is don’t get offended. You are a parent, too, and your voice about the children’s school is important too,” Combs says.
The school dads suggest men try out by volunteering for a couple of events to test their comfort and interest level before joining a local school PTA or PTO.
And there is a personal payoff, too, for fathers.
“You have a very narrow window of opportunity where your children are chasing you for a bit of attention,” he says.
“I think it’s very important to capitalize on that before they move on and you don’t become so cool anymore.”