Ask a PTA Leader: Jim Accomando

By Kisha DeSandies Lester

Jim Accomando stands out in the world of PTA, especially in the nearly all-female Holland Hill Elementary PTA in Fairfield, Conn., where his PTA story began. But that suits him just fine. His wife, Wendy, is a teacher and instilled in Jim an awe of the impact a great and caring teacher can make in the lives of our children. When their children—AJ, now a recent college grad, and Olivia, a senior in high school—began attending their elementary school, just behind their backyard fence, Jim decided he wanted to help make an impact, too.

And he certainly has! Jim soon became the president of his council PTA, then the Connecticut PTA, and in June, he became the president of National PTA. But he never lost sight of the reason why he joined PTA in the first place. Jim recently finished his term as PTA president at Fairfield Ludlowe High School, where his daughter attends—where he organized the post-prom party and often was the voice over the loudspeaker looking for new PTA members.

Q: What advice would you give someone going into a PTA leadership position for the first time?

It’s important to go in with your eyes wide open and with both feet. Don’t be afraid to show your passion and your emotion often. Your passion is infectious and if you lead with your heart and PTA mission, others will follow. People may not buy into your exact belief system, but they will recognize something in what you are doing that supports their own beliefs, which will then help you achieve the same goal. Always remember that despite your new position, you must recognize this is not YOUR PTA, you are still one of many passionate volunteers. You are there to provide guidance and leadership. Believe in the volunteers you work with, give them the opportunity to succeed, and don’t forget to give them credit for their ideas and participation. And overall, have fun. You will find that as you work to change the lives of the children in your community, the parents and children you meet along the way will change your life and perspective.

Q: What are a few resources you would recommend to someone who wants to become a better PTA leader?

Learn as much as you can about the position you’re in by attending as many training and leadership courses as you can at the council, district, state and national level. State conventions and National PTA’s Legislative Conference and Convention & Expo are excellent opportunities to connect with other leaders and learn best practices. You can also take one of National PTA’s e-learning courses, which are free to members. And surround yourself with good mission-focused people as you serve. Finally, one of my favorite books that I’ve used in my training courses is Good to Great by Jim Collins. It really helps leaders learn how to focus on what’s important and how to set and achieve goals.

Q: What do you think is the biggest challenge facing PTA leaders today, and how do you think they can begin to overcome it?

Without question, relevance and inclusion. We have a rich 120-year legacy, but we need to reinforce PTA’s mission and extend our reach to today’s families. That means being a mission ambassador to Generation X and Millennial parents and underserved families. In every decision you make, be sure you visualize a child in every aspect of that decision. And ask yourself, “Have I enhanced that child’s life in the decision we’re making?” This school year, I encourage every PTA leader to:

  • Get Back in Touch with Your “WHY”—Unplug, disconnect from your current PTA duties and reflect on what got you involved in PTA. You will find yourself refreshed and ready to face not only the challenges but the glorious opportunities that lay ahead. And share your “WHY” story with others, wherever you go.
  • Get Back into the Field—Attend a community event. Visit a school. Read to a class. Meet with school administrators, teachers, parents and community leaders who play a role in improving the lives of the children in your community. Staying connected will make you a more relevant PTA volunteer and advocate.
  • Be Bold and Entrepreneurial—Think of yourself as a small-business owner and be a facilitator of ideas. Be daring and be willing to fail or make mistakes. Remember, it is how you get back on your feet, not what knocked you down that is a sign of strength and character.

Kisha DeSandies Lester is the Senior Editorial and Digital Manager at National PTA. 

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