2018-01-18 / Around Town

Q&A with Pell, Thompson PTO Presidents

By Brooke Constance White

Kendra Muenter Kendra Muenter A president’s work is never done. Just ask Kendra Muenter and Jennifer Jackson, presidents of the PTOs at Pell Elementary and Thompson Middle School, respectively.

Muenter became involved in the PTO in 2014 as a way to connect with other Pell parents when her daughter started kindergarten. She remembers her own mother’s active role in her school growing up and wanted to pass that same feeling on to her daughter. Muenter became Pell PTO co-president in 2015.

Jackson, whose husband serves as Thompson PTO’s vice-president, has two daughters in the Newport public school system. The couple believes that supporting students and teachers is key to a strong community. Aside from their work with the PTO, the Jacksons are in the process of completing foster parent training.

As part of an ongoing series about Aquidneck Island PTO members, Newport This Week chatted with Muenter and Jackson to discuss what goes on behind the scenes at the Pell and Thompson PTOs, and what groups bring to the community at large.

Jennifer Jackson Jennifer Jackson What are some of the biggest issues facing the Newport School District?

Muenter: think the biggest issues are school facilities and space. Rogers needs to be rebuilt and Pell is five years old and has run out of room. The lack of space at Pell needs to be addressed sooner than later because we can’t lose any more rooms. In a perfect world, it would be amazing for the school staff to have a proper lounge and for the PTO to have a storage space in the school.

Jackson: The need for better communication; parents’ rights; the lack of funding for our children’s education; and the need for every child to have an equal opportunity. The biggest issues at Thompson specifically is that it seems as though the middle school is often forgotten. You hear of all the things going on at Pell, our newest school, and how Rogers and P-Tech [Pathways in Technology Early College High School Program] are being fixed up and about programs available there. But where does the middle school fall into this?

What are greatest strengths and weaknesses at Pell and Thompson?

Muenter: The biggest strength [at Pell] is the diversity. I love that my daughter has friends from everywhere and that she has friends she would never have had if the elementary school was broken up into neighborhood schools. The teachers are [also] wonderful. I think the weakness, which is probably universal to many schools, is communication. Even the PTO struggles with this.

Jackson: Thompson has an amazing staff that is always willing to help our children and inspire them but we need more of them. Districtwide, it seems like our staff never fully challenge a child who could be above grade level. Not every child learns the same way and we need to explore unconventional ways of teaching.

What are some topics the Pell and Thompson PTOs have been discussing recently?

Muenter: With 900-plus students, the Pell PTO operates on a budget of about $25,000 a year, so we’re always thinking of ways to raise money. This year seems to be our hardest in terms of fundraising and I do worry that we may not have enough money to properly fund the budget. [Between] 80 and 90 percent of our spending happens in the spring months and we try to fundraise the bulk of our budget in the fall. Our other consistent topic of discussion is community events and involvement.

Jackson: [The Thompson PTO] is always trying to find new ways to bring in resources to help with our students’ education, inspire them to learn, see the doors and opportunities open to them and help with the needs of the school. With school funding becoming less available for field trips and supplies, the PTO is needed to fill in the gaps so we try to find ways to raise money so we’re able to help.

What are some of the goals the Pell and Thompson PTOs have for 2018?

Muenter: One is a program we are bringing to Pell in March that we are very excited about as we will be the first school in Rhode Island to participate in it. But I want to keep the program a surprise for now. I can say that it will build on the sense of community and gratitude. Our next goal is finding the next set of board members.

Jackson: Some of our goals for 2018 are to bring a career day to the children so they can be inspired to achieve their potential; support the staff and Thompson families; raise funds; and help make our children’s education more exciting.

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