BEN W. MURCH HOME & SCHOOL ASSOCIATION/PTA, INC.
Final Meeting Minutes October 3, 2017
HSA Presidents Virginia Marentette and Elisa O’Keefe called the meeting to order at 7:03 PM on October 3, 2017 in the media center of Murch Elementary School at Murch@UDC.
- Executive Board Members present: Virginia Marentette (Co-President), Elisa O’Keefe (Co-President), Ashley Webb (Co-Vice President), Joanna Brown (Co-Vice President), Chris Cebrzynski (Principal), Meredith Grindrod (Teacher Representative), Diane Beasley (Secretary), Sharon Bennett (Treasurer), Maura Healy (Asst. Treasurer), Nisa Gosselink-Ulep (Asst. Treasurer), Maurice Werner (Budget and Planning), Sue Guzman (Hospitality, Past President), Jason Levin (Ways and Means), and Amy Mack (Communications).
Other Members in Attendance: Christine LoCascio (SIT Representative), Michele Murphy, Kent Withycombe (WLC PEP Representative), Laura Gross (Fall Fair Co-Chair).
- Approval of prior minutes – Diane Beasley
Diane presented the minutes for the September 12th meeting, which had been posted on BaseCamp for review on September 18th, and sought the Board’s approval of the minutes.
Diane made a motion that the Board ratify the previously posted minutes for the September 12th meeting as the official record of that meeting. Jason seconded the motion, there was no objection, and the motion passed by unanimous voice vote.
- Fall Fair Update – Laura Gross, Fall Fair Co-Chair
Laura thanked the Board for their support of the Fall Fair and provided an update on the planning progress. She stated that credit cards will be accepted (and encouraged) at the fair and they will be using Square to swipe cards. Sharon stated that she will obtain two more Square swipers, so that there will be a total of eight for use at the fair. In terms of other logistics, the Fall Fair page is up on the Murch website and now includes links to the Sign-up Genius pages for all the classrooms.
Communications regarding the fair have already started going out and another flyer (plus a sticker) will be in this week’s Friday Folder. Additionally, announcements about the fair have been included in the newsletter for four weeks, and Laura is working with her team to advertise the fair on social media, local community listservs, and on public bulletin boards. She asked that the Board help build buzz by retweeting Fall Fair updates, sharing the event on Facebook, and inviting friends and family to attend. Her team has also reached out to community organizations at Wilson and Deal to solicit volunteers looking for community service hours. She also asked the Board members to consider signing up for a volunteer shift at the fair.
Laura has been maintaining a Google Docs with information on planning, vendors, and other pertinent data to share with the Fall Fair team next year in the hopes that it may ease the planning process.
She noted they already have a number of vendors lined up for the fair (Soapstone Market, Giant, etc.) but they are looking for more, so if you know of any potential vendors looking to sell their wares, please put forward Laura’s contact information to them. Other help is needed by way of book donations for the Book Sale (drop-off books in the Bubble from October 6-13), baked good donations for the Bake Sale and Musical Chairs with Cake Prize. Lastly, she is also looking for extra iPads or Wi-Fi hotspots for use at the fair.
- PEP Presentation – Kent Withycombe
Maurice introduced Kent Withycombe from the Washington Lawyers Committee (WLC) Parent Empowerment Program (PEP), who was present to provide information on the program and answer questions. Kent stated that the WLC started PEP in 2016 as a pilot program that funded four parent teacher organizations (PTOs) at Title I schools. In the year and a half since the pilot, the program has funded eight more PTOs in the spring/summer of 2017, with an additional six grants to be awarded in October 2017 (all at Title I schools). Their plan is to fund another six projects in January 2018 in order to reach a goal of 20 projects beyond the pilot by 2018. Kent distributed copies of a paper that provided additional details on PEP and summarized some of the ways the grants have been used at other schools, then opened the floor for questions.
Jason asked about the application process, the selection criteria, and where donated funds go and how they are administered and monitored for appropriate use. Kent responded that the application process is purposefully short in order to encourage applications and that they work with applicants to develop their ideas. Only Title I DCPS schools are considered. Applications are then reviewed by the PEP Board; for this current set of applicants, a decision will be made by mid-October. Any donations to PEP are held in a separate account, and all grants are administered through this fund. Only once a winning school PTO raises their own funds will the matching PEP grant be administered (grant cap is $1000 right now). Kent gave an example of a school, Cleveland Elementary, that used their grant to purchase i-Ready, which lead to significant gains in math readiness across all grades. Jason asked for additional details, at which point Maurice stated that he could post the information to BaseCamp.
Michele, who worked at a Title School prior to teaching at Murch, asked how PEP supports schools that struggle to raise the matching money required to receive the grant, and also why some applicants are not selected. Kent responded that in terms of fundraising, they will usually connect the PTOs with techniques that other schools use to fundraise, as well as help them partner with a volunteer law firm that can assist with executing the fundraiser, developing bylaws, and in other ways. As far as the grant selection process, Kent reiterated that only DCPS Title I schools (no charter or private schools) can win a grant, and that if an applicant is not accepted, they will meet with them to discuss how to improve so that they can re-apply and potentially win during the next round of grants.
Other questions were posed. Virginia asked for confirmation that every dollar donated goes directly to a Title I school organization and Kent replied in the affirmative. Michele asked if Murch would get any recognition for making a donation; Kent replied that while the schools receiving the grants know that another school donated to the fund, they are not told which ones specifically. Sue asked if the Title I schools would want to be connected with Murch as a sister school for advice on running a PTO, holding successful fundraisers, etc. and noted that this could be a mutually beneficial relationship as it would give Murch another perspective on DCPS from a Title I standpoint. Kent responded that while this could be a possibility, the point of PEP is to empower those PTOs and schools and to advocate for their children, so the WLC would only help make that connection if this is something the school wants or needs. After no further questions from the Board, Kent thanked everyone for their consideration and exited the meeting.
- Personnel Update – Stephanie Owens
Stephanie was unable to make the meeting but posted an update to BaseCamp earlier in the day. The post summarized that Paychex offered a new plan that includes additional services (such as the time-off accrual tracking) for less than what we currently pay. Her post also noted that it was easier to get support from Paychex than Xero; Sharon stated that Xero is based in New Zealand so they typically respond within 24 hours but are helpful once you have them on the line. Discussion ensued regarding the merits of both systems, with Virginia noting that it may be better to stick with Paychex as they are providing a good value with the new plan and would not require switching systems in the middle of the schoolyear. The Board agreed and recommended staying with Paychex, with Stephanie to announce the final decision by the next Board meeting.
- President’s Report – Virginia Marentette and Elisa O’Keefe
Elisa stated that she and Virginia were abdicating their report so that Joanna could give an update on the Teacher Grants. Joanna stated that she received 13 grant applications (down from 30 last year) and that almost all of them were approved. Virginia asked Mr. C. why he though the number of applications was down and if the Board needed to consider reducing the amount allocated for Teacher Grants in next year’s budget. Mr. C. responded that it likely had to do with two things: reticence to purchase new items prior to the move back to renovated Murch as teachers may need to store their classroom materials, and not knowing if they will need these items in their new classrooms next year. Mr. C. recommended messaging first and tying the Teacher Grants into comprehensive school plan before deciding on budget changes. Joanna added that she is expecting more grant applications in the winter.
Joanna provided more information on the rejected applications and noted that they consisted of rug requests (denied because it’s unknown if they will be needed in the renovated Murch) and an iPad request (denied because this would fall under the Technology Set Aside). Michele stated that she had submitted the application for the iPads for the students in her Special Education Self-Contained (SES) classroom. Discussion ensued regarding whether the students could get the iPads through an assisted technology request to DCPS based on their IEPs. The members concluded that this would take time and would not guarantee approval by DCPS. Nisa stated that she was able to get discounted iPads by purchasing through certain vendors and buying older models, so two iPads would not be prohibitively expensive for the Board to fund through the Technology Set Aside. At this point Michele briefly exited the meeting so the Board could further discuss and take a vote.
Elisa made a motion for the Board to purchase two iPads for the SES classroom out of the Technology Set Aside. Virginia seconded the motion, there was no objection, and the motion passed by unanimous voice vote.
- Principal’s Report – Mr. Cebrzynski
Mr. C. reported on a number of exciting events. The Murch Choir will be performing for the Mayor at the DCPEF conference on October 5th; he noted that they were asked to perform based on the choir’s excellent performance at the DCPS Music Festival at the Kennedy Center in May. The Garden Club is well underway and has started selling produce at a mini market at the school. Speakers will be coming from the Smithsonian to talk to the students about art appreciation, and Murch has been partnered with Great Britain through the Embassy Adoption Program. Also, the school is organizing several free field trips through DCPS, including a recent 5th grade field trip to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.
The Comprehensive School Plan was kicked off at the faculty meeting earlier today. The plan, which is guided by the Chancellor’s initiatives for all DCPS schools, has three focus areas: literacy, Social Emotional Learning (SEL), and Writing Across the Curriculum. The SEL component is an underdeveloped concept, so the school will be working on getting families to understand the importance of SEL and how it ultimately affects learning. Mr. C. added that in terms of writing, while most Murch students do well in reading and comprehension, that ability falls off when transferred to the written word. The goal of Writing Across the Curriculum is to build Murch students into effective writers.
- Treasurer’s Report – Sharon Bennett
Sharon provided a summary of the monthly financials. SOS donations have started coming in, with about $6K in new donation on top of the $6735 from the previous campaign (the installment payments). Sue asked whether the Board should consider narrowing the installment period for this campaign so as to avoid any confusion, but Sharon responded that there is no need as it has no affect from an accounting standpoint.
There is still around $1300 left from the credit card rewards rebate, and the Treasury team will be using these funds to purchase iPad covers with a portion of that. Sharon asked that the Board consider what else to use the remaining funds on. Maura noted that extra security will be needed at the Fall Fair – could this be an option? Regarding security, Elisa said that she had an extra safe that could be used for the fair although she can’t physically bring it to the school.
Maurice had a question regarding the negative balance for the ANC 3F Music Grant and Sharon responded that they had to return the portion of the grant that was not spent to the ANC, hence the negative $25. Sharon closed her report by stating that she spoke with the auditor regarding the 2016-17 audit. He has not yet completed the audit and Sharon is waiting to hear back from him on an expected completion date.
- Budget and Planning Committee Update – Maurice Werner
Maurice led a discussion on donating the low-income grant set aside ($3K) to the PEP administered by the WLC. Sue attended the last WLC PEP luncheon and Michele spoke with contacts at two schools that won PEP grants (Tyler and Powell). Both schools had good things to say, although she noted that both already had strong PTOs. Maurice asked if the Board if they had any additional questions or concerns regarding PEP; there were none.
Maurice made a motion for the Board to authorize the $3000 Low Income School Grant Program funds to be donated to PEP. Amy seconded the motion, there was no objection, and the motion passed by unanimous voice vote
Following the vote, Maurice noted that the Board should have a follow-on discussion on how to message the donation to the school community. Discussion ensued regarding Murch’s future relationship with schools receiving the PEP grants, seeing how the donated funds are used, and how to publicize the donation in a meaningful way. Amy recommended shelving the discussion to a later date. Finally, Maurice stated that he will contact Kent at the WLC to figure out the next steps for making the donation, and submit a check request through the HSA form.
- Communications Update – Amy Mack
- Fall Fair. Working with Laura and her team to build buzz on the Fall Fair by posting to social media and on the school website.
- SOS Campaign. SOS page is up on the school website and the donation form is live. Regarding the school website, Amy noted that some of information is out of date and she needs volunteers to help update it, so if there are any connections to potential volunteers, please put them in touch with her.
- Talent Show. Marcia is running the talent show this year and is working with Amy and the Communications team to advertise it. Currently the Talent Show is scheduled for November 9th but the date is not firm because there are some renovations going on in the theater that may affect that date. Maurice noted that Communications may want to link to construction updates.
- Ways and Means Update – Jason Levin
- Fall Fair T-Shirt Sales. T-shirts have been ordered to sell at the Fall Fair, and all shirts have been delivered. Jason asked that Board members consider signing up for a shift to sell them at the fair.
- Tesoro Restaurant Day. Tesoro Restaurant Day was held on September 28th, but we have not received the totals yet from the restaurant although the numbers are expected soon.
- Galley Week. Galley provides meal delivery services and Murch will receive 20% of all #MURCHES sales from October 15-20. The Galley kick-off will be at the Fall Fair and Jason is working with Communications to spread the word.
- Giant A+ Rewards. Jason stated that the A+ Rewards is a $2MM program and last year the winning school received $29,000 (that school had 1794 linked cards for just 200 students). Currently Murch has just 29 families signed up, so we need a big push to encourage more families to sign-up and reach out to extended family, friends, and neighbors to sign-up as well. Jason would like to get 500 accounts linked to Murch within four years and he is working to get flyers and other notices out. Sharon asked whether we could set up a sign-up station at the fair and Jason responded that it was a possibility.
- New Business
- Commemorative Brick Sales and Engraving (Ashley Webb). Ashley stated that the deadline for the brick order is February 1st, and introduced the option of holding another brick fundraiser so that new families or those who did not get a chance to purchase a brick could do so. Both Sue and Virginia noted that the brick sale should not be concurrent with the SOS campaign, and the campaign will wrap-up in early November, so they recommended waiting until then. The Board agreed to wait until after the campaign is over and do a big push on brick sales around the holidays in order to take advantage of gifting and families trying to get in a year-end tax deduction (the bricks cost $25, so $100 of the $125 donation is tax deductible).
- LSAT Update (Maurice Werner). Maurice attended the first LSAT meeting on September 26th, which was basically a wrap-up of last year’s LSAT and discussion of what the focus would be this year. At the meeting, Mr. C. gave summary of the Comprehensive School Plan (literacy, SEL, Writing Across the Curriculum) and spoke about getting metrics in place to track progress over the focus areas. The LSAT also agreed to move their meeting to coincide with the HSA meeting dates (just prior), so that the two groups can work together more. The LSAT meeting also covered the budgeting process and how to proactively plan for the move next year, not just physically, but with respect to preparing both teachers and students.
Discussion ensued regarding how the LSATs role in the move is different from SITs, how to get information out to Murch families in preparation for the move, and how the HSA will help out with the move. While Mary Eckstein is the point person for the move from the school, Sue asked if it would be helpful to have a point person on the HSA. Mr. C. responded that this is a good idea and that the move will be intense. He would like to get as much help from the HSA, LSAT, and SIT as possible so that teachers and students are not distracted by the move and to make the transition as smooth as possible. Virginia noted that the move would be a good opportunity to make changes within the HSA (something she learned through discussion with Lafayette regarding their move), so this is something for the Board to consider.
- SOS Campaign (Ron Eckstein, Co-Chair). Ron Eckstein provided an SOS Campaign update via phone call. He stated that the big challenge is to get SOS donations back up to where they were in previous years. The strategy this year is to get the numbers up by reaching more families through Friday Folder flyers, emails from room parents, newsletter updates, the school website, and in-person outreach. Meredith will be sending out an email providing a teacher’s perspective on how important SOS is this week. Ron also noted that the plan this year is to make it a relatively short campaign (ending on November 9th) and unveiled the theme (“Community Makes Murch Happen”).
In terms on in-person outreach, SOS will be presented at the Coffee on the Pavement events, and the SOS team will be setting up tables on the mulch next week (complete with banners and balloons) to present information and solicit donations from families. They will also hold a contest where those who donate prior to the Fall Fair will be entered in a raffle to win fair tickets. They will also have a booth at the Fall Fair that gives kids an opportunity to play a game of chance and win prizes if a family member donates to the campaign. The last big push will be during the last two weeks of the campaign. Flyers will be handed out during the Halloween parade, tables will be set-up on the mulch the week of November 6th, and Ron will reach out to Hospitality to see if the Coffee on the Pavement planned for November 17th could be moved to November 9th (the campaign closing date). There was some discussion on reaching out to parents at the bus pick-up, but there is not a lot of room on the sidewalk, although Ron noted he could come to pick-up a couple times to talk to parents.
- Old Business
- SIT Update (Christine LoCascio). Christine reported on the tour she took on September 25th of the renovated space. She stated that a lot of the framing was up, the new windows are in, bathrooms are being tiled, HVAC ductwork is going in, and flooring is being laid. Progress is good with the work on schedule and on budget, although the time capsules have not been recovered. She also reported that school size will be tripled.
She also learned during the tour that the comments and suggestions regarding the Early Childhood playground were sent to the designer for incorporation. She noted that the redesign may not take all suggestions into consideration but is hopeful that the revised design will address the most pressing concerns of the Grounds Committee. Christine stated that the tour did not address the playground for the older children although the community issues with the outdoor basketball court were brought up – her main point during the discussion was that Murch is a school first, so while the needs of the community are important, ultimately the outdoor space must meet the needs of the student body.
Christine reviewed some of the furniture selections being made and remarked that the selections are very deliberate and designed to not only accommodate all children (including differently abled) but to be durable as well. The same type of consideration is being given to millwork to ensure that cubbies and storage closets are appropriately sized and address their ultimate function. Mr. C. also attended the tour and he presented some information on the Welcome Center and Teacher’s Lounge and remarked that it will be an amazing space for students, teachers, and families.
DCPS will be soliciting bids for artwork to decorate some of the spaces; Mr. C. stated that the RFP will go out next week. Virginia spoke a little about the historical documents the HSA received from a local homeowner who found the in their basement and how best to display some of these as part of the design. Laura Kaiser is currently handling the documents and display, but Sue suggested potentially getting a curator to work with her on this.
A wide-ranging discussion ensued regarding how to prepare students for the move and transition to a much larger space, how to keep a sense of community in the new space, and opening up the building for tours prior to the start of school. Mr. C. noted that the design is very good, so that while it will be a much larger school, it won’t feel overwhelming as the use of the space is very good. He also talked about how the Early Childhood playdates in the run-up to school starting are great at community building and how the HSA and LSAT can team together to work on community building across all grade levels.
- Other. Sue inquired about the Screenagers status from the last meeting. Virginia responded that Mary Eckstein has reached out to UDC reading theater availability and is waiting to hear back.
Virginia and Elisa adjourned the meeting at 9:06 PM.