Monday, July 23, 2001

PTSA’s new
president is

One of Carol Nafus' goals is
to get parents more directly
involved with the organization

By Crystal Kua

With a daughter in kindergarten and a 3-year-old son and newborn in tow, Carol Nafus attended her first PTA meeting about nine years ago in California.

"It was a bunch of moms who got together at lunch time," Nafus said. "I wanted to go to this meeting because I wanted to find out what was happening in school, but also just to have adult conversation."

But her view of parent-teacher associations changed when she became the president of the local PTA in Torrance and the organization became active in lobbying for improvements to school facilities.

"We were involved in a local bond issue ... because all of our schools were falling apart," Nafus said. "We started with phone trees, calling all the voters. That was actually my first experience with the advocacy part of PTA."

Advocacy is at the heart of Nafus' new role as the president of the 40,000-member Hawaii State PTSA, which she says provides a voice for schoolchildren across the state. Her two-year term began July 1.

"I think that one of the things, if nothing else, we have done in the past couple of years is that we have done parents justice by showing them that PTA and PTSA is not just parents baking cookies for a bake sale. They are a voice, and their children also have a voice," Nafus said.

Nafus assumes the reins of the organization during a time of change.

While celebrating its 75th anniversary this year, the Hawaii State Parent Teacher Student Association is also reflecting on its future survivability.

"There are a lot of important changes that are being looked at as we begin this new century, including how we govern ourselves and whether or not we're able to sustain ourselves financially on the amount of money that we currently bring in," said John Friedman, who just completed his term as president.

Nafus has just come off a stint as the PTSA's membership chairwoman, and Friedman credits her with helping to increase membership by 24 percent.

"One thing John and I did was tie in advocacy with membership. They go hand in hand," Nafus said.

"For us and within the state, financial stability is a very big challenge. In our quest to be inclusive, we don't want to raise our dues and eliminate somebody from being a member," Friedman said.

"And that can happen very easily," Nafus jumped in.

That is why the organization continues to take in just $1 per person for membership while mainland groups are charging much higher dues, they said.

"It is a difficult balancing act and one of the areas that probably will need the greatest attention by the president," Friedman said. "So Carol will have her hands full in that area."

Nafus said that the national PTA in the past would offer grants, but it is also going through growing pains and financial hardship.

"So we're finding as a state we're going to have to seek partnerships that will enable us to do more with less in order to do the quality of work that we're doing," Nafus said.

Representing thousands of parents and their children across the state also brings with it quite a bit of clout on public education issues.

From standards to teacher quality to playgrounds, the PTSA president has been invited to sit on many policy panels that have helped steer the education course.

"One of the things people don't realize when they get into this position is the amount of opportunity we're going to get to participate in a great number of arenas. It's oftentimes difficult to juggle and to prioritize the many important issues," Friedman said. "The president is busy."

Nafus and Friedman credit schools Superintendent Paul LeMahieu and University of Hawaii College of Education Dean Randy Hitz with embracing a parent's point of view on many of these issues.

Nafus' roots in advocacy and volunteerism run deep.

"My love of the (PTA) organization and my love of children -- that's what my parents taught me well: to love children and not just my own," said Nafus.

One of six children, she had parents who were active in the Catholic Youth Organization and the Elks Club. Her father was a newspaper Linotype mechanic who later opened his own printing business in Torrance.

Nafus, her husband, Didier, and their children moved to Hawaii four years ago, first settling in Hawaii Kai, where her older children attended public school. Then, a year ago, they moved to Lanai, where Didier works for the Manele Bay Hotel.

All four of her children -- Ashley, 13, Bradley, 11, Emily, 8, and Frankie, 5 -- will be attending Lanai High and Elementary during the upcoming school year.

Nafus said she was lucky because she saw the challenges and opportunities in both areas.

Living on a neighbor island also gives her another perspective on the haves and the have-nots.

"I think the children of the neighbor islands shouldn't have to settle for less because that's what is there or that's what is expected, and I hope that I can bring a sense of awareness so that those children can benefit as well as those on Oahu," Nafus said.

A preschool teacher by training, Nafus would like to see more PTAs or PTSAs set up in the preschool level.

"We need to start working with parents of children that age," she said. "Right now, we have three preschools that are PTSAs."

She would also like to see student teachers go through a course on the importance of parent involvement. "There are so many parents who are afraid of teachers, and part of the training would be to help parents and teachers feel more comfortable."

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