by Kevin Ryan-Young

Inviting a politician to meet with you outside of his/her office is a great way to guarantee that you have his/her full, undivided attention. Inviting a group of politicians is even better.

For the past 8 years, parents and administrators from P.S. 217 in the Ditmas Park/Midwood section of Brooklyn (District 22) have invited elected officials from their community to come to the school and hear from parents, teachers and administrators.

What started as a few parents meeting in the principal’s office with elected officials has morphed into a morning event where parents, teachers and administrators break bread with elected officials before asking for support for the projects they are about to present.

P.S. 217 has had great success with their Legislative Breakfasts over the years and Maria Deutscher, the event organizer (and a very involved parent and former PA executive board member), has a few tips for other schools that would like to have their own Legislative Breakfast.

Maria’s Top Tips:

  • Clear the date with your biggest elected supporters first. Then invite the senators, congresspersons, assembly persons, and councilpersons who represent the community. That includes the district where the school resides as well as where the school’s families reside. And don’t forget to add in the chairman and district manager of your Community board and the Borough President!
  • Do your homework!!!! Find out what kinds of projects the elected officials can fund and make sure the ask is connected to that. P.S. 217 has asked for, and in some cases received, funding to renovate their playground, upgrade the science lab and air conditioning. They also asked for support to upgrade the old computers in the computer lab and projectors.
  • Be organized, thorough, and professional. Have a clear simple agenda, rehearse your presentation, and be ready for questions.
  • Keep good records. Be able to pass a file along to the next person who will organize the event. It should include contact information of each elected official’s scheduler or chief of staff and whom to send the invitation to.
  • Get parents involved. Maria cannot stress this enough. Parents need to get to know who the elected officials are that serve the school district and build relationships with them. After all it is the parents who are the ones that vote for the elected officials, not the school administrators. In many schools, the staff does not live near the school so they don’t vote for the politicians that can potentially contribute to the school.

Parents can also be involved by creating the invitations, ordering breakfast, photographing the event, creating a video showcasing the students, giving a presentation, welcoming guests as they arrive and showing support for the school.

PS 217’s event was a real group effort. While Maria was the organizer, she mostly took a back seat at the breakfast, serving more as the moderator, with other parents showcasing the school’s accomplishments and describing its needs.

  • Remember to highlight what your school has accomplished on its own; also remind them what makes your school unique and wonderful.
  • Send them home with something to remind them of the wonderful morning they shared with a great group of parents at your school. A t-shirt, bag or cup with the school logo works well. Notepads, pencils and pens work too.
  • After the event is all over, don’t forget to follow-up. Send a hand-written notes of thanks to all of those that showed up and a note of regret for all those that didn’t show up, and include some information about the projects that were presented at the event.  Invite them to attend other school functions that are coming up, and keep them informed about the progress of the project you presented.  Continue to build a relationship with them so when your next Legislative Breakfast comes along, more of them will say yes.