The Parent Teacher Organization presidency positions in Wellesley’s schools typically are filled by moms willing and able to put in up to 40-hour weeks the volunteer job can demand during its busiest times. This year, however, Wellesley has two dads who have taken on that leadership position, along with all the joys and headaches it entails.
The 5-member Wellesley School Committee also now includes a male, Matt Kelley, and we were surprised to hear that since 1978 the committee has actually consisted of about 30% males. While we don’t have the historical data on the PTOs, our impression is that having two male presidents at once is rare or even unprecedented (feel free to chime in if you know otherwise).
In the meantime, if you were wondering what it’s like to be a PTO president, man-style, turns out it’s pretty similar to working the job woman-style — it’s all about setting priorities and helping the school year run smoothly.
We caught up with Leach, who graduated from Wellesley High School in 1989, and McKay, a relative newcomer, and they graciously agreed to answer a few questions about the vida loca of a PTO president.
How long have you lived in Wellesley? How did you decide that this was the town for you?
McKay: We moved to Wellesley in 2007 from San Francisco. We were attracted by the great school system, accessibility to Boston, and relative closeness to my parents and my in-laws.
Leach: My wife and I moved to Wellesley in 2006, although as a child I lived in Wellesley. My parents and I moved into town when I was in 8th grade and I graduated from WHS in 1989. We moved back to Wellesley to be close to my parents and because we believed in the school system and the location of Wellesley offered a reasonable commute for both my wife and I.
Do you work full-time? What is your professional background?
McKay: I stay at home now. When our youngest daughter was born we decided that my wife would return to work and I would stay at home with the newborn. I thought this arrangement would last one or two years, but I’ve enjoyed staying at home with my girls and my wife has been able to focus on her career. My career was largely focused in equity research, covering software and IT services companies. In San Francisco I worked for Robertson Stephens during the crazy dot com era. I enjoyed the challenge of picking stocks and learning about companies and trends. The travel became a burden when we started having children.
Now I’m trying to write a sci-fi novel, or at least one that people would want to read. Over the past year I’ve written over 90,000 words. It’s not quite finished, but I would love for writing to become my new profession.
Leach: I work full time in a scientific role in the pharmaceutical industry. I have a Ph.D in Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics and did a post doctoral fellowship in biological engineering at MIT. I am a director of Pharmacology at a biotech firm in Cambridge working on therapies for rare and orphan diseases.
What are the most important challenges facing you this year as PTO president?
McKay: We have set out two main priorities. The first is to ensure our new principal, Ms. Susan Snyder, is successful in her first year. The second is to build up an already very strong community. Our community has been very generous over the years, enabled by superstar parents who have run fund raisers, and thus our primary challenge is finding the most impactful projects for PTO.
Leach: As PTO co-president the challenges we face are keeping the momentum going. We have been lucky to have a long succession of great PTO board members who have set up an infrastructure that is effective at accomplishing the mission of the PTO. This year we are focused on delivering programs to the children that complement their school objectives, to supporting the school staff, and to fostering a sense of community at Hardy school.
What is the most enjoyable part of your PTO president job?
McKay: The people in the Sprague community (parents, kids, teachers), hands down. There are so many incredible people that feel very strongly about supporting Sprague. There is a strong bench of past Presidents and Treasurers who have continued to support the PTO and pointed us in the right directions. This year we have fifteen people on our board, and over forty-five people in a specific role. Everyone involved has incredible skills and are passionate at what they do. It makes my role easy. Also, I love hearing and witnessing the impact of PTO supported programs. It makes you feel like you’re making a difference. Our co-chairs of Enhancement do an incredible job ensuring PTO funds complement and enhance the curriculum.
Leach: The best part of being the co-president is being involved with the other parents at the school. Wellesley is such a great town and it feels good to contribute in some way. The Hardy school parents are incredibly dedicated to the school, the town and their children’s success. It is very rewarding to work with them to continue to make the schools as good as they can be. The co-president role also offers the opportunity to meet the other schools’ PTO members as well as the members of the school committee, all of whom are remarkably able, committed people. It is an inspiration to see how they work together to ensure the delivery of an effective education to our children.
How much of a time commitment does the job take?
McKay: Poor timing to ask this week, when everything has been gearing up. I would guess I’ve put in close to forty hours this week, but it should slow down as we roll forward through the year. (It better!)
Leach: The time commitment varies over the year and I am very lucky to have a co-president, Lisa Fico, who works very hard on each project. At times being the co-president can have time demands, but so far we have been able to work together to accomplish our Fall goals for the Hardy PTO.
Is your individual school facing any big changes this year that require you to take a role, either in leadership or in a supportive way (or both).
McKay: The new principal is the biggest change. Again, we are committed to ensuring her first year is successful. Other changes in progress this year are:
(1) returning community service to a board position to enhance what the school can accomplish; (2) standing up an Art Appreciation program in partnership with the art teacher; (3) developing an after school platform in conjunction with the Recreation Department that can bolster programming and standardize how after school is administered. In my role as a Recreation Commissioner I have been taking the lead on uncovering synergies between Sprague and Rec.; (4) looking into starting a computer science club.
Leach: Hardy faces the same types of challenges this year as in the past. We have an older building with a large student population, but we also have an exceptional teaching and support staff and a very capable Principal, so we are optimistic that this year will be as successful and fulfilling as it has been in previous years.
In addition to the everyday emphasis on new program ideas, feedback from parents, and supporting faculty and staff, it should be no surprise that a PTO dad would want to encourage other dads to hop on the volunteer bandwagon.
“Socials for parents are a point of emphasis this year, so that parents can make connections and spend time together,” McKay says. “We have two dedicated fathers who are organizing more dad-related activities. This year we are trying to get the fathers out at socials so there is more balance within the community. We want to have mother-focused events as well, just trying to balance the offerings.”
Sounds like CORE Values in action.
For more on volunteering: Wellesley Charitable and Community Action Groups