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3 Fargo women lead state PTA

Amy Arness, Mary Schultz and Nikkie Gullickson, all of Fargo, have held or will hold the top leadership post in the North Dakota PTA. They will be attending the national PTA conference in Washington, D.C., this week. David Samson / The Forum

FARGO — It could be said Centennial Elementary School in south Fargo turns out parent leaders the way Ivy League schools crank out Fortune 500 CEOs. Over the past decade, the school has served as the place where many North Dakota Parent Teacher Association (PTA) leaders get their start before taking their advocacy for children all the way to Capitol Hill.

The past five North Dakota PTA presidents have been from Fargo and four of them spent their early years in the Centennial PTA including past president Amy Arness, current president Mary Schultz and president-elect Nikkie Gullickson.

"It's kind of fun that we come from the same school, but nothing would thrill me more if we could spread the state leadership around a bit more," Gullickson says.

Arness, who also serves as the state legislative chair, says Fargo and Minot have the most active local PTA chapters in the state, so leaders often come from those two cities.

But with the challenges facing education today, she thinks more school districts should get involved with PTA.

"The slogan for PTA is 'Every Child — One Voice.' If everyone is speaking at the same time, it's easy to tune them out. But PTA gives us a united platform. We can pass these really significant things. We're the ones invited to the table," Arness says.

Arness and Gullickson will be traveling to Washington for the National PTA Legislative Conference March 7. Among other things, PTA representatives will be talking to Congress about education funding, juvenile justice and delinquency prevention, child nutrition and reauthorizing the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

Schultz says one of the reasons she got involved in PTA in the first place is because her now 18-year-old son Tyler has autism.

"When he was younger, I felt it was really important to get to know the school and his teachers," she says. "By being in PTA and being involved, I wasn't just a mom who was harping on them about something. I wanted to make it work. I was able to build that relationship and trust."

It was a similar situation for Arness and Gullickson who joined PTA to be connected with education in their community and be engaged in their children's learning.

"I think for a lot of us in PTA it might start with 'my kid', but in about 30 seconds you realize it's not just about 'my kid,' " says Gullickson, who is mother to three elementary-aged children. "It gets hard to walk away."

Arness could easily have walked away from PTA in 2013, when the second of her two children graduated from Fargo Public Schools. But her years of experience have given her opportunities to serve in many capacities.

"One reason I've stayed on the state board for 15 years is that you see so much more needs to be done," Arness says.

Arness says parents should never see PTA as something they have to do. But getting involved — even in small ways — can make a big difference.

"I think we all know everyone gets so busy, but more than anything we need parents to be aware of what's going on," she says.

This week's conference in Washington is one opportunity to start learning about issues facing education today, including the recent controversial confirmation of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. During confirmation hearings National PTA leaders expressed concerns about her lack of experience, but have also said they are committed to working collaboratively with her. Arness says she's not sure whether they'll get the opportunity to hear from DeVos.

Arness, Schultz and Gullickson say most importantly the conference gives them an opportunity to network with other PTAs, get to know other parents and see what they can do to help children.

"It's kind of an electric atmosphere there," Arness says, "Seeing the big picture for the first time is pretty exciting."

"You start to see there's something more than just your school," Schultz says.

Tracy Briggs

‘The Great Indoors’ with Tracy Briggs appears every Thursday in The Forum. For more information go to her blog at thegreatindoors.areavoices.com.

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