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PTOs absent or very active in Camden
WOODBINE -- How active a Parent Teacher Organization is at a Camden County public school is a lesson in geography.

At Woodbine Elementary School, with 381 pupils living largely in the rural northern part of the county and some traveling as far as 35 miles to school, the PTO typically disbands every six or seven years and later reforms.

At Crooked River Elementary School at St. Marys, with a nearby enrollment heavily identified with Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, the PTO remains consistently active.

The distances between homes and Woodbine Elementary can make it difficult for parents to participate, Principal John Blackerby, Jr. said.

The school is now in its period without a PTO. "Parents are working on getting organized again. It always comes around," he said.

In the absence of a PTO, Blackerby meets regularly with a core group of parents to discuss ways to support the school. Parents have held fundraisers the past three years to pay transportation and admission fees for every child to go on a field trip.

Blackerby says he looks forward to meeting regularly with a new PTO because parental input is important for administrators to create school policies, address issues and discuss ways to support education. "We need to have parental input," he said.

Blackerby says PTOs are active at elementary schools in more densely populated Kingsland and St. Marys because families live closer to the schools.

At Crooked River Elementary, PTO members are very active, Principal Sheila Sapp said.

About 50 percent of 617 students are from military families at nearby Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay and many of the PTO members are Navy wives.

"The majority of the PTO's executive officers are military," Sapp said. "They do a lot of activities to support students."

PTO members have paid for lunch during a teacher appreciation day, pressure-cleaned school sidewalks, painted tables and benches, pulled weeds, and each Wednesday they help teachers prepare for classroom activities, Sapp said.

"They are very supportive of our teachers, faculty and staff," she said.

Thomas McClendon, principal at St. Marys Elementary School, says the PTO and staff there have strong support from the Navy.

Despite the transient nature of military life, reassignments are not a problem, McClendon said. "The Navy does a good job helping those families,' he said.

McClendon described his relationship with the PTO as strong.

"They listen to the teachers and work well with us," he said. "They have their own ideas, too, which is great."

A PTO doesn't exist at the county's lone high school, but that doesn't mean parents aren't involved.

Florence Sparks, Camden County High School activities coordinator, says a school council of parents meets regularly with school officials, including Principal John Tucker, to discuss issues.

The school also has many booster organizations that support athletics, arts, music and academic programs. The school has so many different programs for students, Sparks says it would be difficult for a single PTO to provide the same level of support.

"The most important thing is having their input," she said. "These are members of the community who have an impact."

* Reporter Gordon Jackson writes about Camden County and other local topics. Contact him at, on Facebook or at 464-7655.

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