Sandy Russell

Sandy Russell, outgoing Glendale Unified PTA Council president, pictured with Greg Grande, left, M.A.C.K. president. (Courtesy of M.A.C.K. / July 15, 2014)

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Sandy Russell recently hung up her hat as Glendale Unified's PTA Council president, a role she's had the past two years overseeing 26 PTA units in Glendale.

In June, she announced that parents across Glendale this year had contributed more than 100,000 hours of volunteer service.

They also made more than $165,000 in PTA donations to provide field trip busses, classroom supplies and sports equipment, but that's still just a portion of what was contributed this year, she said, because not all PTAs reported what they donated.

Even after years of involvement in Glendale schools, she's still in awe of parents' support, as well as the work outside organizations do to serve local students, such as community churches or the CV Alliance.

"I have been continually blown away by the community involvement that I believe most people are unaware of," she said recently.

Russell began volunteering at Mountain Avenue Elementary, before taking on larger roles in the PTA, eventually working her way up to president of the Glendale Council.

Her focus shifted from her son's elementary school to the school district as a whole and its relationship to state PTA and political figures.

Earlier this year, she hosted State Supt. Tom Torlakson in her home, giving several Glendale PTA members an opportunity to ask Torlakson about state education issues and their local impact.

Overall, she said, "What I take away is a bigger picture and understanding of our community as a whole."

Although fundraising is a big part of the PTA, its center focus is advocacy, she said.

"Fundraising helps keep us going so we can provide advocacy. When you raise money and provide an assembly on bullying, you're advocating for your children."

The importance of parents' involvement, she said, is "you're showing them you care what is they're doing. They're looking at the parents and they see there's a whole other effort going on here."

On top of that, involvement gives parents a decision-making voice.

"The worst thing you can do in any society is sit back and let others say what they're doing for you — you're letting others dictate what it is that's going to happen."

Sometimes getting parents to participate can be the biggest challenge and sometimes its the same group doing a lot of the work, but over time, she hasn't been afraid to look people in the eye and ask them for help.

"Not everybody has to be the president or treasurer," she said, but giving an hour of time at an event, or even just attending a PTA meeting will do.

Out of Glendale's 30 schools, Cerritos and Horace Mann elementary schools, Roosevelt Middle School and Daily High are each still without a PTA.

Parents at Cerritos and Roosevelt, however, are looking into establishing one, and the Glendale Council each year adopts Daily High by raising money and making donations, she said.

She also encourages people who don't have children in schools and the elderly to get involved.

"Anyone can become a member of the PTA," she said. "Beyond the volunteering, I want them to be aware politically about what's happening with education and children."