PTO co-presidents prize link between families and staff

Mary Osanloo and her family moved to Hinsdale from Chicago right before the new school year, and their fifth-grade daughter knew no one. A touching "Welcome to Oak School" sign appeared on their front yard within the week, courtesy of the school's PTO. Osanloo reached out to the group, hoping to connect with others before the first day back.

"(The PTO) responded within 24 hours and they asked any fifth-grade girls available to come to Corner Bakery to meet her," she recounted. "It was just like this incredible welcome."

Five years later, Osanloo and fellow mom Katie Storino are co-presidents of the Oak School PTO, serving as a form of gratitude for the way their kids' needs have been served. Storino expressed appreciation for how school staff leaned into her children's educational needs.

"They've done so much for us. I felt the best way was for me to help give back," she said. "I just wanted to be there and do what I could to support the teachers that were doing everything they could to support my children."

From holding the Blah Buster carnival later this month to beat the winter blues to helping sponsor the Community Speaker Series for the entire District 181 community, the PTO's impact is multi-layered - and well-embraced. Storino recalled helping at her first Field Day.

"I was like, 'Wow, this is a lot!' " Storino said of the high-energy end-of-school event. "It kind of is a well-oiled machine, but you still need those (PTO volunteers) to help out and come the day of."

Osanloo has relished being part of the twice-weekly hot lunch delivery crew, starting her first school year.

"As a new parent, I got to go in the school and see the surroundings, see the teachers, meet the staff," Osanloo said.

Parents serve as library assistants, room parents, office helpers and staff the yearly Christmas Market, to name a few. There are more than 30 PTO committees available to join.

From committee work, the pair stepped up to the executive board and are now leading the organization together. When Effey Nassis arrived as the new principal last fall, they sought her input.

"One of the first things before school started was sit down with the principal and ask, 'How can we help you?' " Storino said.

She suggested giving each student a book on their birthday and finding ways to show appreciation to staff. Having that rapport and idea exchange is vital, Storino said.

"Just knowing that the principal and the teachers feel love and support from us has been one of my favorite things," she said.

Osanloo echoed the importance of a strong connection between staff and parents.

"We're also trying to actively involve more parents," Osanloo noted. "Because of COVID, we have a group of parents who didn't see the PTO in action. So we're trying to pull them out more so they're excited about next year's activities."

There's always room, Storino added.

"If you want to help, we'll make space," she said. "Anyone who wants to be there is welcome. The more the merrier."

- story by Ken Knutson, photo by Jim Slonoff

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean