I have interviewed politicians, chief executives, studio chiefs and celebrities.
None of them has anything on PTA moms.
In the nearly 15 years that I've lived in Newport Beach, I've been bowled over — OK, sometimes intimidated even — by these powerful women.
Indeed, I've come to the conclusion that the world would be a much better place if PTA moms — the ones I know, anyway — were put in charge. They'd set the international debt crisis right, broker Middle East peace talks, solve homelessness in the morning and still have time for lunch and a nail appointment in the afternoon.
A Newport Beach PTA mom knows her stuff and isn't afraid to throw her weight around. She is smart, well-educated, assertive and has a laser-like focus on results, a quality honed from her past or present career as a (choose one) lawyer, doctor, accountant, educator, executive, artist or (fill in the blank) professional.
These women are technologically savvy, financially astute and have a flair for marketing. They know how to balance budgets, manage logistics, work in teams, organize armies of volunteers, engage in creative problem-solving, innovate and fundraise galore. And they still manage to be on time for carpool, get dinner on the table and supervise homework.
"It's the same in Costa Mesa," said Lisa Boler, president of Harbor Council, which oversees all Newport-Mesa PTAs. "In both cities, the volunteers at our schools are the highest quality."
Allow me to pause a moment, mid-rant, to acknowledge that there are plenty of dads who take part as well, and their efforts are equally appreciated.
But we all know that when it comes to PTA-land, it's the moms who are in charge.
They are the ultimate tough mamas, these multi-tasking, get-it-done divas, and they preside with authority over a realm that is primarily democratic, but with a touch of medieval fiefdom thrown in.
Perhaps I'm exaggerating a tad, but not by much. Consider, for example, the annual home tours put on by some of our local schools. These are gargantuan enterprises involving numerous committees and subcommittees that work with local merchants, city government, real estate firms, homeowners associations, restaurants and transportation providers. In addition to the main events — the tours — there are pre-parties, breakfasts, lunches and post-parties to plan.
No detail is overlooked, from the exquisite centerpieces to making sure protective booties are available for the thousands of ticket-holders that tromp through the showpiece homes. Ads are sold, donations are secured and magazine-quality booklets are produced. Hundreds of worker-bee volunteers are dispatched to keep the crowds moving, check tickets, serve food, stand guard and answer questions.
I get tired just thinking about it.
To be sure, not every PTA initiative goes off without a hitch. And there is the expected amount of bickering, gossiping and backbiting that goes on — these are women, after all. But for the most part, PTA moms are gracious team players, more concerned with getting the job done than calling names or taking bows.
What I find particularly impressive is that women across the nation have been doing this for more than a century, and the impact they've had on education and the overall welfare of children, has been tremendous. The first meeting of what would become the nationwide PTA movement was in Washington, D.C., in 1897 — more than 20 years before women were allowed to vote, and a time when females were discouraged from engaging in any form of social activism.
Over the years, the PTA movement championed the creation of kindergarten classes, the juvenile justice system and child labor laws. It was instrumental in the adoption of health initiatives, from hot school lunches to physical education.
In recent years, PTAs throughout California have struggled to offset at least some of the devastating budget cutbacks in our public schools. In Newport-Mesa, they've stepped up to help fund a wide variety of items, including teaching supplies, technology and arts programs.
But Boler stressed that the most important PTA mission in California right now isn't fundraising, but advocacy.
With the possibility of more statewide education cutbacks looming, PTA moms need to send the message to Sacramento that "our children are our future, and we need education to be No. 1 again," she said.
While I'm on the subject of speaking up, I've received a lot of feedback regarding two recent columns.
In response to my piece on traffic and parking problems around our local campuses, some readers aptly pointed out that one of the most troubling traffic situations is the one surrounding Newport Elementary School on the Balboa Peninsula ("Construction snarls drop-off and pick-up," Sept. 18). The school has no on-site parking, the streets are often congested, and students frequently face dangerous road crossings.
In regard to grading reform, it appears I struck a chord when I wrote that the lack of consistency in grading policies and practices is a big but often overlooked problem in our educational system ("Grading reform needed," Sept. 25). The district is addressing the problem, but progress will likely be slow.
If there's one lesson we can learn from PTA moms, it's that parents do have the power to effect change. Whether the issue is public school funding, traffic safety, or grades, let's make sure our voices are heard.
PATRICE APODACA is a Newport-Mesa public school parent and former Los Angeles Times staff writer. She is also a regular contributor to Orange Coast magazine. She lives in Newport Beach.