Epstein’s 50th: PTO Presidents Look Back, Ahead

Epstein’s 50th: PTO Presidents Look Back, Ahead

Former Epstein School PTO presidents discuss how the parental organization has helped shape the school's community over the past half-century.

Sasha Heller is the Web Editor and Copy Editor for the Atlanta Jewish Times

Groundbreaking for the Halpern building on the Colewood Way campus in 1995. (Left) Roz Cohen, who was the school principal at the time, went on to be the associate head of school. Cheryl Finkel, Head of School, is also pictured.
Groundbreaking for the Halpern building on the Colewood Way campus in 1995. (Left) Roz Cohen, who was the school principal at the time, went on to be the associate head of school. Cheryl Finkel, Head of School, is also pictured.

Fifty years of Jewish education. Fifty years of shaping young, Jewish minds.
And fifty years of community, enriched by a nurturing PTO led by a series of dedicated presidents and boards.

Former Epstein School PTO presidents gathered on Jan. 31 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the school, share memories of their tenure as president, reflect on the past five decades, and experience the momentum leading into the next 50 years at Epstein.

Current PTO presidents, Jamie Segel and Adrienne Harari, served as hosts for the 50th Anniversary PTO Past Presidents Coffee. The team was honored to welcome more than 20 past presidents to the celebratory morning.

The Epstein School welcomed past PTO presidents in late January in celebration of the school’s 50th anniversary. PTO Presidents (top row, from left): Dede Feldman, Karla Tievsky, Sherie Gumer, Arin Tritt, Alli Halpern, Jen Salmenson, Gail Riesenberg, Sue Sandalon, Randi Levy, Suzy Goldman, Nancy Rinzler, Gina Genz, Michelle Neuberger, Dan Berger, and Lori Miller; (front row, from left): Barbara Obrentz, Carey Guggenheim, Justine Cohen, Adrienne Harari, Jamie Segel, Nadine Stein, Denise Gelernter, and Toni Adler.

When describing the event, Segel said, “Spending time with so many generations who all had a shared experience spanning 50 years was so meaningful.” She continued, “We have all enjoyed our role as president and so many achieved great milestones while leading Epstein’s PTO – but hearing the array of accomplishments of this group, as a whole, was extraordinary. The PTO’s influence on the culture of Epstein is something special we all take pride in,” Segel stated.

Harari added, “We heard fun memories of making lifelong friends with other PTO members, prepping for student seders, working with the school’s board to purchase our current campus, and even a few stories about the creative ways PTO kept our Epstein community connected during COVID … When reminiscing about the path from parent volunteer to PTO leader, it was fascinating to hear the love and adoration for Epstein still prevalent and palpable in everyone’s remarks. To me, that enduring connection is a direct reflection of the strength of the Epstein community.”

Lori Miller, Epstein director of annual giving, and former PTO president from 2001-2003, discussed the impact the PTO has had on the school’s growth over the years.

Cheryl Finkel and various school leaders – board members and PTO board members, during the school’s 25th anniversary celebration.

“The PTO has always offered programs that serve multiple purposes – assisting with school goals and initiatives, providing a social space for parents to interact with one another, and of course, meaningful, and fun moments for the students,” Miller said. “PTO is always very supportive of the faculty and staff, giving gifts for various occasions such as back to school, Hanukkah, and Teacher Appreciation Week, plus making sure that faculty have food and snacks available during conference days and other important times during the year.”

Miller then shared a personal anecdote from her earliest days volunteering with the PTO.

“I remember my first ‘job’ with PTO was Challah Chair. We were responsible for labeling and distributing challah to students on Friday mornings. It was a great project for a volunteer as Friday is always a special day at Epstein, leading into Shabbat. We had the chance to share a social morning with other volunteers and we had the opportunity to be in classrooms and interact with the students.”

During Miller’s time as PTO president, the school went “paperless,” which seems commonplace now, but at the time felt almost revolutionary.

“For years, every Friday morning, volunteers would come to school and sort flyers for every event and major project happening at school, and we would deliver them to every classroom for students to take home in their backpacks. This is the timeframe when many of our parents were creating personal email accounts, so we modified our communications philosophy. We created a one-page document that was still given to the children to take home but it encouraged them to review the weekly email they received. It sounds funny now, but this was literally life changing.”

Former PTO President Barbara Obrentz (1987-1989) shared about how her time serving as PTO president impacted her personally and professionally, as her children were matriculating through Epstein at the time.

Epstein PTO pictured, from left: Karen Watkins, Arin Tritt, and Lisa Bernstein preparing charoseth for student Pesach seders.

“How fortuitous it was for me to be president of the Epstein PTO in the late 1980s,” Obrentz said. “It was a transformative time of optimism and enthusiasm during the school’s physical expansion. This time period positively coincided with and mirrored my children’s educational growth and development at an early age. It serves as a marker for their involvement in their children’s lives today.”

Obrentz added that the collaborative relationships “we formed with faculty, administrators, and parents remain the foundation of my leadership style and my professional success.”

Fellow former PTO President Randi Levy, who served from 1993-1994, also recalled her time fondly and shared about how the PTO played a significant role in the school’s expansion to a new location.

“I had the honor of working with very creative and hard-working parents who were committed to supporting the staff and building an inclusive, fun, and engaged community,” Levy said. “The school was going through important transformations during my presidency, most significantly, the purchase of the Colewood Way campus. I take great pride in the integral role the PTO played in partnering with the Board, administration, and community leaders to enable such change.”

Miller shared a final sentiment about her time as PTO president, “My tenure was 2001-2003, which was a time of big change. We had recently moved into the new building which created such joy for parents and students. During this time, PTO was involved in a great deal of fundraising for the school including a few very large projects that required manpower and volunteers – Julie Love Carnival, selling wrapping paper, selling cookie dough, and more. Although this took a lot of volunteer energy, it was also very rewarding to see so many good things happening at school based on our work.”

Lani Ashner contributed to this report.

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