CRESTVIEW — Southside Primary School's new Parent-Teacher Organization, which first met Feb. 6, is working to improve the school’s social and financial outlook.

"We already have plans in the works that will aid our children, families, teachers and our school, which involve collaborative community financial partnerships (and) future corporate donations," PTO President Melissa Rincon said.

Southside is one of 14 Title I, Part A elementary schools in Okaloosa County. Title I funds are used to improve education for academically at-risk students. Sandra Arteaga, Okaloosa Title I, IV and X specialist, said Title I schools receive funding based on the number of students in the free and reduced-lunch programs, and on grant requests submitted by July.

By forming a PTO, the school now has a proactive formal organization in place to work toward school necessities. That’s an alternative to waiting for Title I funds that may not be available soon.

"Our schools are struggling right now because that money isn’t there," Rincon said. “We want to get the money to get the things done that need to be done ... We're trying to help ourselves. We can't just sit back and see what the legislatures are going to do."

The PTO wants to see, among other things:

•Printing ink and other supplies for individual classrooms

•Necessary additional seating for classrooms

•A business partnership to repair and elevate the school's damaged sign

•Funding support for curriculum extras

•iPads for students

"Our students, our parents, our teachers and faculty are number one,” Rincon, whose daughter is a Southside second-grader, said. “Our second (priority) is fundraising. People first, before money, because if you have happy students, happy parents, and we all collaborate, we create partnerships.”

Those partnerships include local corporate donations to create a solid, consistent fundraising base, in addition to traditional fundraisers, such as gift-wrap sales. A current local partner is Papa John's Pizza, which donates part of its sales to Southside. The PTO is in talks with Chill Yogurt Cafe in Crestview, and a bank.

Rincon said PTO officers were selected due to their assets.

Two officers can write grant applications needed to secure Title I and other funding. Some have information technology and communications experience and business-to-business networking skills.

Some members will focus on welcoming new parents, guardians and students, and increasing the collaboration between the school's staff, students, parents and guardians, as well as them and the community.

"Even though we're a Title I school, we want to get the parents and guardians involved in their children's education succession plan as much as we (PTO, faculty and staff) are,” Rincon said.