By the time April rolls around, it's easy to glance ahead and see summer coming. Warm weather, school vacation, family trip. Likely you've already begun thinking about the activity schedule.

Something else is drawing closer with each passing day, too: the next school year. While April and May might seem early to start planning ahead, what you do now can have a significant effect on what kind of year your group will have next year. Will you hit the ground running with a well-planned outreach to new parents? Will you connect with teachers from the beginning to let them know you're in their corner? Will new officers and committee chairs be ready to go from the start, or will they need a few weeks to get oriented?

Looking ahead is a leadership job. While everyone else is focusing on the tasks at hand—or dreaming about summer vacation—it's up to you to think about what happens down the line. And this can be the hardest time of year to do that.

Start by scheduling a review meeting with your current officers and committee chairs. Talk about what went well this year and what you'd like to change for next year. You don't actually have to make plans for next year at this point, but this discussion will create some definite ideas on activities and directions you'll want to take for the year ahead.

Make some time to sit down with the principal to talk about his goals for next year. Will the focus be on raising literacy scores? Would he like to improve the library? Is he concerned about supplementing the math curriculum? Talk about what challenges and needs he sees for the school, and brainstorm about ways the parent group can help. Don't make commitments; you're doing preliminary research and will take the information back to the group. But let him know that his goals will help your group set goals.

Plan outreach to new parents. The amount of involvement you generate dictates in large part what the year will look like. If you have a lot of participation, you'll be able to accomplish more. If just a few of you end up doing all the work, your goals will by necessity be more modest. So planning out how you will build involvement should be a priority. If possible, hold a get-acquainted event for prospective kindergarten parents who want to learn more about the school. Do it this spring—it will help new parents get more comfortable with the school, and it will establish your group as a service to parents—not just a fundraising organization.

More on Planning & Organization

PTO President's Planning Checklist

Annual Parent Group Planning Calendar

Likewise, plan to keep money in your bank account over the summer so that you can make your first event a welcome-back gathering that promotes parent involvement. Make it free or charge just a nominal amount. By starting with a social event, you'll give parents a better first impression of your group than if the first thing they hear from you is about a fundraiser or membership drive.

Take steps to get new officers and committee chairs the information they need. Do it now, while retiring officers are still around. Ask retiring leaders to gather information into a box or binder to help the incoming officeholders. Receipts, forms, planning documents—anything that provides historical information can help newcomers. Also, ask the retiring officers to spend some time writing down key directions for the new leaders. And arrange one-on-one meetings between old officers and new ones, to provide another means for information to be passed on.

Finally, set a time before the year ends to meet with new officers and committee chairs. Discuss what you'd like to accomplish next year. Talk about the principal's goals, too. And plan some specific ways you'll move toward those goals. Now is not the time to worry about the details. (Should you have it in the gym or the cafeteria?) Concentrate on the big picture, and let the committees work out the details later.

Get everybody focused and pointed in the same direction before summer starts. You'll avoid the beginning-of-the-year scramble to get going. The result: a smoother start with all oars rowing in the same direction. Surprises will happen during the year; they always do. Your advance planning will make it easier to respond to them. It will likely make decisionmaking easier, too. But you need to start now to get it done.