TREMONT — Nate Medina’s mission is to get more parents, grandparents and guardians — especially men — involved in their children’s education and to make sure they feel their voices are heard at I.S. 318.
As parent coordinator of the Title I school on Prospect Avenue, Medina starts his day greeting kids in the schoolyard before his daily round of calls to parents about absent students, late students or kids who aren’t wearing their uniforms.
With his open-door policy, Medina's office is often filled with parents, whether they need help with resume writing or information on parent workshops, like English as a Second Language (ESL) or GED classes. He also hosts a “dad’s breakfast,” at which he discusses the importance of fathers in their kids’ lives.
“The main role for a parent coordinator is to be the bridge between the school and the parents, to be that line of communication,” said Medina, who is in his second year at I.S. 318.
With nearly 1,500 parent coordinators employed by city schools, almost every school has someone in the role.
Some parent coordinators have children in the school system, but others do not, as it’s not a prerequisite for the job.
Created by the Bloomberg administration more than a decade ago — at a time when parents felt they were being shut out of key decisions made at their schools — the role was designed to help parents navigate the system’s bureaucracy and serve as a sort of ombudsman for the school.
Parent coordinators across the city say their roles differ depending on how much their principals, who hire them, want to empower them. They typically earn about $43,000 a year, according to job-search site Glassdoor.com.
The day-to-day life of a parent coordinator can vary widely, from helping connect parents and after-school options to overseeing lice-checking operations or organizing school tours for prospective families.
Many, like Medina, serve as translators for parents. Additionally, last school year, the Department of Education began providing parent coordinators access to over-the-phone interpreters 24 hours a day to help families.
Medina sees himself as a peacemaker between parents, teachers and administrators.
“A lot of times a parent will come in, and the first thing they want to do is kill an administrator with anger and come down on them because they don’t like either the grade that they received or they don’t like a phone call that they received about behavior,” he said. “We keep everything peaceful.”
He believes it’s one of the most important positions in the school because it gives him the ability to hear about things from both the administration’s and parents' perspective.
“You can’t please everybody, but you can hear everybody,” Medina explained. “We’re the ones that hear it, take the notes and then come back and say, ‘Alright. Can we try to figure this thing out? Can we try to find a way to make this work?’”
Nancy Maxwell, whose son is an eighth-grader at I.S. 318, said she found Medina’s help valuable, particularly with her daughter, who graduated last year.
“She was going through typical teenage drama with herself and her peers, and he actually helped us come together and find resolutions rather than be bickering with one another,” Maxwell said.
Medina’s path to being a parent coordinator wasn’t a straight one.
He had been in customer service as an expeditor for passports and visas before deciding he wanted more meaningful work with kids — a desire stemming in large part from his own tumultuous upbringing.
He started out at I.S. 218, in Concourse, helping in the after school program and coaching basketball. The principal heard positive reviews from kids and then asked him to work part time monitoring the hallways before offering him the parent coordinator position there when someone retired.
“It wasn’t something that I had my eye on,” Medina said. “I didn’t even know that it was even a position.”
He was nervous when he started, given that he was pretty young and knew he would be dealing with parents who are older than he is. But he soon found he just needed to maintain a good attitude and let parents feel their voices were being heard.
Meanwhile, the Department of Education has stepped up training for parent coordinators.
The Division of Family and Community Engagement (FACE) last school year hosted 47 professional development sessions, including one on how to support families of English Language Learners, special-needs students and children with incarcerated relatives. That was up significantly from the 11 trainings offered the year before.
Jared Fox, the DOE’s LGBTQ Community Liaison, has also led workshops for parent coordinators on ways to make schools more welcoming for LGBTQ individuals and explaining DOE policies that support LGBTQ students.
I.S. 318 Principal Uchechukwu Lawrence Njoku said Medina provides a lifeline for parents who have various issues that need to be resolved and that he’s also a mentor to many of the students.
“If he told me tomorrow he was leaving,” Njoku said, “my heart would drop to my feet.”