Parent coordinators are called upon to fill many roles

By Elizabeth O’Brien

One of the first things Tracey Arrington did last year when she started working as one of the 1,200 new parent coordinators in New York City public schools was toss her official job description aside.

When the city created the brand-new position last year as part of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s major schools overhaul, the official line was that parent coordinators were to be paid $30,000 to $39,000 a year to “create a welcoming environment in the school for all parents,” according to the Department of Education Web site.

For Arrington, the parent coordinator at P.S. 20 on Essex St. on the Lower East Side, that has meant serving as equal parts social worker, administrator, liaison and cheerleader.

Last year, Arring-ton said, “We did everything.” The most unusual request Arring-ton fielded was from a nervous parent who wanted Arrington to accompany her on a job interview. Arrington went and waited outside the building during the interview.

As the new school year approaches, a nonscientific survey of several Downtown parent coordinators reveals high job satisfaction. While the past year held its share of challenges, they are eager for the start of school on Sept. 13.

Unlike teachers, parent coordinators do not have the summer off. They have spent the past few months attending professional development sessions, preparing for the new school year, and for some, helping summer school students at their schools. The job is a good mix of responsibilities, they agree.

“Part of the fun of the job for me was you get to invent it,” said Jim Glenn, the parent coordinator of P.S. 140, also on the Lower East Side. Glenn said his proudest moment as a parent coordinator was when he was able to find Thanksgiving turkeys for some families at the school that had none.

Glenn said he heard from his fellow parent coordinators that some principals and teachers didn’t want the P.C.’s, as they’re often called, in their schools. Arrington said that two teachers at her school were a bit suspicious of her until she assured them that she was not there to report on them.

Leonard Golubchick, the longtime principal of P.S. 20, is a strong supporter of the parent coordinator program.

“It’s a tremendous asset to the school,” Golubchick said. “It’s a great idea.”

Parent coordinators have also had to bring cultural sensitivities to bear in their positions. For example, Arrington said, she has learned how to approach the large Bengali population at P.S. 20. She especially tries to assist the Bengali mothers, who tend to avoid dealing with the school’s male staff. Monique Benitez, another parent coordinator, said she is attuned to cultural differences when she holds domestic violence workshops for the parents at P.S. 142 on the Lower East Side.

The parent coordinators interviewed by The Villager bristled at Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum’s recent report, which found that 77 percent of parent coordinators were unreachable on their taxpayer-funded cell phones after 5 p.m. Gotbaum recommended that Schools Chancellor Joel Klein rethink his $40 million parent coordinator program.

“I don’t think it’s fair,” Glenn said of the report. “I would encourage all the parent coordinators to call Betsy Gotbaum’s office en masse after office hours.”

“She never calls me,” said Benitez of Gotbaum. Benitez often works from 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. to accommodate working parents.

Arrington said that many parents at her school were not even aware of her title: “As long as you’re a friendly face and you help them, they’re happy.”