Disqus

Friday, June 01, 2012

Madison Middle School Counselors Speak Out

From our friends at the West Seattle Blog:
An urgent message from the MMS Counseling Department…..
Dear MMS Families,
Every year, we have to fight to keep school counselors in our schools and plead with our school district and state to put children’s well-being at the forefront of their priorities. Because elementary school counselors are not put in the WSS (Weighted Staffing Standard), we have had a huge RIF (Reduction-in-Force) in School Counselors across the district that will leave many Elementary Schools without a Counselor. If the district were to put elementary school counselors back in the WSS(Weighted Staffing Standard), each elementary school would be funded for a counselor based on weighted staffing funding allocation. They have chosen not to fund counselors in elementary schools and force schools to come up with a way to fund counselors. Many schools do not have the money so they had to let go of their counselors. This move by the district is all in the name of saving money but what it ends up doing is hurting lives.
Many School Counselors, who have been in the district up to 8 years, are losing their jobs and those schools are losing their School Counselors. The RIF’s that continue to haunt our school district threaten the continuity that each of our schools have established and forces our children to experience more transitions and feelings that our district is abandoning their most essential needs. In a recent Seattle Times article regarding Seattle Schools, Interim Superintendent Susan Enfield wrote in an e-mail to the Seattle School Board, “Student safety and well- being is our top priority”. This statement continues to be empty and year after year, our districts’ actions do not coincide with their so-called “priorities”. Recent events in our city have proven that our students are not feeling safe and our students are not becoming adults with conflict resolution and life skills. Our goal should be to pour resources into pro-active services so that we can prepare students for civic life and to have skills to work with others. Eliminating school counselors will make this goal very hard to achieve. When we are not pro-active, our children as well as our communities end up paying for it later.
We all know how vital a school counselor is to a child. The American School Counselor Association has set the national standard for school counselors in buildings at 1 per 250 students. In Seattle, we have schools that do not have any. We would “hope” that with all the research available and the lives that are saved and impacted on a daily basis by school counselors would show the district the need for counseling support in every school. We would “hope” that when choosing between a child’s well-being and their test scores that well-being would always be the priority, but hope without action is just hope. So, we are encouraging you to join us in fusing our hope and passion together with action. If we want to see change and be heard, we are going to have to make some noise. We are asking any parents, family members, or guardians who have had a School Counselor impact their child’s life to please sign up to speak at the next Seattle School Board Meeting. Students are welcome as well.
On June 6th, there is a Seattle School Board Meeting at 4:15 pm. Public testimony will begin at 5pm. We invite you to join others in signing up to speak at the Seattle School Board Meeting about the damaging effects that RIF’s will have on our children as well as the decision the district has made “not” to include School Counselors in the WSS (Weighted Staffing Standard) for Elementary Schools. Denying our children anything less than the national standard is something that our community should not and cannot accept. Below are links with information on the procedures for the Board Meetings. There is also a Board Meeting on June 20th. Please read the links below and sign up to speak at both meetings. They need to hear our voices loud and clear. Let’s stand together and fight for our children’s well being, because if we don’t, then who will?
For more information on how to sign up for public testimony, please click here.
To sign up for public testimony, members of the public should e-mail boardagenda@seattleschools.org or call (206) 252-0040 and give their legal name, telephone number, e-mail address, and the topic they would like to address.Each person should check the above website on Tuesday after 5:00 pm to see where they are on the testimony list or whether they are on the waitlist.
We encourage you to please share this information with families who may not have received it.
Thank you,
Lauren Divina, Claudia Whitaker-Greenway, and Linda Mundinger
School Counselors
Madison Middle School

38 comments:

Anonymous said...

Huge counselor fan says...

Thanks to these women for putting their names and time on the line for standing up on this issue. It is inconceivable that our students, whose needs are more complex than whether they can answer A or B or C correctly on a state test, do not have access to even one counselor.

Teachers are at their wits' end with just the academic side of expectations. The economy is in the tank. Our family structures aren't exactly getting stronger. Our students need these resources for safety, sanity and success.

I've watched this issue for a while. Of the "old" board members, Kay S Blum and Patu pushed for counselors. I say lobby Mclaren and Peaslee, who are not quite er spreadsheet focused as Debell, Carr, M Morris.

Disgusted said...

MGJ, Enfield and the gang of 4 preferred to follow the Superintendent and Interim's plan to fund teaching and learning. Yes, at the expense of support services.

Dollars had been poured into Research, Data, Assessment and administration while RIF'ing counselors, drug and alcohol specialists, truancy specialists and more.

Christina said...

I am perplexed as to why a former police officer and now School Board member would, in light of these recent shootings, deem it advisable and prudent to approve the RIF of counselors, FLASH specialists et cetera.

I am also perplexed as to why a foremer police officer turned Seattle City Councilmember would endorse and support the Board members most likely to approve the RIF of counselors, FLASH specialists et cetera.

Is it that they are no longer in any position to deal with the citizens-gone-awry that they do not care? As long as it is another generation's problem?

This year I have concluded I am too dumb or demanding a parent to remain in this school district. I am thankful for the counseling staff who are still around and available to talk to our kids about the recent uptick in crime--undoubtedly among the dead are people known and loved by SPS students--and to guide our children away from the paths the murderers have chosen.

mirmac1 said...

"...preferred to follow the Superintendent and Interim's plan to fund teaching and learning." Right, and where has that got us. An ineffectual (now gone) Asst Supt of T&L, NO leadership in Special Education, teacher morale at record lows.

How much would $1.4M fund for counselors? That's how much the district is handing out in Personal Service contracts to tech temp staff for programming roster verification. How much would $8M fund? That's what is being spent for upgrading hardwired networks for MAP. Oops, now we want to spend $$$M more for wireless.

Meanwhile children are suffering, missing school, and dropping out.

mirmac1 said...

Our counselors are rockstars (or as Madison likes to say "dog-stars!")

Madison Middle School wins national award for career awareness and exploration

Madison Middle School received a prestigious national award Dec. 15 for its outstanding counseling work in career awareness and exploration.

Mike Hubert, Director of Guidance and Counseling at the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction presented the award during a school assembly to Madison counselors Lauren Divina, Linda Mundinger and Claudia Whitaker-Greenway.

The National Award on Guidance-ABC Award for Career Awareness and Exploration honors a school with the most outstanding career awareness and exploration program.

RosieReader said...

The Ingraham community has rallied and is sending a steady stream of emails, calls and letters asking them to "de-RIF" all counselors. Our motives are selfish, this RIF will displace our head counselor, Carrie Richards, who is an incredible asset to the school, and is a key person in the success of the IB and IBX program. They have posted her job with ridiculously generic requirements, no knowledge of IB required, even though by next year about 1/3 to 1/2 of Ingraham's students will be taking IB classes.

The counselors have not been able to rally strong community support in past years. So I am not optimistic that anything will change now. But thanks for giving continued attention to this issue.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Christina, who on the School Board is a former police officer?

Disgusted said...

Mirimac,

It got us a Strategic Plan that has been eviscerated. This was under the watch of the old board.

Reformers need to know..the initiatives they advocate take dollars out of our classrooms. I don't believe they have gotten the message.

I really hope you get your counselors back.

Christina said...

Melissa,

It looks like I got my wires crossed. You can go and delete my post if that serves the best interest of the blog. Leaning more toward dumb than demanding today.

KG said...

Until this District stops the over funding of the central monster then they will not fund counselors.

KG said...

Lower Central admin. to 3% of the over all budget and fund the counselors. Medicare and Social Security run fine on this number.

Kathy said...

Christina,

I am unaware of board members that have a background in law enforcement.

However, Burgess, a City Council person and former cop endorsed Maier. Maier consistently voted to support administration over student support services.

mirmac1 said...

Disgusted, in my dorky way I'm agreeing with you : )

Anonymous said...

Thank you to everyone that is speaking out about this issue.

RosieReader, thanks for sharing that great info about Ingraham fighting this fight! Go Ingraham!

A few facts from Amy Valenti, in HR:
Next year 36 Seattle elementary schools will not have a counselor at all.
If you add up all of the elementary counselor positions for next school year it equals 11FTE.
Some of these positions are funded by PTAs or there would be even fewer.
12 district counselors have been RIFed.
15 have been displaced.
These cuts cause a shuffling of remaining counselors that leads to counselors having to leave programs they have created and built over years, breaks up critical relationships with students, families, colleagues, community agencies, and "institutional" memory(tho this often refers to knowledge about individual students) and moves counselors out of their areas of expertise and comfort (from elementary to high school, or reverse, etc).

Counselors have fought these cuts over the last few years but are largely ignored. Families and community members have more power to make a change here so please, speak up!! And thanks in advance for doing so! Our students are being robbed and deserve this support!!

-now hopeful

Anonymous said...

Look folks. We have to cut somewhere. It may be true that there are good counselors out there. But really, it's a job with very little accountability and one that comes with a very high pricetag. (they earn more than teachers) I'd favor getting rid of them at the middle school level too. And, if you ever have experience with councelors that are less than great - well, you will know what I'm talking about. Much better to use or scarce resources to fund more IAs that can perform many of the same roles, at a fraction of the cost. This "counselor" job is something akin to "consulting teacher", which sounds great, especially when they get cut. My personal experience with school counselors is that they are very similar in attitude and demeanor to central staff administration - and just as effective.. which is to say, not very. I see counselors as part of the central staff monster, and just another office bureaucrat. Having said that, I'm sure there are some good ones out there.

-Also fed up

Anonymous said...

Also fed up,
It doesn't sound like you know much about the role of the counselor. Maybe you had a bad experience, which can happen anywhere and in any position.
Counselors don't make more than teachers. All are on the same salary schedule. High school counselors have proven that they do so so so much more work that the district was forced to add 6 more days to their work year and the equivalent pay. More money because they work more. And still way more than paid for.
Middle school counselors are mandated by law. Same with high school. Not true for elementary which is why the district always makes that the biggest cut.
IAs have a totally different job and barely exist in the district anymore anyway. Huge cuts there over the last years. And yes, we need more IAs.
re: accountability. counselors have the same evaluation system as teachers. You do have a point though because counselors don't have a department in SPS. The district doesn't provide that. There is no one centrally collecting data. That's part of why the positions are cut. Counselors I know don't want it to be that way.

But do we want another body at JSC collecting this and creating more paperwork or do we want skilled, trained, dedicated and effective people in those jobs doing what they know how to do? That's what we have but it is going away.

It's easy to say cut the counselors but to do so has real serious implications in the lives of children (future adults)so I suggest you do some research first, also fed up.

em

Anonymous said...

If counselors are so important to schools, why are they the ones that the building staffs have, fairly willingly, let go of over the past few years, as opposed to nurses or librarians?

"Just Asking"

Anonymous said...

Here's a question for everyone that draws a paycheck from Seattle Public Schools, particularly those that do not have direct student contact - How has the work that you have done today benefitted students attending Seattle Public Schools? Name some of the students who your work has benefitted. I would like the ansers to be posted in a publicly accessible way, with names attached.

-Oompah

Anonymous said...

Just asking,
my thoughts:
librarians and nurses and counselors are all very important.
nurses and librarians are funded centrally, along with middle and high school counselors. they are included in the WSS, the funding package that goes to each school. Elementary counselors are not in that package so schools have to find discretionary funds to cover these positions. There are barely any funds and many legitimate and basic competing needs. When it comes to a vote in the building over how to spend the funds there are lots of teachers voting and likely zero or 1 counselor. Teacher vote from their lens. They may be more focused on academic scores than building social and coping skills in students. Also much of what counselors do is preventative and confidential so it can be hard to see until its gone. But ask teachers, they generally really want counselors schools. Elementary counselors need to be included in the WSS like nurses and librarians. That is the message that our new superintedent and our school board need to get.

Thanks for "Just Asking".

em

Anonymous said...

We have had a number of district committees reformulating the WSS over the last few years. This is a package of what is considered to be necessary to a child basic education. Each time this committee reconvened, they discussed elementary counselors and determined counselors to be a basic component of education, like librarians and nurse. Each time (except for about a 2 year span at the start of inclusion in the WSS) elementary counselors have been the first to be cut from the WSS. The school board is responsible for that decision. And originally MGJ and Don Kennedy are responsible, for lying to the school board about this issue. That's how these cuts started, as some of you may remember.

em

KG said...

Early prevention is the key anonymous. Education should not have to compete for the tax dollars that the Boeing corporation steal from us. Oh, yes I forgot that war is more important than education.

Anonymous said...

I'm not at all surprised by the fact that schools choose to let their counselors go at the elementary level. When students only have one teacher the counselor is an unnecessary middle man. In my experience, they frequently withhold important information from teachers . I've never understood why they do it, but it has nothing to do with confidentiality. Is it a power grab? To prove their importance to administration? Your guess is as good as mine, but it happens all of the time and teachers are sick of it. My students' parents are often horrified and shocked to learn that our counselor hasn't been sharing information with me. Counselors (and I've worked with many) seem to hold onto information as a means of proving their importance and it's maddening and harmful to kids.

One year I had a counselor purposefully not tell me that one of my students (who was in foster care) had a sibling with cancer. I was sending messages home about homework not being completed for months before the mother casually mentioned how tough things had become since the leukemia treatments began (she thought I knew). I was stunned and horrified by how insensitive I had been, by no fault of my own. The counselor's response to my unhappiness, "I didn't think it was information that was important for you to know." What???
I taught in CA for many years before moving to WA state. We functioned well without elementary counselors. Until the legislature begins to fully fund education, they absolutely should be the first to go.
Teacher Sally

SeattleSped said...

Frankly, Teacher Sally, until you can "let go" of your personal experience with one bad apple, then I'd say the jury's still out.

With reductions in critical special education services, and SpEd experts spread thin across the schools ("hey! it's cost-effective!"), then we need someone who knows the student.

As a parent, I would agree that FERPA and other "confidentiality" rules make support for our kids difficult. While I do not agree with your colleague's approach, I believe someone must have a child's personal interests' in mind, while you deal with your 28-30 students.

Kristin Bailey-Fogarty said...

Counselors save lives. They have the conversations teachers don't have time to have. They get to know the kids who, because of academic stress, won't open up to teachers. They mentor kids who can't open up to their parents.

We are fooling ourselves if we pursue the objective of creating career and college ready graduates without investing in the adults who work one on one with students.

I've worked with both Linda and Carrie. I don't know how many times I've walked down with a student in crisis and felt confident that, once the child was safely handed over, she was safe and cared for and I could return to my class. And I'm not talking about breaking up with a boyfriend crisis. I'm talking about counselors who are able to care for children who are struggling to survive school despite abuse, addiction, neglect, and trauma. Without counselors and intervention specialists, those children disappear into addiction, violence, the criminal justice system, or the downward spiral of poverty.

My district, Seattle, has failed students for a number of years by not adequately protecting counseling staff as experts who make it possible for teachers to focus on academics.

"Also Fed Up," you couldn't be more wrong. I could not do what I do without the support of the counseling staff. Counselors work hard. They work all the time. They support the kids that get lost in the shuffle of a 32 (if you're lucky) class, and without them we will fail.

The Seattle community needs to be loud and clear. Schools need counselors. They need stability in their counseling staff. They need a counseling staff that isn't fighting to survive every year. Send letters, send emails, and advocate for the kids not fortunate enough to have parents totally attentive and tapped in.

Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Seattle Sped,

Unfortunately, my opinions have not been formed because of one bad apple. I've heard many stories like the one above from colleagues in other schools. :(

Maybe things were different 20 years ago when counselors' jobs weren't under constant threat? I don't know. But I do know there is a reason that important information is only being shared when an administrator is present, and it's not because it's in the best interest of the child. If a child's family is going through something traumatic, I should be informed pronto! Not when the counselor has an audience to prove his/her worth.

As a special education teacher myself, I can assure you I always have my students' "best interests" in mind. To serve those students I must be fully informed about all aspects of their lives. Counselors have no greater "clearance" to confidential information than I.

I know I sound harsh, but I'm fiercely protective of my students and I will never "let go"- not when somebody has done something to harm my students.

Teacher Sally

Anonymous said...

Teacher Sally,

Your comments truly sadden me. I can only hope that in the future you get to experience what positive collaboration between staff members looks like. I am sorry that your past experiences and stories you have heard have turned you off to the school counseling role. However, in buildings all over, there are school counselors who develop trusting relationships with teachers, families, and administrators in an effort to best advocate for students while also supporting their peers. Perhaps you can open yourself up to accepting this idea, rather than vehemently rallying against having this additional and valuable resource for students.

SeattleEd

Anonymous said...

I'm right there with teacher Sally. The counselors I have known have been petty, bean counters, who LOVE the "secrecy" of their position... and actually do very little on a good day... or are a negative force on a bad one. Very similar to "consulting special education teacers", SeattleSped. "Our job is really important, but we can't tell you anything about it because it's secret." Without accountability... that attitude and problem becomes more than a single bad apple.

Been to a "career day" lately? At our school, it couldn't be dumber, or put together in a more slipshod way. How many times do the kids need to see the fireman and policemen at school? After about 2nd grade, most don't aspire to that anymore. But, that's about all the counselor can scrape up.

And yes, many of our kids do indeed live very challenging lives. As someone who works in the school A LOT, with very many challenged kids, I can say without doubt, our couselors (and there are several) do next to nothing to help these kids. And, I know our school isn't alone.

As I said, I'm sure there ARE some good ones out there, who work very hard. I know it. But it is an expensive luxury if there really is basically NO accountability in the role.

-Also fed up

Anonymous said...

I've had 15 or so juniors / seniors borrow school calculators a few days before act / sat this year --- why should kids at schools that are over 50% FRL have adults around to help them navigate the game of school, before high school or during high school?

can't have any competition to the spoiled progeny of microsoft,

CanWe?

Maureen said...

This conversation has taken a turn that reminds me very much of the Seattle Times Readers' comments against the teachers' union. If there are counselors who are not doing their job, who are not acting in the best interest of their kids, then their principal should be acting to move them out.

Teachers who have issues with a particular counselor have the responsibility to report their concerns to the principal (and Ed Drector if necessary). Just because some counselors are not doing their job, that doesn't mean the position is useless. Counselors are among the few staff members in a building who can really establish a long term, consistent relationship with a kid who needs help and support. Principals are being asked to be business managers, instructional leaders, playground supervisors, .... and counselors. This is not a sustainable model of education. Just ask parents at Lafayette, would it have been useful to have a counselor in the building? I'm guessing yes.

(And that doesn't even touch on the importance of having qualified, experienced career and academic counselors in our High Schools.)

Anonymous said...

caged

Anonymous said...

This blog is a great source of some information but sometimes it is just like the counselors. It is easy to listen to a student one on one once a week but hard to be in the trenches meeting the mandates of the state in education, honor our students, combat issues outside of school and have it all fall on your shoulders.
Yes there are some amazing counselors but too many are similar to education reform folks. They have hearts of gold but no idea what it is to be in a classroom everyday and too quick to point to a classroom teacher as the reason a student is not engaged in school when it is often so many other factors. Education is here to provide just that education. So much time is spent counseling empathisizing and understanding students out of class they never have the opportunity to get what they are at school for education Until everyone involved has that goal in mind there will continue to be cuts because band aid social welfare does not work and is not the point of education.

mirmac1 said...

Also Fed Up, guess that's why Madison's is so fabulous. We had many careers represented; architects, engineers, chefs, finance. So many participants that time hardly allowed for questions. I gave a talk about the history of tunneling and regrades in Seattle, with slides of photos from the county archives. Sorry to hear about your school.

Teacher Sally, I feel for your students. To have an IEP team that is dysfunctional and can't work together is a shame.

Jet City mom said...

My daughter attended middle school @ Summit, which had a drug/ alcohol counselor that I believe was funded by an outside grant. This woman had a strong rapport with the students, and held weekly group sessions with kids who just wanted to talk on an informal basis.
My daughter had a serious problem that I knew nothing about. Her friends learned of this and went to the counselor for help. The counselor contacted me and I was able to get my daughter more help which may have saved her life.
The same group of girls also sought the counselors help for another friend in middle school who was using substances.
I would consider counselors in middle schools to be more important than teaching AP subjects in high school.

Anonymous said...

emeraldkity, I am so glad your daughter got the help she needed. Thanks for sharing this story. I'm sure there are many other stories that are just as moving. And I'm sure there are way too many stories that had tragic endings because the help wasn't there when needed. Reading this thread makes me realize that some of the reason there aren't more counselors is because there is quite a bit of ignorance about the role and responsibilities of counselors (including an ethical obligation to respect confidentiality that doesn't exist in the same way for teachers). Emeraldkity, I wonder how many staff members at Summit even knew about this important intervention for your daughter. If not, the work is invisible and its easy to say "we don't need a counselor".

I think life for young people has become more stressful than it used to be and youth are exposed to way more than in the past. Many can benefit from the support and guidance of counselors. When one person gets the help they need it has a positive impact on everyone else. When one doesn't it can really impact everyone else's learning experience and can lead to others going down the same road (peer pressure, for example).

-concerned about our kids

Jet City mom said...

I would agree that the staff members didn't know about Ds problem, even though Summit as a small community had decent support for students. As the 6th grade was part of the elementary school, the middle school had team teaching for 7th & 8th and you stayed with your core teacher for LA/SS for two years. Still I didnt know about this behavior and I lived with her!

I believe all students should have access to trained counseling staff, because in my opinion, while physical health is necessary for learning, mental health is even more so.
Middle school students especially are at risk. Increased expectations re: academics, & performance in outside class activities, combined with the challenges of early adolescence which I think we underestimate.

Middle school is a time when kids can easily go off the rails, and I know many who take their kids out of SPS during middle school just for that reason. But it is also a time when families may have increased demands which impact their ability to see/meet their children's needs.
I would wager that retaining well trained and supported counselors in the middle schools can do more to increase the high school performance rate than implementing wireless or an additional layer of administration.

Anonymous said...

It really is a zero sum game. So, sure, if there were unlimited funds, we could keep the counselors. We could even hire more. It's great to have a friendly person to talk to. But, here in the real world, we have to make tradeoffs. Should we instead get rid of the special education staff? Should we increase class sizes to 40? Maybe we should get rid of PE. In elementary, counseling isn't core and teachers already serve as a point person for students. And, they aren't eliminating them for secondary.

parent

Jet City mom said...

Perhaps a mandate to provide counselors for k-12 as in many other states is something we need to work on.
http://www.schoolcounselor.org/content.asp?contentid=535

Anonymous said...

Counselors have no idea what it is like to be in a classroom? Although I can't speak for elementary school counselors, many secondary counselors spend days in classrooms doing guidance lessons on graduation requirements, preparing for college and life after high school, career planning, creating a safe climate at school, etc. They collaborate with teachers regularly on how to meet the needs of struggling students. Blame the teachers? Just like we can't blame a test score on one particular teacher, I don't see counselors blaming teachers for student struggles. More often they look at the life circumstances that students are dealing with and advocate for looking at the big picture and not just their behavior in class or their academic performance.

It is time we all take a critical look at a society that allows a significant portion of its children to live in poverty and contributes to inequities in education and opportunity and then claims that we just need to make education more challenging to help students "succeed."

Yes, there are a few ineffective counselors out there, just as there are some ineffective teachers. For the most part, I have found that educators (and yes, counselors are educators) strive to reach ALL students, strive to overcome the limitations of inadequate funding and resources, strive to fit more than a fulltime job into a regular week, and strive to help students who face daily challenges learn how to succeed in the place where they spend much of their waking hours each week.

CLG