I’m working on a story with Oakland Tribune reporter Katy Murphy about the elimination or reduction of guidance counselor positions statewide due to budget cuts.
The Mt. Diablo school district eliminated guidance counselors many years ago, due to Proposition 13, according to Jonathan Roselin, the district’s recently-appointed assistant director of student services. Instead, principals, vice principals, student services coordinators and college and career advisors have taken on responsibility for helping students figure out their class schedules and plan for college.
In the past few years, some vice principal positions have also been cut and the hours of college and career advisors were reduced. Student Services Coordinators were on a potential cut list for 2011-12, but have so far been spared.
I interviewed Northgate graduate Bryant Perry and Clayton Valley HS graduate Nicholas Milano about this system. As you can hear in this interview, they found they were largely on their own. Help was available to those who sought it out, they said, but their schools didn’t seem to have a systematic, one-on-one approach to guiding students:
Northgate posts an 84-page course planning guide on its website and offers large assembly-type meetings for students and parents. Those with scheduling issues can follow-up with administrators.
A WASC student survey shows that 54 percent of Northgate students developed a four-year plan for high school, compared to 37 percent who didn’t. But less than half of students said the school helped them develop their four-year plan, with 43 percent saying Northgate assisted them, compared to 48 percent who said it didn’t.
Clayton Valley also has class scheduling information on its website at http://cvhs.mdusd.org/. A majority of teachers at the school have signed a petition to convert the campus to a charter. One of their goals is to create a four-week orientation program for incoming freshmen, to help them understand the importance of developing a four-year plan.
Both Bryant and Nicholas told me that high school students commonly believe that Freshman year doesn’t “count.” About a quarter of the district’s freshmen fall behind in credits, according to district data.
The school board is trying to come up with a districtwide strategic plan that would address this problem and guide future budget-cutting decisions.
Do you think the Mt. Diablo school board’s decision to replace guidance counselors with other school administrators is working well?
JULY 16 UPDATE: Due to limited space, the story about counselors that appears in today’s Contra Costa Times does not include some additional information that I gathered about the Mt. Diablo school district (including a portion based on Mike Langley’s comment below).
Here is the Mt. Diablo information in its entirety:
Mt. Diablo Unified eliminated its guidance counselors 20 years ago due to budget cuts, shifting scheduling responsibilities to assistant principals and newly created school services coordinators, who also work with struggling students. But two years ago, the district eliminated three high school vice principals, putting a greater workload on the remaining administrators. This spring, the board issued pink slips to five high school student services coordinators, but ended up saving their positions by making cuts elsewhere.
Some question whether Mt. Diablo’s scaled-back system is effectively meeting students’ needs. Teachers’ union President Mike Langley said it has pushed counseling duties onto others.
“Like every other adjustment to budget cuts, students are expected to make do,” Langley said. “The elimination of a service by the board does not remove the need for that service. It shifts the responsibility elsewhere. In this case, it was shifted to teachers, parents, outside agencies and even to the people needing the service: the students. Counseling became less efficient if it existed at all.”
A recent student survey at Northgate High in Walnut Creek — the district’s top-performing high school — showed less than half of students received help from campus administrators to develop four-year plans. Two friends who graduated in June from district high schools said they felt like they were largely on their own, as they tried to figure out what they needed to do to graduate and go to college.
Northgate graduate Bryant Perry and Clayton Valley High graduate Nicholas Milano said help was available to those who sought it, but their schools didn’t seem to have a systematic, one-on-one approach to guiding students. Both said high school students commonly believe that freshman year doesn’t “count,” so some don’t take school seriously until they’re sophomores.
Milano said he lost out on college financial aid and nearly didn’t graduate from high school because administrators didn’t tell him sooner about requirements. Perry said Northgate’s college and career advisor helped him understand Cal State University requirements, after he happened to stop by her office in the last semester of his senior year.
Research shows that contact with a caring adult greatly improves a high school student’s likelihood to graduate.
For Perry and Milano, the adults on campus who stood out in their minds as having supported and encouraged them the most were their athletic coaches. Milano said a military recruiter also took an interest in him and seemed more willing to spend time talking to him than most school administrators.
Jonathan Roselin, the district’s newly appointed assistant director of student services, said he plans to work with campus administrators to “create a culture of kindness at every school,” which would help students feel they are part of a caring community. Already, he said, most district schools have established “coordinated care teams” of administrators and psychologists or interns who work with troubled or struggling students.