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NPS looks to upgrade its student counseling services

Lehman College Professor Stuart Chen-Hayes speaks to the Norwalk Board of Education, Tuesday in City Hall.

NORWALK, Conn. — Efforts to “rachet up” Norwalk Public Schools’ student counseling services to reflect national best practices have resulted in a three-year plan, which already in action though it’s not quite complete.

It’s radical: 80% of a counselor’s time should be spent servicing students, not on “inappropriate routine and clerical duties.” Norwalk Public Schools is instead looking to align its counseling program with American School Counseling Association (ASCA) recommended ratios and duties, after “almost a year of thinking and working,” Chief of Specialized Learning and Student Services Yvette Goorevitch said Tuesday.

“We realize that this department has not had professional development and/or thought about the primary tasks that school counselors should be having, in probably two decades,” she said, during a presentation to the Board of Education.

After Goorevitch, Fox Run Elementary School Principal James Martinez and hired consultant Stuart Chen-Hayes laid out the results of their research and search for community input, Board member Bruce Kimmel asked if his impression was correct: “a lot of our students are falling through the cracks and are not getting counseling services?”

“Yes,” she said. “… And we are recommending significant changes.”

Data shows that Norwalk’s school counselors spend at most 10% of their time counseling, and 10% doing classroom lessons, Chen-Hayes said. An average week is 20% spent on advising students and half of their time goes to non-counseling work.

“School Counselors should devote 80% of their time in direct student service including classroom-based lessons, small group and individual counseling and advisory activities,” Hanover Research said in a review completed in January, recommending a “Counseling program to support the mindset necessary for College and Career readiness by helping students to develop annual goals and involvement in work-based learning, internships and community service.”

Norwalk Superintendent of Schools Steven Adamowski noted that Norwalk has the best counselor-to-student ratio of similar-sized Connecticut school districts but, “the problem is with what the counselors are assigned to do.”

And also, “a historic lack of clinical supervision clinical from a standpoint of it of an expert in the area who can provide assistance, coaching, as well as evaluation. So, you know, this is this is an effort to ratchet this up to best practice and current standards.”

A Committee has designed a new School Counselor Definition as a Master’s level certified educator and counselor who provides:

  • Academic
  • Career
  • College/post-secondary Access/Affordability/Admission, and
  • Emotional Social (including Executive Order) Skills
  • (ACCESS) to all students annually in a school

 

The plan includes creating a Director of School Counseling position to supervise and develop the more than 30 counseling staff members.

Also, “We are suggesting hiring two career and college access affordability admissions specialists. We’re recommending that at the paraprofessional level … a bachelor’s level, either an intern or someone aspiring to join our school counseling program, and that that person will fully staff the college and career counseling center,” Goorevitch said. “The centers exist, the personnel do not.”

The “opportunity gap” would be closed by making sure all sixth-to-12th graders has an annually updated plan.

Although the 3-year-redesign plan isn’t expected to be done until December, professional development has already begun, Goorevitch said. The low-cost moves provide support to counselors and establish clear roles and responsibilities.

The new director and two paraprofessionals would be a year two move. Middle school counselors would work with the feeder fifth grade classes.

“This is a major lift in terms of the grade five to six transition, major outcome of Norwalk ACTS, and begins to address some of that slide academically and socially, that we see in that transition from fifth to sixth grade,” Goorevitch said.

In year three, “all aspects” of the ASCA counseling model would be implemented and attempts would be made to fund elementary school counseling.

“The school counselors will be trained in actually a book called Summer Melt, which gives very specific skills and techniques, later in the year,” Chen-Hayes said. “…Those two para positions are critical. If they are staffing year-round, those two folks then can supervise summer melt activities in the summer.”

At the end of the presentation, Board member Heidi Keyes said, “Thank you so much for this. I think we’ve talked about this for a long time. And I think having this multiyear model is really, really beneficial, very, very helpful.”

“Thank you for this really excellent work,” Barbara Meyer-Mitchell said. “You’re inspirational and I know it’s going to have a huge impact here in the district.”

“This has been a pet peeve of mine, that we needed to really rework this, and I talked to Dr Adamowski many a times,” Board Chairman Mike Barbis said. “I am really glad this took place.”

NPS school counseling redesign committee report 20191001_02074977

5 comments

ConcernedToo October 3, 2019 at 7:34 am

While this sounds nice let’s do the math:

We have 30 counselors devoted 80% to non counseling work. We want to reduce that by 60%. 60% of 30 is 18 full time jobs worth of work that someone else needs to do, and we are hiring three people to do it (one of who is a director who clearly won’t be doing the grunt work). Doesn’t add up.

This is a problem a lot of employers have – they talk a lot about how highly skilled people should do more of the high value work but there’s all this “keep the lights on” work that ends up falling on their plate as well. And if you have to choose between keeping the lights on and doing the long term value add stuff, you end up focused on the lights, because if you don’t pay the electric bill the power goes out.

It’s not a professional development issue as the quote above seems to imply – it’s that someone needs to do the thankless grunt work.

While adding bodies to this area is certainly needed, I think the rhetoric about what it’s going to accomplish is clearly massively overoptimistic.

What’s also ironic is that this initiative even comes with more grunt work! Ensuring all students have an annually updated plan sounds like a task that involves a lot of paperwork and limited student interaction.

Missy Conrad October 3, 2019 at 7:47 am

What good news! My & Jeff’s dear but wild daughter Grace fell through the cracks in ninth grade at Norwalk High School. When he took her out of our public school & we visited private schools in the area, none except St. Luke’s would accept her. At that time, St. Luke’s cost as much as the University of Connecticut. I used to go to budget hearings & would bring up the amount of money that we are willing to give first to our military. I have felt like Cassandra of the Trojan War in The Illiad, warning but not paid any attention. Now our military budget is more than combined of the next seven powerful nations. “Now is the time” for us all to speak up & to participate in the choice of what we value. We are one human race sharing & stewards for our one beautiful Earth. We people of all nations must work together to sustain our one beautiful Earth.

Better late than never? October 3, 2019 at 11:53 am

“We realize that this department has not had professional development and/or thought about the primary tasks that school counselors should be having, in probably two decades,” she said, during a presentation to the Board of Education.

A scary statement about our school district. As people within the school who help guide studetns through their high school years with picking appropriate classes, hopefully learning a bit about who they are so they can advise them properly and then ultimately help them with their post-graduation plans, this is shocking to hear that this area of education has been utterly ignored by our district.

Better late than never but thumbs down for taking this long to realize this
gap.

niz October 6, 2019 at 9:03 pm

my kid is in the 11th grade and NHS has COMPLETELY ruined his preparation for college by not providing needed programs and services … NPS & there years behind the times with no funding. how will this help my kid… not.

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