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:
- 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.”