Indiana school counselors want more time to prepare students for college, career

INDIANAPOLIS - Counselors love college prep and promoting any postsecondary training because that’s the end result of their job, to make sure students are successful when they leave schools, said Marcia Staser, Evansville Vanderburgh School Corp. coordinator of student services.

Staser, who coordinates the 49 counselors in the district, told the Evansville Courier & Press that they are “frustrated about not being able to spend enough time on that.”

report released last week by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce Foundation  — Indiana School Counseling Research Review — found the majority of school counselors want to spend more time with college and career guidance, but with other duties they aren’t able. More than 400 Indiana counselors, 73 percent of those from high schools, were surveyed. Fifty-eight percent said a quarter or less of their time is spent on college and career readiness activities, according to the report.

Since 2010, the report states the amount of time counselors are asked to devote to non-counseling duties — including hall monitor, administering state mandated assessments and lunch room duty — has more than doubled.

Derek Redelman, Indiana Chamber vice president of education and workforce development, said in a statement a school counselor’s job duties include a growing catchall list of non-related activities that takes them from their primary function.

“And that needs to be addressed Being unable to more frequently do their essential job is the number one thing we heard about from counselors,” Redelman said.

Staser agreed that a counselor’s primary duties are everything listed in the report, plus a variety of others including scheduling classes and making sure students are on track to graduate, signing students up for 21st Century Scholars and scholarship application letters, career exploration for the state required graduation plan, keep attendance and help with individual service plans for students with special needs.

And often times Staser said counselors try to complete these tasks while kids wait to talk to them about breaking up with a boyfriend or girlfriend, or issues going on at home.

Counselors also respond to any crises or social and emotional needs students face.

“One of the things they do, which they do so well, is suicide prevention,” Staser said.

Sometimes counselors try to work certain duties into others, like talking to students during lunch room duty. But Staser said this is difficult and not always the best way because it’s not very confidential and their full attention can’t be dedicated to the student’s needs.

“It is true that there often isn’t time to do everything ... Pretty much everything that other people don’t have time to do is given to the counselor,” Staser said. “And I don’t mean to sound like a whiner, because they want to do that, they want to help, but we’re glad it’s recognized how difficult it is to meet the needs of students when there are so many things they do that are non-counselor duties.”

Little progress

The Indiana Chamber Foundation wanted to see if the counseling world had changed any in the last two decades, when a 1994 statewide study, High Hopes for Long Odds, noted differences in the way counselors provided college and career readiness. Indiana Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Kevin Brinegar said despite it being a vital tool for middle and high school students, “unfortunately little has progressed in 20 years.”

EVSC Superintendent David Smith said so many testing requirements and additional state requirements fall to the laps of counselors. Smith said creating additional standards and expectations isn’t sufficient; additional pathways and structures are needed to allow that work to get done.

“Our counselors do an incredible job, but there’s only 24 hours in a day,” he said. “So at some point and time, I do understand and appreciate and applaud the state for being serious about college and career readiness, but we have to approach that work differently. If we’re going to continue to do what we’ve done in the past and expect different results, then we obviously know that will not work.”

Starting next year, all counselors will be evaluated every year, Staser said. The EVSC slightly tweaked the statewide rubric developed by Indiana State Counseling Association to fit the district. Career and postsecondary counseling is 25 percent of the rubric.

“So you can see why it’s of concern that they don’t always have time to do all that ... We are actually trying to evaluate our counselors on what we want them to do, not necessarily what they are doing, because we’re wanting them to do more counseling, which is what they’re trained to do,” she said.

Social workers and behavioral consultants, whom Staser also coordinates, helps the counselors, but she said there is always a need for more hands. A new hire for the EVSC for the 2014-15 school year will work part time as a counselor at New Tech Institute and part time as a test coordinator at North High School.

“We are constantly

trying to find ways to better allocate our human resources ... We would love to have more (counselors), but money is always a problem,” Staser said.

The full report is at www.indianachamber.com/education .

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