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Guidance counselors in Philly schools ‘barely making it, if not drowning’

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

by Kevin McCorry for NewsWorks

What does $45 million mean to the Philadelphia School District?

Not enough.

That was the unanimous feeling from the group of school guidance counselors who gathered Wednesday evening to discuss what they’ve seen in Philadelphia’s traditional public schools so far this year.

Last week, after Gov. Corbett announced that he would release an additional $45 million to the District, Philadelphia schools Superintendent William Hite said he’d immediately begin recalling 400 employees. Of that number, he said, 80 would be guidance counselors.

"It’s a Band-Aid in a gaping wound that’s just not going to make much of a difference," said Tatiana Olmedo, guidance counselor at Central High School.

Olmedo is one of only two counselors for Central’s 2,400 students – 577 of whom are seniors attempting to navigate a path to post-secondary education.

"We are barely making it, if not drowning, on certain days," said Olmedo, a 13-year District veteran.

At last week’s news conference, Hite said the rehiring process would give the District an average of one counselor for every school, but he acknowledged that there would still be schools without a full-time counselor.

The American School Counselor Association recommends one counselor for every 250 students. Counselors on the ground will tell you that 250 would be ideal, but that 500 is the line where services truly start to diminish.

Through the first six weeks of school, 16 "itinerant" counselors have been responsible for 48,000 students in 115 of the District’s schools – an average of 3,000 per counselor.

Each of these roving counselors has been tasked with shuffling up to eight schools each and put in the difficult position of having to forge trusting relationships on the run.

The School District has not yet said whether recalling 80 counselors would decrease the number of itinerant counselors serving the city’s schools.

District spokesman Fernando Gallard said that information will be released Monday.

Pawns in the game

One itinerant counselor, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said, "I don’t feel I can service any of my eight schools well."

The counselor, who’s responsible for 3,477 students, has been working while sick for two weeks – falling asleep each night in front of the computer trying to catch up on email.

Read the rest of this story at NewsWorks