Of all the roles that I assume in my life, the one I tend to enjoy the most is that of proud parent. Today I was graced with an abundance of that feeling.
My first child, Simone, walked her graduation cum laude from CSUN today. She actually graduated in December, 2010, in only 3 1/2 years (yes, it can be done!), and even has her diploma, but there was a sense of accomplishment today that we didn’t have when her diploma arrived in the mail a few months ago.
As I was observing the ceremony, I couldn’t help but flashback to the forces in her life that brought her to this day. Armed with the gift of an incisive intellect, she navigated her K-12 academic career on her own terms. She fought for what she believed in, and that which she could not change was deemed not important enough to make the effort. Through it all, she had teachers, counselors and administrators who knew her and knew what she was capable of accomplishing. Rather than quash her potential, they supported her as best they could, which sometimes meant just getting out of her way! Overall, she was lucky to grow up in a nurturing environment, with all the requisite support systems, in school and outside, that she needed.
Which is why it was important for me and a number of parents and a former student in our school district to speak at tonight’s school board meeting in support of the high school counselors that, as of this writing, are still at risk of losing their jobs.
It is worth noting, that as of last Friday, the LVUSD SOS Campaign raised over $421,000. Special thanks must be given to Karen Kimmel, Chief Business Official for LVUSD, for leading this campaign, and to her assistant, Kathy Petrash, for supporting the details of the campaign.
True to their word, the district used all the money raised to rescind as many layoff notices as they could.
Nevertheless, unconfirmed reports indicate that there are less than 3 counseling positions still at risk, and it may be just one.
The budget news out of Sacramento is uncertain and fluid. Yes, the state is projecting $6 billion in revenues that it did not anticipate, and Yes, Gov. Brown said he is allocating $3 billion of that for public education. However, that money will be used to offset deferred payments that the state makes to school districts; it will not increase per pupil spending. In other words, instead of funding schools with cash, Sacramento issues the equivalent of IOUs to school districts with the promise that they will pay when they have the cash. In the meantime, school districts must either make severe cuts or borrow money to open their doors with balanced budgets, which they are required to do, even if Sacramento doesn’t follow its own laws.
The other major piece of the funding puzzle is the question of the personal income tax extensions. Now aiming for the November election, if the extension is not approved by voters, then we may be looking at an all-cuts budget.
With that in mind, urging our school board to squeeze every dime they can to save our counselors was an imperative. Penny Sylvester, (my) co-President of the Agoura High School Parent Faculty Club, referred to the Senior Exit Survey, that indicated that of all the services available to our students, the ones they sought out the most were Counseling (first choice, at 85.1%) and Media Center/Library, at nearly 60%.
The students were also asked to rate the quality of the services they received. Again, Counseling and the Library were in the top three.
Which make is ironic that these are the services that are so negatively impacted by budget cuts.
Mathy Wasserman, President of AE Wright MS PFC, made the argument that when our students are applying for college and need their counselors more than ever, we are handicapping them by cutting back on this resource.
She mentioned that during college visits this past Spring, Admissions Directors told her that student applicants who don’t have a letter of recommendation from a school counselor could be at a disadvantage.
Other parents made the case that counselors are like mentors, and the key to a successful mentoring relationship is consistency. If a student has a different counselor every year or two, it is hard to achieve the trust and connection that signify a meaningful mentoring relationship.
I made the point that our counselors provide more than academic and emotional/social support. In a time of class size reduction, with less teachers and more students in each class, counselors are a safety net for both our teachers and our students. Imagine a tripod, with one leg represented by teachers, one by students and the last by counselors. They support each other and need each other’s support to achieve success. If you remove, or even shorten one leg, the entire contraption is off balance and cannot support itself. We’re already in a precarious situation with 4 full time counselors at AHS and 2 part-time ones dedicated to our 9th grade students and families. There was concern as to how our students’ needs would be met. Somehow, our counselors, with the support of our administration and cooperation of our families, made it work. If we cut back further on the counseling “leg”, our tripod will be teetering and could fall down around itself.
Counselors are not merely an ancillary component of our schools; they are a necessity. The safety of their positions needs to be given the highest priority.
The sooner this issue is resolved, the better. But if it isn’t, the next board meeting will be June 7 at 6:00pm. Parents can make a difference. Our school board needs to hear from parents; they need to know what is important to us. If you are asked to come to a school board meeting to speak on behalf of counselors, please heed that call. You don’t have to make a statement. Just being present is often compelling enough. Use your voice to show you care. I’ll keep you posted.
Ziona Friedlander is the President of T.H.E. Foundation for Las Virgenes Schools: Together Helping Education, and will soon be the former co-President of the Agoura HS Parent Faculty Club when her youngest child graduates from AHS in June.