One of the most difficult positions to fill in a school district is that of a school counselor.
When the position is half-time, it’s almost impossible. According to Dr. Ramona Nance, Executive Director of Human Resources, the counseling position at Wilroads Gardens has been a struggle for the past few years.
"When we had a part-time principal who served as the part-time counselor, we were fine," Nance said. "But when she retired, we couldn’t find someone to step into that position."
Nance thinks she may have a solution, one she offered at the May 14 USD 443 Board of Education meeting.
"At first, I was going to ask you to consider making the counseling position at Wilroads a full-time one since there are more than enough needs throughout the district for that other half time," she said. "However, we now have a candidate who may be interested in being part-time counselor and part-time librarian at Wilroads."
Nance said while that solves that issue, it does not address the needs elsewhere in the district.
"I don’t want to downplay the need for counseling throughout the district but I am working with United Methodist Church and the University of Kansas on a program that would give social workers a chance to get a Master’s Degree in Counseling and be able to do some work in the district," she said. "So that is a direction we may eventually start really trying to develop."
According to Dr. Fred Dierksen, Superintendent of Schools, filling both half-time positions by one person saves all the transfer time and travel.
"Logistically speaking, it really creates an opportunity," he said. "That doesn’t minimize the fact that we do have counseling needs on a larger scale."
Dierksen recommended working with counselors and principals to find out what the needs are and will be in the future.
"Our social and mental health needs are expanding and we have to be proactive in this community and show we understand that," he said.
Nance and Dr. Glenn Fortmayer, Assistant Superintendent of Secondary Education, addressed the board with another counseling issue, the need for a full-time position at the Therapeutic Education Center/Rialto Way.
"That program is an ever-growing demand for us right now," Fortmayer said. "The behaviors we’re seeing at all grade levels just continue to become more and more severe."
Currently, the district has paraprofessionals supporting the program.
"They’re just not skilled people to work with the most demanding clientele we have in the district," Fortmayer said. "The counseling services we have on site are patched in through Compass Behavioral Health but they’re not on site all the time so we have gaps that occur all day long."
Fortmayer said there are anywhere from 40 to 80 students in the suspension program, alone.
"The kids who are in crisis and need support, there’s no counselor for them," he said. "That right there more than justifies a counselor just for those kids."
In addition, the district also serves students with emotional and mental health issues; something Fortmayer said further justifies that need.
"It’s a high need position serving the most demanding kids in the district who need the most support," he said. "Right now we’re handling that with paraprofessionals."
Board member Traci Rankin asked if having a full-time counselor would mean students would not have to travel to Compass.
"We meet tomorrow to talk about on-site group therapy but we’re still talking about how that will work," Fortmayer said. "We spend $19,000 in transportation costs so hiring someone full time would save that money."
According to Fortmayer, Compass personnel welcome the idea of a full-time counselor at TEC/Rialto Way. Board member Jeff Hiers pointed out that the hiring process would need to be vetted carefully.
"The position is going to be a behavior counselor, not necessarily a school counselor," Fortmayer said. "We are currently looking at people who have expressed an interest and who know what they would be dealing with."