Durham CAN activists expound on school counselors issue
DURHAM — Durham Congregations, Associations and Neighborhoods (CAN) met this week to receive updates on efforts from the Durham Public Schools, the DPS Board of Education, the Board of County Commissioners and Durham Technical Community College to improve school counseling and access to postsecondary education.
At the meeting it became increasingly clear that there was no simple solution for getting more school counselors in Durham Public Schools buildings.
The meeting opened with two testimonials about how important school counselors are. One however, pointed out the pitfalls of overworked counselors.
The General Assembly allocates the number of counselors to school districts — for Durham the state Board of Education mandates one counselor per every 400 students. The suggested ratio from the American School Counselor Association (ASCA) guideline is one counselor for every 250 students.
Currently 37 schools in the Durham district meet the North Carolina standard. Only five schools met the ASCA standard.
There are a total of 37.5 counselors in high schools across the district, including related support staff like career development coordinators or college advisor coaches, when that number is included, the total jumps to 62.5.
Axel Herrera, a Riverside High School student, said as the year was closing out he noticed that many of his peers — mostly black and Hispanic — didn’t have plans for post-secondary education.
“What hurts me about this, having gone through the process of college applications,” he said. “I still found numerous opportunities that go unused … I started seeing that students just don’t know (about those). If the students don’t know that means that someone is not telling them.”
Herrera said there is so much need in the community and for those students who are undocumented immigrants, but there are those who also have hardships that the counselors aren’t prepared to deal with.
He said it’s often hard for students to get guidance when they don’t know who their counselors are by 10th or 11th grade, and there’s a divide when no one is able to speak Spanish so parents are often left without answers for how to help their child.
“When a counselor is overwhelmed with class registration … or maybe a load of college recommendations coming to them and is also tied down for the rest of the day administering a test, and is denied having that relationship … then it comes down that they no longer have the opportunity to see their students grow,” Herrera said.
He said there is an immense potential in DPS.
“We understand the challenges that public schools in North Carolina are facing,” Herrera said, adding if the students aren’t supported and test scores are prioritized before the students then “our public education will be in grave danger.”
DPS Superintendent Bert L’Homme explained that school counselors are distributed based upon the total enrollment of the schools.
“You’ll see Jordan (High School) has six counselors, they have 2,000 students. But then you have Northern (High School) only has four (counselors), they have around 1,500 students,” L’Homme said. “Every person that goes to that school is deployed according to the numbers (in the school).”
Elizabeth Shearer, executive director of student support services for DPS, said in the future the district will make sure that principals, assistant principals and other school leaders “understand what a professional school counselor needs to be doing and what their work is.”
“I think that work needs to continue so that they are supported,” Shearer said.
Each school has also submitted a comprehensive counseling plan, which is a new for the district.
“We’ve for example, at Jordan, we expect everything that a counselor is supposed to do, to get done, with the people that they have. But the point is, what the students have described, is the caseloads are too high, that’s the point,” L’Homme said.
He said what is happening now is that the district is putting the puzzle together to “make sure that everybody gets the help that they need.”
Representatives from Durham Tech were also on hand to discuss Connect Funds and scholarship opportunities for Durham County residents who are pursuing postsecondary education.
Durham County Commissioner Ellen Reckhow said the money for the Connect Funds comes from a quarter-cent sales tax that is dedicated to education. In Durham part of that sales tax goes toward the public schools and the other portion goes to Durham Tech.
“We wanted to create more of a continuum,” Reckhow said. “We feel very passionate about making sure that our young people do not view money as an obstacle to going onto higher education, so we wanted to have scholarships available so every student can feel that college is in the future and they will not be saddled with debt when they’re done.”
Also during the meeting concrete agreements decided upon included: DPS using counselor audit results to create a baseline for future budget decisions for school counselors, DPS will prioritize the hiring of bilingual counselors, Durham Tech will have two college liaisons in DPS, Durham Tech will use funds to provide scholarships to individuals under the age of 25 who are not connected with education or meaningful employment, Durham Tech and DPS will align the work of college liaisons and counselors and leaders will seek support from the business community to help bring in an additional counselor or college liaison.
Follow Lauren Horsch on Twitter at @LaurenHorsch. She blogs about local government and Durham life at bit.ly/HallMonitor.
Indy Week – Durham CAN Presses Says It’s Not Too Late for Affordable Housing
Durham CAN Presses Says It’s Not Too Late for Affordable Housing
“Housing downtown is simply unaffordable,” Rev. Susan Dunlap told a crowd of about five hundred at First Presbyterian Church on Sunday afternoon. Ain’t that the truth.
Dunlap was addressing not a church congregation but a pre-election assembly of delegates for Durham CAN (Congregations, Associations, and Neighborhoods). The event was a chance to hear from community stakeholders on issues plaguing Durham, even in its current era of prosperity. Affordable housing hovers right around the top of that list.
Dunlap relayed a story of an acquaintance who she recently heard say that it was “too late” for Durham to shut out the luxury developers who are slowly turning America’s downtowns intoprohibitively expensive playgrounds for the wealthy. And North Carolina cities are especially vulnerable, hobbled as they are by state law that forbids them from requiring developers to include affordable units.
Still, Dunlap was looking on the bright side. She explained that the city and the county still own several plots of land downtown. In selling that land to a developer, the city or county could make affordable housing part of the contract. Those properties include two acres at Jackson and Dillard streets, two acres on the 300 block of East Main Street, and four acres on the 500 block of East Main Street.
The Durham Housing Authority also has the option to repurchase twenty acres of property at Fayetteville and Umstead streets that is currently owned by a Philadelphia-based company.
All the candidates for Durham County Board of Commissioners were present at First Presbyterian. One by one, CAN leaders asked them if they would support: 1) 100 percent affordable units at the property on the 300 block of East Main Street; and 2) 60 percent affordable units at the property on the 500 block of East Main Street.
To a person, the commission candidates said they would.
“It’s not too late for downtown Durham,” Dunlap concluded. “We have land, we have time—and we have an election.”