Monday, March 21, 2011

Addressing the School Board

Our district is going to have to cut 10% off its budget next year--and that's if a tax extension proposition is placed on the ballot and passed by voters in a special election this June. If that doesn't happen, we'll have to cut over 15% out of our budget, and you can guess that schools will take a bigger hit than the district office will. Tomorrow night I'm scheduled to address the board, and here's the "speech" I just finished. I'll have 2 minutes, no more:

Members of the Board, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to you tonight. Thank you.

As a classroom teacher myself, I don't need too much from the school or the district to be able to do my job. I need real estate, I need curriculum, and I need supplies. And since I don't teach in a vacuum, I also need a school environment that supports what I do in the classroom.

That support comes in many different forms, but most of the time, that support comes from vice principals and from counselors. And while the proposed vice principal cuts will negatively impact my job of teaching, I'm here tonight to ask you to reconsider the proposal to cut counselors at our schools.

Counselors do so much more than just scheduling students into classes. They do so much more than ensuring students are on track to graduate, so much more than writing letters of recommendation for colleges or work, so much more than helping students navigate the labyrinth of college and financial aid applications . Sometimes, counselors are the last line of defense before disaster.
They have open lines of communication with students.
They hear about the potential suicides, and they help.
They notice the cutting, and get kids help.
They are sometimes the first to know about a pregnancy, and they help.
They know about bullying, both physical and online, and they mediate.
They often know about the drinking and the smoking and the drug use, and they get involved.
They learn about abuse at home, and they take action.
They know about kids who are about to be out on the streets--seriously--and they intervene.

If all our schools are staffed with counselors as good as the ones with which I'm privileged to work, you don't want to let them go. You want to find a way to keep them. It's not just a slogan when we say, “Counselors matter.”

Again, thank you for your time.


Happy Elf Mom said...

Hi, Darren. I'm surprised at your opinion! Looking for abuse and drug use at home should NOT be a function of public education. LET THE PARENTS parent their own children, whether they do a relatively crappy job or not. Just hotline the family if you see huge bruises and the kid claims to be beaten, yk? Otherwise, I wouldn't want school staff involved in other people's family lives.

Your conservative viewpoint appears to be inconsistent from this end.

mazenko said...

I concur, Darren. Of course, it's nice you are staffed with "good" counselors. My school is as well. Schools need counselors and support staff.

Darren said...

All teachers and counselors in California are legally required to report even suspected abuse to the authorities. As you well know I'm a big believer in parents' raising their own kids, but not turning in abusers? Really? If that's what you call "conservative", count me out on that score.

And drug use? It screws up entire lives. Why should counselors turn a blind eye to it? It's not like they rush to parents and tell them their kids are using drugs, they "counsel" the kids and keep an eye out for trouble at school.

"Conservative" and "liberal" don't really seem to be the appropriate descriptors here.

Happy Elf Mom said...

No, no. I mean just DO call, but only when you suspect abuse. I thought I was clear on that, that obvious cases ought be reported but otherwise it's NONE of our business what goes on at home. At all. Everr.

But I should imagine the parents ought be informed immediately if a child were to (stupidly) come out and state to a staff member that he were doing drugs, don't you? And BOTH parents ought sign permission slips before any sort of meeting with a counsellor not directly related to class scheduling. AND parents ought be able to hear all the details of said meetings with them and the school nurse, etc.

I'd like to be able to trust schools to educate, and I'd like schools to trust me to parent. There are BOUNDARIES being crossed IMO with some of this "counselling."

mazenko said...


We all agree that parents should be parenting. But to use it as an argument against public education is a non-starter. It doesn't accomplish anything because the reality is that too many parents aren't. We don't just give up on the kids and say, "sucks to be you ... if we stop helping the parents will start." That's simply unconscionable.

It's as bad as teachers failing to work hard with kids and then blaming the parents. We have to teach the kids "where they are," not where we wish they'd be.

Darren said...

In California, confidentiality (in most circumstances) is guaranteed with counselors.

Anonymous said...

Time for a story. I will feel better for having told it.

My local public school district had too many K-5 schools for the number of students a few years ago and the situation was not expected to change soon.

The district decided that it needed to close down one of the K-5 schools to save money, and the kids would be reassigned to the other schools.

As you can imagine, there was a *LOT* of parent angst. But there was one point on which everyone seemed to agree: Someone else's school should be closed.

We got lots of parents standing up at the hearings to explain how bad it would be if *their* neighborhood school would close. And they were all correct.

Unfortunately, I don't think that this helped the school board figure out which school should have closed.

It just isn't enough to say that "this person/activity is valuable, so we shouldn't cut it." The people making these decisions need to know why the given person/activity is *MORE* valuable than the other people/activities on the proposed cut list.

Darren, your speech doesn't say *why* your school should keep the counselors and instead cut ... what? Administration? Principals? Teachers? Librarians?

I think your speech will be more persuasive if you explain why more counselors is a good exchange for less whatever-else-they-will-cut.

Because that's the tradeoff. It isn't just between letting counselor's go or keeping them. It is between letting them go, or letting some other people go (who are also, I'm sure, going to have their defenders) or spending less money on something else.

Mark Roulo

Darren said...

We have been asked specifically *not* to make such recommendations, for a variety of reasons.

I see myself here in the role of helping the board understand the impact of their decision. Whatever they decide to do after I inform them is *their* problem.

Dean Baird said...

Nicely said and perfectly succinct. Bravo!

Wish I could have been there to lend support.

I predict appropriately thunderous applause.

Well done!

Happy Elf Mom said...

Sorry, mazenko, I also thought that I was not making (for the present moment) an argument against public education in and of itself. Was simply arguing that counselling services are not the primary *mission* of the schools and therefore oughtn't be funded as Darren's math class ought.

Wow, I'm pretty misunderstood today. :)

Darren said...

Thanks, Dean. As much as I like speaking in front of audiences, you might be surprised to hear that I don't think I did that well tonight. Maybe I should have gone with note cards or bullet points instead of a prepared script.

But I *did* make it in under the 2 minute time limit without rushing everything, so I guess I get points for that.

Steve USMA '85 said...

Darren, would have been better if you had done a MacArthur and memorized it. However, I am sure you got your point across.

Dean Baird said...

We are often our own harshest critics, so forgive me if I don't accept your analysis. It would be neither the first nor last time for that! I'm more inclined to believe the reviews from Christine, et al.