Testimony of Beth Beitler to the BOE, March 26, 2020

Good evening. My name is Beth Beitler, and I am submitting my oral speech for the School Board meeting scheduled for March 25, 2020. I have been employed as an Elementary School Counselor for the School District of Philadelphia since 1997. Over the past 23 years I have worked supporting students Kindergarten through 8th grade. In my current school, I service 630 students (K-5).

I am here today to address the issue of the Behavioral Health Counselor position that was recently posted on the SDP website. While we can all agree there is a tremendous amount of need to address behavioral health services with our students, we can also agree that more School Counselors need to be hired to meet the academic, social and emotional needs of our students. What is confusing is how this position was specifically named. In doing so, the newly created position has taken all of the current responsibilities that Elementary and Secondary School Counselors are currently performing and renaming it strictly to Behavioral Health.

For the last 16 years, while the SDP was under state controlled rule, the PFT was not able to negotiate for anything other than salary and benefits for its members. School Counselors roles have shifted dramatically due to the higher needs of being “trauma sensitive”. Most of our students have experienced some form of trauma. We have a tremendous opportunity to meet the needs of the students from an academic, social-emotional and a college/vocational role. In the past, the old term “Guidance Counselor” simply helped students match up with career based vocations. Currently, School Counselors, such as myself, are performing and identified as educational leaders in the building. I personally sit on my school’s leadership team and I feel that my professional recommendations are respected and heard. School Counselors not only meet with students and parents, but analyze school data, develop interventions to help students meet their MTSS goals.

School Counselors directly affect their school achieving its school wide anchor goals set by the district and state. If schools want to achieve their school wide progress, we must have a trauma-sensitive lens in order to help their students cope and get connected to services they desperately need. Ultimately, there is no difference between the existing Elementary/Secondary School Counselor position and the new position of Behavior Health Counselor. It is a duplicate position with a different name; hence creating confusion with students and parents and could create adversity among district staff. It would be impossible to function proficiently as a School Counselor without addressing behavioral health issues and crisis; as well as the Behavioral Health Counselor to address issues without it relating to academics, truancy, etc.

As I stated earlier, we can all agree that the students, in Philadelphia schools deserve and need more School Counselors to help them succeed as well as help schools achieve their school-wide goals. Research shows that School Counselors have a direct correlation statistically in reference to student achievement and school-wide achievement. I respectfully urge the School Board to adjust the position title of Behavioral Health Counselor back to Elementary or Secondary School Counselor. We already have enough confusion in the world currently; we don’t need any more in our schools. Thank you.