Testimony of Heather Marcus to the Board of Eduation, September 20, 2018

12+ and the Need for More School Counselors

Hello. My name is Heather Marcus. I’m a school counselor at Masterman. I would like to comment on two contracts that are being voted on by the School Board tonight. The contracts are between the School District and 12+, enabling 12+ to provide postsecondary, academic, and mentoring support services for students at Hill-Freedman and Penn Treaty. Basically, the things school counselors are trained to do.

The short version is that I believe the District needs to hire certified school counselors to perform these duties, not recent, general college graduates who lack the in-depth training of school counselors. To use a comparison that’s been mentioned many times, Lower Merion doesn’t use 12+, they hire certified school counselors. Don’t the students of Philadelphia, many of whom are students of color, deserve the same supports as their suburban counterparts?

When I saw these items on the agenda for tonight I noticed that 12+ will provide 3 FULL TIME support personnel, 5 days per week to Hill-Freedman and the contract is for $46,475. I thought, “How in the world is that possible??” When I looked at the 12+ website I found that the personnel 12+ supplies are recent college graduates called “fellows” who “receive a living stipend of $1500/month”. It did not say that they receive health care. So really, we’re taking advantage of recent college graduates with their hearts in the right place, who want to help children. Do you even know what kind of training these “fellows” receive? Do you think it’s right for college graduates to receive $13,500 for 9 months of full-time work because the state doesn’t properly fund our schools and we’re not able to hire more certified school counselors? Do you think these fellows will hang around for more than a year? They’ll be ready to find “real jobs” where they can make a living wage. School counselors are long-term employees who form ongoing relationships with students, families, and school staff. I know that some School Board members have children in our schools. Would you want your child to receive these vital services from a recent college graduate with minimal training or from a certified school counselor?

I don’t blame 12+. They’re trying to fill the college counseling gap. I don’t blame Hill-Freedman, Penn Treaty, their school counselors, or counselors at other schools that have these programs. Often counselors are required to perform inappropriate duties such as staffing a detention room or covering classes for absent teachers so they don’t have time for all of their actual counseling responsibilities. They welcome organizations like 12+ and GEAR UP, which has a contract totaling $2 million up for approval tonight, so their students get at least some assistance. But this is a band-aid, not a long-term solution to systemic issues. Our students deserve more than band-aids.

We need this School Board to storm Harrisburg and demand full fair funding so our students have enough school counselors, librarians, Assistant Principals, and NTAs, and art and music classes, and books and healthy, safe school buildings. I know that the School Board is newly appointed, but I hope this is your plan and you’re going to take action instead of accepting the status quo. I’ve spoken to Dr. Hite, School Board members, and many other people who agree that our students need more school counselors. Why, then, are you continually hiring outside organizations to do college counseling instead of providing our students with certified school counselors?