Testimony of Heather Marcus to the BOE, November 21, 2019

Hello. I’m here to speak about Action Item 24, the letter of agreement with the Neubauer Foundation, who will contract with KIPP to provide a Director of College and Career at Ben Franklin High School for the 2019-2020 school year.

In the Action item it states that Nuebauer would fund the position for the first year, and the total cost is $175,000. This includes $5,000 for Professional Development, and $20,000 for supplies and technical equipment. The amount for salary isn’t listed, but according to my calculations, $175,000- $25,000= $150,000 left for salary.

According to the School District website, Ben Franklin has 425 students. They have two school counselors, GEAR UP working on college and career readiness with students in grades 11-12, and a College and Career Coordinator out of the District’s Office of Postsecondary Readiness working with students in grades 9 and 10. (And by the way, that office now has 17 College and Career Coordinators and 3 special project managers.) Does the District feel that GEAR UP and the current College Coordinator aren’t doing a thorough job? Is that why you feel you need this program? I’m also curious about how, specifically, you plan to evaluate the success of this new program.

I need to let you know how insulting it is to school counselors to say that we don’t possess the knowledge to help our students with the college process. In the Action Item it states that they need to “create a college-going culture where none exists.” Is that how you feel about Ben Franklin High School? Do you understand that our students are dealing with systemic racism, toxic school buildings, intergenerational poverty, trauma, and more, all while trying to graduate and plan for the future? Maybe that’s why students are having difficulty focusing on schoolwork and navigating the college process.

Counselors don’t need more training, we need smaller caseloads so we can address our students’ needs. ASCA recommends a ratio of 250 students to 1 counselor. I have 400 students in my caseload, and some elementary school counselors have up to 949 students in their caseloads. Building college and career awareness should start in elementary school. You need to put more counselors at the elementary, middle, and high school levels if you really want to support our students.

It just doesn’t seem to me that this District values the work of school counselors. We’re not mentioned in the District’s Action Plan. Our direct supervisor at 440, Lori Pastor, left during the summer and hasn’t been replaced yet. It’s almost like you’re intentionally trying to leave the counselors as a rudderless ship. For years I’ve begged the District to hire a counselor supervisor who has a degree in school counseling, and has worked as a school counselor, so the counselors are given clear direction and are working towards common goals. It hasn’t happened yet.

But back to Action Item 24. You’re letting a charter school work its way into our public schools. The Coordinator already started at Franklin. I guess the District is just expecting a rubber stamp from the School Board tonight. I thought the Board would investigate Action Items, vote freely, and be different than the SRC. I wonder if the decision to potentially “scale up to other District high schools” in the future has already been decided too. When will someone finally decide to hire more school counselors to support our students’ academic, social/emotional, and postsecondary planning needs?