An MCPS survey of county high school students administered last spring ranked Blair's guidance department last among the school's 12 subject departments. The poor ranking prompted administrators to initiate a parent-administrator involvement program to improve the department's performance.
The initiative, overseen by Assistant Principal Patricia Hurley, came after Principal Phillip Gainous rejected claims made by some members of guidance that the department was understaffed and overworked. Gainous cited the fact that Blair's student-to-counselor ratio is better than those of several Montgomery County high schools.
According to Gainous, the push to improve service to students and parents came as a result of the Student Survey of Academic Instruction and the numerous complaints parents and administrators made both to Blair and to the MCPS superintendent's office.
The move to step up the department's efficiency includes efforts to improve communication between parents and guidance. Last year Blair's PTSA formed the Guidance Advisory Committee, whose primary purpose was to aid the support staff and provide counselors with a "parent's perspective on how to improve service." According to Guidance Resource Counselor Barbara Drumm, the committee has been increasingly effective and is now seeking student representation.
Parents had previously been inconvenienced by inadequate responses to questions and phone calls, according to Gainous. He said some parents also felt that counselors did not meet with students often enough to know them as individuals.
Last year's MCPS survey confirmed these concerns. The results showed a consistent disparity between student satisfaction levels at Blair and at all MCPS high schools. In the category of overall school guidance services, 24 percent of Blair students surveyed ranked the department "excellent," compared to 36 percent of the total high school sample. Fourteen percent of Blazers found Blair's service unsatisfactory, while less than eight percent of all MCPS students were unsatisfied with their respective schools' guidance departments.
Gainous was upset that Blair fared so poorly and that "students perceived they weren't being served."
Drumm, on the other hand, said she anticipated such an outcome, as she had repeatedly asked for more staff to disperse the workload more evenly. "That's no surprise to me when I keep telling [the administration] that we don't have what we need," she said.
Drumm said that many students and parents see guidance counselors as inefficiently handling their respective assignments of nearly 300 students. However, she explained that counselors do more than just meet with parents. For example, as resource counselor, Drumm must compile the master schedule, appropriate MCPS-doled funds, oversee the entire department—including the Career Center and registrar's office—and take on an additional 200 students to ease the burden on the ten other counselors.
Though he recognizes the department's heavy workload, Gainous believes the claims of a personnel shortage and an excessive workload are just excuses. "I wasn't going to accept that they were understaffed," Gainous said.
"We all have paperwork in our jobs, but it's not about that. It's about the students," Gainous added, proposing that counselors should meet with students at least three times per year to improve communication and give counselors a better idea of students' career goals.
Drumm liked the idea but felt the terms asked too much of the already-burdened department. "[Gainous' recommendation] was met with resistance because everybody's feeling like they are taxed to the maximum," said Drumm, citing instances where child abuse and protective custody cases have required a counselor's entire focus.
Superintendent Jerry Weast has discussed means to improve guidance service countywide, setting a target student-to-counselor ratio of 250:1. Blair's ratio is still roughly 300:1, but according to Drumm, that number, along with student service, has begun to change for the better.
L.A. Holmes. L.A. Holmes is a SENIOR!! ('03 Baby!) in the Communication Arts Program. L.A. currently reigns as Managing Opinions and Editorials Editor of <i>Silver Chips</i> with her dear friend, Rachel Yood, and she is the first in <i>Silver Chips</i> history to hold the hotly contested and … More »