Under MCPS Superintendent Jerry Weast's efforts to reduce the student-to-counselor ratio to 250:1, Blair received an additional guidance counselor this year, bringing Blair's ratio to just under the county average of 300:1.
However, the guidance department says it remains understaffed, overwhelmed and struggling to meet the needs of a large and diverse student population. The largest school in the county, Blair, now has 11 counselors and one career information coordinator serving approximately 3,200 students.
As part of the Foundations for Success initiative established by the Department of Student Services, 20 additional counselors were distributed among 58 secondary schools across the county this year, according to Craig Bass, MCPS high school counselor specialist.
Bass expects increased staffing next year, although the outcome depends on funding. "[A staffing increase] did happen this year, so Weast is a man of his word. He advocates 250:1, a good target,” said Bass. "Whether or not it's going to work has to do with the county's budget, but I do believe his heart's in it.”
Weast's forecasted budget, to be approved by the Montgomery County Council in the spring, provides for increased staffing, according to Bass.
The additional counselor Blair guidance received as a result of the initiative has reduced the student-to-counselor ratio slightly, but, according to resource counselor Barbara Drumm, the present ratio remains inadequate. "We're way over what their expectation is. We need to double the supporting staff,” she said
Drumm noted that the load on each counselor surpasses what the numbers indicate. In the present equation, the county expects Drumm, who manages the guidance department and handles the master student schedule, to take on 300 students of her own.
Last year, Drumm worked with 150 students and found herself "losing her mind.” Consequently, she kept only 50 students this year, her rising seniors. The 250 student difference is spread among the other ten counselors, increasing Blair's true ratio to 315:1.
In many instances, the ratio is even higher. ESOL counselor Lourdes Ceide, who has been at Blair for 28 years, works with the entire ESOL population of over 358 students in addition to her students who have exited ESOL during or after eleventh grade. She says her demands are manageable only because she puts in extra hours.
The same is true for counselor Lynn Wood and others who do not even have as many students as Ceide does.
At the start of a recent interview, Wood first sighed, "I'm kind of going crazy.” She had 23 National Merit Finalist
recommendations and 80 college recommendations to write, student grievances and other issues to address, in addition to the daunting task of getting to know about 290 students, all new faces who were transferred to her this year after counselor Alice Timmins left her position.
Blair's single career information coordinator, Sharon Williams, who serves 3,200 students by herself, is even more burdened. Each school in the county is designated one career coordinator, regardless of size.
"As counselors, we're here for the academic, social and career well-being of the students. With those three categories come a lot of responsibilities,” explained ninth grade counselor Reginald Spears.
The areas addressed by counselors are wide and varying. They include academic planning, grief counseling and student issues such as divorce, discipline, truancy problems and abuse.
The demand on counselors has a year-round presence. The summer involves schedule adjustments, resolution of schedule conflicts and new student enrollment. From October through December, counselors are involved with the college process. In February, enrollment and registration begins.
Vivian Wang. Vivian Wang, a senior at Blair, is a first year Managing Sports editor for Silver Chips. She is in the Blair Math, Science, and Computer Science Magnet Program, yet has equal interests in the humanities and arts. In fact, she belonged to the Eastern Humanities … More »