School officials discuss counseling overhaul

by Miriah Hamrick
Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Changes to the guidance counseling program at New Hanover County high schools were among issues discussed during a Board of Education retreat on March 18.

Dr. Rick Holliday, New Hanover County Schools deputy superintendent, discussed plans to restructure the school counseling program in high schools across the county.

The board is working with a group of middle and high school principals, special education teachers and representatives from each school’s counseling program in the overhaul. 

A phone survey was recently conducted to gauge parents’ opinions regarding the program. Holliday said the results suggested different expectations for counselors at the high school level.

As students progress through the school system, emphasis in the program shifts from character development and social work to academic advisement and managing necessary paperwork for higher education like the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. 

“There’s an identity crisis. We need to know what makes the program effective,” Holliday said. 

A big concern is counselors do not make enough individual effort in attempts to help students.

Member Dr. Derrick Hickey referred to the first child dynamic as evidence for more preemptive effort for counselors, discussing unique challenges for students who are the first in their families to attend college.

“Early initial contact will be a lot of help, instead of putting out fires around college acceptances and admittances in later years,” Hickey said. 

Member Lisa Estep shared a complaint that counselors are not available to students. She suggested more student input should be considered in the evaluation of the program. 

“I would hate to miss this opportunity to know what they need,” Estep said.

An in-depth survey will likely occur in the future to collect more hard data.

Changes in the policy outlining the procedure for board members handling public complaints were also discussed. Following recommendations by Estep, attorney Wayne Bullard shared new language drafted for the policy.

The new language emphasizes that individual members are open and available to the public, but for legal reasons cannot speak for the board before all members have reached a decision.

Hickey said the public’s impression is board members are not open to public concern. Both Estep and Member Tammy Covil suggested further softening the language.

Chief financial officer Mary Hazel Small explained the state salary structure for NHCS employees. Complex scales for each position include steps that vary with experience and education.

Dr. John Welmers, assistant superintendent, said the salary scales are broken. They have been essentially frozen for years and without state-approved step increases, employees advance up the scales according to experience without receiving a corresponding raise.

Superintendent Dr. Tim Markley mentioned Gov. Pat McCrory’s latest plan to bump beginning teacher salaries and allocate a 2 percent increase for all other state employees.

Markley said regardless of whether the governor’s pay raises go through, NHCS officials are prioritizing a raise for all school employees this year.

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