In an effort to provide more support to students, the Wake County Public School System plans to spend more money next year on school counselors, social workers, and psychologists.
Many of the support staff employees split time between schools. Some counselors are full-time at a single campus, and some schools have more than one counselor. The American School Counselor Association recommends each counselor have no more than 250 assigned students, and WCPSS has a goal of meeting that standard.
The current counselor-to-student ratio in Wake County elementary schools is one to 609. Middle schools have 355 kids per counselor, and the high schools have 388.
“Our job is to really get to know the student, the family situation, and what they’re going through,” Davis Drive Middle School counselor Helen Everitt said.
“When we are trying to make those connections wiith so many students, it’s hard for us to be honest in our connections, and be honest with really getting to know them. It’s hard to get to know 400 students equally versus if we only had 200 students.”
Everitt’s accolades include county and state middle school counselor of the year awards, but sometimes she has to wear additional hats. Her school’s social worker, Sara Davis, spends half her time at another campus. There are fewer than 10 school psychologists in the Wake County system.
“When the school social worker and the school psychologist aren’t here, it’s definitely more of a tug of war situation in terms of what we need to do versus what the child needs at that particular moment,” Everitt said.
“It’s not in our job description necessarily, but because the school psychologist isn’t there, we don’t want to leave those areas untreated.”
Wake County wants to hire enough school psychologists to have one for every two schools. To move closer to that goal, the proposed 2018-19 budget increases funding for psychologist jobs from $6,442,971 to $7,159,753, an increase of 11 percent from 2017-18.
WCPSS also aims to have social workers assigned to no more than two schools.
“It’s helpful when a school psychologist or a school social worker is at the school, and we can all work together to help the students in need,” Davis said.
Her regular work entails making sure students are at school, addressing absences, and working with foster children as well as families who may be facing homelessness. Some days she works with 20 different families
Davis usually makes a plan for what she will do during her time at each particular school, but can get an urgent message that she needs to leave for the other.
“I’ll be at one school, and I’ll be in the middle of meeting with a student, I’ll get a call from my other school that there may be an emergency,” she said.
“I feel torn because I am leaving one important situation for another one.”
She would like to be dedicated to one campus, full time, like the counselors at Davis Drive Middle School are. Everitt said it is tremendously beneficial to be at the Cary campus all of the time and to interact with the students on a more regular basis,
“If I was able to be at my schools more hours of the day and more days of the week, I would be able to do better work. I would be able to provide more resources,” Davis said. “It would help other support staff at our schools if we could be there, because we really do work as a team.”
Wake County’s proposed budget for 2018-19 increases funding for instructional support staff salaries by about $5 million, from $86.1 million to more than $92.6 million.