Update: Angela Crawford is a parent in the district and attended the meeting as a parent, but is also a spokeswoman for the district. Crawford told TAPinto she commented on the evening of April 9 as a parent.
GLEN ROCK, NJ – Parents sounded-off on the school’s district-wide guidance department, citing the lack of helpfulness to high school students down to the functionality of its website as some of the concerns.
At the Board of Education’s April 9 meeting, Lawrence Wolff, the director of Student Personnel Services, delivered a presentation about the growth of the guidance department in the last decade and the services it provides. About three dozen residents were in attendance at the Glen Rock Middle/High School media center.
“Our goal for the department is – as it’s always been – to provide a supportive, safe, and trusting environment in our schools which empowers all students to become life-long emotional, social, academic and career-oriented citizens,” Wolff said.
Programs, he explained, are offered from the elementary level up to the high school where an emphasis on career and college guidance-oriented activities is placed, equipping students with the necessary tools they need to be successful in life.
In the last decade, the department has grown from one counselor at the elementary school level to two; 2.5 school counselors (with one splitting time between the middle and high school) to three; and 3.5 having covered the high school to four. In addition, the district, he continued, has one director (himself) plus two administrative assistants.
Going forward in the 2019–2020 school year, four counselors are planned for the elementary schools; three in the middle school, and four at the high school. He cited a reduction in caseloads as a benefit to hiring additional staff.
Guidance counselors, he said, provide many services including guidance curriculum, individual planning, responsive services and operations. At the elementary level, services include classroom and large group activities for Grades K-8 with an emphasis on character education, in addition to positive decision-making, self-understanding and resilience.
“The goal will be targeted lessons in resilience and positive character growth, reinforced as students move through middle school,” Wolff explained.
Guidance services for high school students, he said, focus predominantly on individual planning. This aspect examines “students as their own person and provides counseling activities that provide every student with an opportunity to plan, monitor, and manage their academic, career, and personal and social development.”
In addition to individual planning, responsive services are also largely seen at the high school level. Responsive services involve counseling or referral activities “to meet the immediate needs and concerns of students, personal counseling, problem-solving, and agency referral.”
The operations aspect of the guidance department – vital to sustain the department – include counselor-teacher conferences, parent phone calls, responding to emails and liaison with the community.
Parents in attendance, however, were not thrilled with the presentation and criticized some of the department's functions.
“The guidance website is atrocious,” said Angela Villa, a parent of three who has one child in the district. “There are 25 items on the homepage. For parents who are new to guidance, to high school, the guidance website needs to be a resource. The guidance website needs to be improved. For a parent who is new to the process, you really can’t navigate the process."
She continued, "My children were very busy with volunteering, sports, taking AP classes... parents need to be involved because parents need to know what the heck is going on.”
Apart from suggesting the board hire someone to revamp the guidance website, Villa also suggested having internship opportunities available for students to better direct their path on the career or vocation of their choosing.
“Kids need guidance on what it is they would like to pursue,” she said.
In regard to student needs, former trustee Elizabeth Carr said her daughter, a high school junior, aspires to be an athletic trainer, but lacks direction on her pursuit of a science degree.
“My daughter is a junior and finally decided on what she wants to do as a career, and as a junior, now she’s scrambling to take her classes and there is no guidance,” Carr told trustees. “There was no question of, ‘what do you want to do, what are you interested in.’”
Carr also queried about post-graduate outreach and if the department keeps tabs on graduates' success in their chosen fields. Wolff responded that outreach to alumni has proven futile, given insufficient data received after having tried several years ago. The response rate, he said, was a slim 0.8 percent and 1.2 percent in the last five and six years, respectively.
Other parents criticized the guidance department’s helpfulness. One parent, who is the father of a tenth-grade student, told the board about a time when his son and many of his classmates had struggled in their class under the direction of a “rookie” teacher whom he alleges “didn’t know the material.” After raising the issue to the guidance department, he said the counselor “passed the buck” to the department chair, who he said referred him back to the guidance department.
“It’s important the guidance department and the counselor be an advocate to help my son and the other students in the class with whoever else is responsible,” he said.
Resident Alisa Svider, who is also the parent of a sophomore, said her son’s guidance counselor told her son, who desired to apply for honors classes, to make an appeal to get into the class, given his large class size.
“That’s not fair,” she said. “He did everything everyone else did and he has to write an appeal?”
Angela Crawford, a parent in the district and coincidentally a spokeswoman for district, urged the board and Wolff to not lose sight of the students who aren’t planning to attend four-year colleges, in addition to those who have endured a serious illness or whose parents are going through divorce.
“You can’t let these kids fall through the cracks,” she said.