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City comptroller proposes hiring 1,600 new guidance counselors

Comptroller John Liu proposed hiring more guidance counselors today at a press conference where he was flanked by union officials and education advocates.

The education policy proposal that Comptroller John Liu put forth today sounded strange coming from the man charged with ensuring the city’s financial health: Add $176 million a year to the Department of Education’s payroll.

But Liu said city students so badly need more help applying to college that it would be worth spending the money to bring on more than 1,500 new guidance counselors, even if he didn’t think the funds could be freed up elsewhere within the department’s $23 billion budget.

“Investment in education today is the best economic development policy for tomorrow,” said Liu, a likely mayoral candidate, at a press conference that also featured union officials and education advocates.

“The economic challenges facing our city can best be addressed by educating many more New Yorkers beyond high school,” he added.

The proposal is the first in the comptroller’s “Beyond High School NYC” initiative, which Liu said today would use research to propose “strategic investments in public education” to raise the college-graduation rate for New York City public school students. Liu’s office calculated that just 21 percent of students who enter city high schools later graduate from college, echoing the city’s own determination that just 21 percent of students are college-ready.

In today’s proposal, Liu calls for the city to hire 1,600 new counselors to join the 1,300 that are already working in city high schools, allowing each counselor to shoulder a caseload of just 100 students. Currently, the student-to-counselor ration is 259:1, his office found, with some counselors supporting many fewer or many more students.

With a smaller caseload, traditional guidance counselors could continue to work with needy students while dedicated college counselors could do more to coach students through the application and financial aid processes, Liu said.

“This is the biggest gap between students and the colleges that they should be going to,” he said.

Liu said the Department of Education could pay for the new counselors, whose salaries would amount to about 1 percent of the department’s annual budget, by reducing its spending on contracts with private vendors. But he also said focusing on the short-term cost would be short-sighted.

“Stepping back away from the idea that this is just about $176 million — no it’s not,” he said. “It’s about what the city needs to be economically competitive and even viable going into the future.”

Responding to Liu’s proposal, Mayor Bloomberg said today that adding more personnel is an attractive but impractical strategy.

“You can never have enough guidance counselors, school crossing guards, physics teachers — in every part of the city we’d like to have more, but you have to have some kind of balance,” he said. “But I think in this case the DOE is what we’ll rely on to decide what we need.”

The department has concluded that the cost of installing more full-time counselors in each school is too high, Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky said in June.

But the department is taking other approaches to tackle the problem of low college completion. Starting this year, high schools’ annual letter grades will be dependent in part on whether graduates enter and stay in college. The department is also pushing schools to raise academic expectations by giving extra credit to schools that prove that their courses are challenging.

The department is also in the process of sending teachers and staff at each high school to Goddard Riverside Options Center, a nonprofit with experience in guiding students through the college process. The training program, which is privately funded, aims to train one staff member for every 35 seniors at high schools that participate, officials said.

Polakow-Suransky suggested that schools take advantage of the training and also motivate students by making the college application process, for example by turning the actual submission of applications into a celebration.

”Those kinds of culture rituals and making it at the heart of the school’s community don’t actually cost money,” he said.

Liu’s report does include some lower-cost recommendations. He is also calling on the city to create systems to identify when students are falling behind, which some schools already have in place, to connect city schools with area colleges, and to develop programs that bridge the time gap between high school graduation and college matriculation.

Among the options, Liu said, would be to expand the student-run Student Success Centers that currently operate on four high school campuses. Another would be to recruit more of the city’s 400,000 college students to tutor and mentor high schoolers.

But Liu and union officials said those supports should be come in addition to new personnel, not instead of them.

“We should not be farming this out,” said Ernest Logan, head of the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators. “It’s a nice idea for everyone to help … but primarily, it’s our role to do this.”

Guidance counselors are members of the United Federation of Teachers. Currently, 300 of them are without jobs after their positions were eliminated because of budget cuts or school closures. They are being sent to different schools each week, with helping students complete college applications part of their charge.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew said the department could deploy the counselors more effectively. “While will they not just dispatch them to the schools where the needs are?” he asked.

At least one city educator is not holding his breath for Liu’s proposal to become policy.

“I would love to hire 14 more guidance counselors,” John Galvin, a vice principal of I.S. 318, which has 1,600 students and two counselors, wrote on Twitter.  “Not happening.”

Liu’s report about the need for more guidance counselors is below.

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.


For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.


Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at [email protected]

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede