With one of the highest student to counselor ratios in the state and an increasing student population, Oyster River High School will welcome a new counselor for the 2019-2020 school year.
On March 12th, the towns of Durham, Lee, and Madbury voted in favor of the proposed 2019-20 district budget. The total budget of $47.5 million will be distributed to several areas in the district including salary increases, improved safety at Moharimet, planning development for the proposed middle school building, and two additional positions. The two new positions include one elementary school special education administrator and an additional school counselor at the high school.
Heather Machanoff, Counseling Director for the Oyster River Cooperative School District, explained the benefits of adding a new counselor to the high school, saying, “[an additional counselor will] reduce the caseload numbers to a more manageable number. Right now counselors have about 275 students per counselor, which is really high, one of the highest in the state.”
Gabrielle Anderson, a social studies teacher at the high school, talked about how the added position will help the existing counselors. “[By] having less students on their caseload, counselors will be able to give more individual attention to students at all elements, whether it be [students] transitioning into ninth grade, deciding what classes they should take, or particularly with students who are attending college or a post-secondary education [each counselor’s caseload is lessened],” she said.
Currently, counselors at the high school have a full daily schedule. Beyond student conferences, meetings, and working with staff on implementing new classroom programming, counselors are often addressing student crises throughout the day. “When a student comes in, the counselor will take them but they also have a full day of appointments. It makes it harder to get to the things they need to do but obviously, a kid in crisis is going to take priority,” said Machanoff.
A fourth counselor will help to alleviate this issue and make managing daily student crises easier. “Having that extra person will be really helpful for letting the pressure off the system. We will be doing a ‘counselor on call’ system. There is always going to be [a counselor] available for students,” added Machanoff.
Increasing the capacity for students in immediate need will also help to take pressure off other facets of the building. “The counseling office and health office work closely together. The addition of a new counselor will allow for increased opportunities to provide students in immediate need,” said Kim Wolph, RN at the high school.
Machanoff talked about how added support for the immediate student crises will allow for more time working with classroom teachers and the implementation of new programing. “Flex time is a really great opportunity for us to roll out a lot of the things we need to do. Relieving that pressure on the system where everything is booked solid every day allows for that time to be more flexible to implement programming,” she said.
This new position comes one year after another addition to the counseling department, Sean Peschel, the Extended Learning Opportunity (E.L.O.) Coordinator for ORHS. Peschel’s new position addressed the growing demand for E.L.O.’s and helping students fulfill learning opportunities outside of the classroom.
The budget increased 3.5% since the previous school year. Town voting in favor of the budget followed an unanimous endorsement by the district at their deliberative session on February 5th. The high school counseling position will be the second new addition to the department in the last two years.
Machanoff concluded by saying that the new hire will ultimately help to make the case loads more manageable for each counselor. Adding that, “we don’t just want to be taking the crises that are coming in. Where the work really is, is giving kids skills so those crises are averted.”