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No shortage of counselors at Promise Academies

By Dale Mezzacappa on Sep 26, 2013 04:11 PM

Due to the District's fiscal crisis, most schools in Philadelphia are suffering a counselor drought. But Promise Academies are not among them.

In fact, the 12 Promise Academies -- the District's in-house turnaround schools -- have 19 counselors, which amounts to 15 percent of the 126 counselors available to all 220 or so District-run schools.

More than half the District's schools -- 115 of them, with a population of more than 48,000 students -- are sharing 16 "itinerant" counselors who travel from school to school and have caseloads averaging about 3,000 students each.

In the Promise Academies, which have a combined enrollment of about 8,000, the average caseload works out to one counselor per about 420 students, much closer to the recommendations of the American School Counselor Association.

Barry Elementary School, for instance, which has 800 students, has three counselors, as does the 1,400-student Edison High School.

Three Promise Academies have two counselors: Martin Luther King and West Philadelphia high schools, and Ethel Allen Elementary.

The rest have one counselor each: Strawberry Mansion High, Clemente Middle, and Bryant, Cayuga, Dunbar, McMichael, and Potter-Thomas elementaries. 

The whole point of establishing Promise Academies is to give them extra resources to help them educate some of the District's most needy students in many of the city's poorest neighborhoods. In addition, several of them are receiving students this year from other schools that were closed.

District Chief Financial Officer Matthew Stanski said that Promise Academies were allocated one counselor as a Promise Academy and one counselor through "general allocation." Any school with more than 600 students was also assigned a counselor, which means that each Promise Academy with an enrollment above 600 got two.

"The Promise Academy model is a turnaround model, and the additional resources are supposed to be supplemental in nature," Stanski said. "We didn't want to supplant the regular counselor allotment with the Promise Academy allotment."

He wasn't sure, however, how Barry Elementary, with 800 students, got three counselors. "It's probably an oversight," Stanski said. With the ongoing "leveling" process -- in which teachers and other personnel are shifted around in mid-October based on actual enrollment six weeks into the year -- that is likely to change, he said.

Since the Promise Academy model was started in 2009 by former Superintendent Arlene Ackerman, the nature of the extra resources and the model itself have been fluid. The heart and most expensive piece of the model -- a longer school day and year, as well as Saturday school -- has been abandoned.

And several former Promise Academies, including Vaux, Germantown and University City high schools, have been closed, in part because of continuing low achievement.

For schools that are low income and low achieving, making them Promise Academies is the alternative to turning them over to charter organizations under the Renaissance Schools initiative, Stanski pointed out.

In addition to being guaranteed at least one counselor regardless of size, the Promise Academies this year have a math coach, a reading coach, and a school improvement liaison.

The schools also get a uniform supplement for both teachers and students. Teachers get summer professional development as well as a retention bonus for staying in the assignment for three years. 

When Promise Academies started, teachers were paid more because since they had a longer school day and year. However, because they no longer are open longer than other schools, that additional pay has disappeared.

"We didn't have enough money this year to implement the full model," said Stanski.

Each Promise Academy is also getting an extra allotment of $65 per student, said District spokesperson Raven Hill. The total extra amount being spent on them is $7.8 million.

Five of the Promise Academies are also receiving students from other schools that closed -- King, Strawberry Mansion, Clemente, Ethel Allen, and Potter-Thomas. Superintendent William Hite said he always intended to give extra resources to the so-called "receiving" schools.

Several, including King and Clemente, have more than a quarter of their students in special education. Edison High, with three counselors, has a quarter in special education and a quarter who are English language learners.

Barry, however, is not a designated receiving school. According to District data from last year, it did not have an especially high special-education population and had virtually no English language learners.

But all of the Promise Academies, including Barry, have economically disadvantaged populations in excess of 90 percent.

To help make ends meet and close a gap of $304 million, the District laid off nearly 4,000 workers, including all 283 counselors, during the summer. So far, it has called back about 1,600 employees, among them 126 counselors. The District did not get all the resources it requested from the city and state and is still negotiating with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers for $133 million in concessions, including pay cuts averaging 10 percent. The District says the concessions are necessary to bring back more personnel into the schools, including counselors.

PFT president Jerry Jordan, adamant that his membership will not take pay cuts, also called it "criminal" that not all schools have counselors.

"I don’t want to deprive the kids in Promise Academies from services, but every child deserves to have a counselor or counselors in their schools," he said. "Every one of our schools are needy and all children in Philadelphia have promise and deserve the support of a school counselor."

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Comments (46)

Submitted by LS Teach (not verified) on September 26, 2013 5:33 pm
Schools closed because of low enrollment? I don't think so - there were political factors behind the school closings. If that were the case then Dunbar should have been shut down since it only has 225 students enrolled as of last year (if that is an accurate number per the SDP website).
Submitted by anonymous (not verified) on September 26, 2013 7:53 pm
this is what passes for equity in the twisted ass-backwards collective mind of the src. pathetic.
Submitted by Joe K. (not verified) on September 29, 2013 10:30 am
LS-----ALL of this is about "Politics." It's a massive attack on all inner cities' teacher unions by the super Rich and their torpedoes like Nutter, Corbett and Hite (Sent directly from Eli Broad). The question now is what are WE going to do about it. We can blog until our faces falls off and sing, fast, pray, chant and other nonsensical forms of protest but none of that will have any effect. They just laugh at all that and keep steamrolling us into extinction. Do you think it's just a coincidence that Drexel wants to UCity H.S. ?? WE need to fight this in a real, forceful way not the above silly, useless forms of protest.
Submitted by anonymous (not verified) on September 29, 2013 2:52 pm
Joe, Those of us who engage in "silly, useless forms of protest" know you have a point. We continue, however, not because we are mindless, naive idiots. We do so because we can't understand how a revolution emerges from zero protest, to the protest (you speak of) that tips the tides in the favor of justice. We know that on occasion we appear as fools as we are clearly momentarily on the losing end of the battle for public schools and against corporate education "reform". Your efforts on this blog are vital to this cause. There is an important ring of truth to your comments. It is just tough to be ridiculed by those on our own side. No matter Joe, we will continue to visibly stand up for public schools in ways you do not understand or appreciate. Do NOT underestimate us. Solidarity
Submitted by Joe K. (not verified) on September 29, 2013 2:50 pm
Willie Mays, once upon a time, was asked for his Philosphy of Life. Mays just laughed and said, When they throw it, I hit it and when they hit it, I catch it." That sums up my feelings about our resistance. It's open and obvious disrespect for all things inner city people and needs MORE of a response. Maybe you're right but according to Ken Derstine's daily posts, the steamroll continues unabated. Whatever, I'm tired of it either way and will likely give my nerves a long rest.
Submitted by anonymous (not verified) on September 29, 2013 7:15 pm
On that point I agree with you 100%. I am tiring too Joe. At the root of this, we are very much in agreement. And so I give you permission to keep tormenting us to get off our collective a***s and fight back. Not that you need permission,I know.
Submitted by scott (not verified) on September 26, 2013 8:25 pm
Someone please explain to me how a school with less than 400 students has a math coach, reading coach and guidance counselor and still remains one of the lowest performing schools in the district.Someone at the top is wasting tax dollars or is this another great SRC recommendation............
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 29, 2013 5:57 pm
This has nothing to do with numbers of students. Its a total disgrace. Where is the outrage? Every School must have a centrally funded counselor!! If schools decide to spend extra money on extra counselors then so be it! But, if you do not have enough money to buy 1, it should be given. But, I suppose poor children are the only ones with social/emotional/math/reading problems. I assume the tax payers children's have no issues.
Submitted by Joan Taylor on September 26, 2013 8:11 pm
I'm relieved to hear that Jerry is adamant about not ceding ground on pay. Gee, the kids at Barry have access to counseling. What an outrage! Of course our resources are ridiculously distributed, but I can't help but feel a twinge of joy that one tiny bit of this actually went for something that helps kids. The mid-October shake up will make that third counselor disappear. Just as the kids are settling in, it's good to throw things off. It's like a whole new start to the school year in some classrooms, except for the depleted energy of the teachers who get leveled and have to start up all over again.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 29, 2013 6:28 pm
I agree with you Joan. The talk for awhile was if the PFT gave in to these demands they'd get more of their laid off people back. Seriously? What you get is losing these contractual inclusions forever. I don't know of anyone who takes pay reductions, and a breach of seniority is too serious to even be talking about.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 26, 2013 8:59 pm
I work at a Promise Academy. It is a joke. We have all the same problems, the problems are just walking around in uniforms.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 26, 2013 8:48 pm
I work at a Promise Academy. It is a joke. We have the same problems, they are just walking around in uniforms. Not to mention, we have two counselors and I never see the one counselor do anything besides sit around and talk.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 26, 2013 10:42 pm
Well, they are probably doing hall duty. Please do not talk bad about the counselors, silly. We are talking about getting more, silly. Do not bad mouth them, silly. And if the Promise Academy is such a joke, I know personnally, no one put a gun to your head to work at the Promise Academy. Feel me.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 29, 2013 6:09 pm
A counselor doing hall duty with that workload while other schools have nobody? I do feel you, anything to save on salaries and benefits is what their idea is. (plus cut down on the union membmership). It's education on the cheap, but they want "quality." PFT shoud give back zero.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 26, 2013 9:50 pm
Am I the only one who believes that there is no contract "negotiating" going on? I believe that the School District, the SRC, Mayor Nutter and the PFT have the contract completed and are just waiting for a certain date to make the announcement. Think of all of the money they are saving by keeping 2,000 plus staff laid-off. I am a laid-off counselor and I am tired of the lack of communication, the disrespect and the nonchalance by all of the above. They should try living off of unemployment compensation with no health insurance.
Submitted by Joan Taylor on September 26, 2013 9:27 pm
I am sorry you have been treated so shabbily. Unemployment comp is bad enough, but the lack of health insurance is disgraceful. I hope you're back at work soon.
Submitted by anonymous (not verified) on September 26, 2013 9:35 pm
I agree with you. They are waiting for the right moment to spring a vicious contract on the teachers, hoping all the bad press will help sway public opinion against the teachers. I think the public is onto them and is aware of the contribution of the teachers. If the union caves, it is time for new blood. The next round of school closings is being planned as we speak. As bad as things are, they will get worse without a concerted push back.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 26, 2013 10:30 pm
I agree with you to a point. How many FULL-TIME employees are still laid off? Many of the laid off were part-time SSAs and NTAs making less than $15/hr and working 20 or less hours a week. I still want to know how Jerry Jordan can say the contract is still in effect when the contract states one counselor per school!?!?!? The PSAT test is less than 3 weeks away. Part of me hopes it is a complete disaster, but then again if it is the SRC certainly won't say, "wow! we really need our counselors back!", no, they will say, "we need to make more schools charter schools. Charters didn't have the PSAT become a fiasco". It will cost roughly $17 million to bring all counselors back. I do agree with you that there is no way in hell that the PFT and the SRC have been in heated negotiations since the last meeting on the 2nd. That was over three weeks ago. They are waiting for the current situation to become the new normal. Teachers will be so tired, they will be like, "whatever. Just pass the dang contract". I am saying that is what THEY hope will happen. Just bring everyone back. APs included.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 26, 2013 11:27 pm
Jordan states not having a counselor in all schools is "criminal". What about more importantly mentioning it's a breach of the PFT contract,that dictates at least one couselor per school.Jordan further states all schools deserve a counselor.Using deserves instead of the more potent phrase of it is in violation of the CBA and we are going to arbitrate it or if necessary take it to the courts. Jordan stop using these enabling words of crinimal and deserves the SDP could careless what it thinks we deserve and get some balls and call the District out. If contracts aren't valid, according to the SDP, maybe we can just pay Hite $50,000 instead of his $350,000 plus salary-void that contract. According to citizens ,taxpayers and parents his observation rating would be a "F" =unsatifactory.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 27, 2013 1:21 am
Research before you speak. The PFT filed an official grievance over the whole counselor situation over a month ago, as a violation of the CBA.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 27, 2013 3:23 am
PFT staffer, thanks for that information.Otherwise, the general membership wouldn't not have known since the PFT leaders aren't transparent or feel they owe their members any information or updates. If they did no one would have to research ,it would be conveyed to their members openly .
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 27, 2013 5:16 am
That's interesting. A PFT staffer told a group of Counselors, that the PFT had to wait until "harm had been done" before filing a grievance. In May or early June, Jordan said told a group of Counselors that they had to wait until July 1st for "harm to be done". Prior to the school year starting a PFT staffer said harm would not be done until September 1st, once we miss our first day of school/employment. Are you a PFT staffer? It would be nice if Jerry was informing Counselors that he was looking out for them. While many are back, many are still unemployed, or in a classroom instead.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 28, 2013 2:55 am
The PFT has the worst record in the last few years for grievances resolved favorably.Yet, what you expect when they have the worst grievance rep. handling them. Grievance rep. Barbara Gordon,enabled by Jerry Jordan, needs to find that exit door quickly and let's get a person in there to actual execute and win some grievances. Plus if the PFT, on the rare occassion files a grievance after twisting their arm, you will probably already retired before it goes anywhere since neither the PFT and SDP do not follow the timelime according to the contract and it takes years when it should take weeks.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 27, 2013 4:35 pm
I agree!
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 26, 2013 10:11 pm
I am sooooo upset with this entire issue. I cannot believe the parents of the City of Philadelpia has not shut the city down. Guess what, we need to protest by creating flyers and handing them out. That's right Mr. Mayor, downtown. Give them to all the visitors of the city, even the students from out of town as they walk Independence Hall to tell the truth about our Mayor. He does not care about the health and mind of our children. This is cruel and unusable punishment. And guess what everyone, where do you think our children going to end up? You got it, in jail. Shame on you, Mayor Nutter. Shame on you!
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 26, 2013 10:56 pm
Also, Barry is a difficult school to handle. Yes. I have to say it. It is not the staff that gets up every morning to report and teach the youth of that community that makes it a difficult school. But it is the community. When are we going to start sharing the violence of the community before and after school statistics so that everyone can understand that there are some serious issues in that community? Come on folks. Look at the violence and the crime of the city. Do you really believe that the violence and the crime stop at the front door of the school? That mental health could be a serious issue and that is why Barry has so many counselors. Come on folks. Stop it!
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 28, 2013 10:25 am
I agree that the Barry community is a community with major behavioral health issues. The teachers and the administration have begun to have a positive impact with the students and parents/neighbors. This is not an easy task considering the number of recent principals that have attempted to change the school culture. However, Ms. Wilkins and her team of committed faculty have stressed the importance of teaching and modeling appropriate behaviors for both students and the adults. This year the focus in closing the achievement gap;and the teachers are confident that this can be done with the commitment from both the teachers and parents. The problem isn't that children can't learn or don't want to learn. The problem is the parents and society are misdirecting them and the students are seem to be distracted by the UNNECESSARY drama that keeps the crime rate up instead of finding a solution like NORMAL people who want more out of life.
Submitted by linda (not verified) on September 26, 2013 10:48 pm
Barry needs all the help it can get, if for no other reason than to make sure no other kindergartener gets snatched out of the classroom when a sub is present and the hallfront door monitor does not check to see if the "parent" signs in at the desk to pick up any child. Linda K.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 27, 2013 12:46 pm
That was Bryant... not Barry
Submitted by linda (not verified) on September 27, 2013 1:29 pm
Thank you for the correction. Linda K.
Submitted by tom-104 on September 26, 2013 11:41 pm
At the poorly attended SRC meeting on Monday evening, a school counselor testified about how the few counselor’s left in Philadelphia (except for these Promise Academies we now learn) have to service eight schools (2 a day) and thousands of students. Most schools do not have counselors. She said the counselors had no way to communicate with the other schools they service while they are at one of the schools A parent expressed her outrage that parents have been totally shut out and have no say about what is happening to Philadelphia schools. Hite mumbled something about maybe the counselors should have laptops and cell phones, but other than that these two speakers were totally ignored. Shortly after the SRC passed a resolution to allocate $4,259,115 to Pearson Learning and Renaissance Learning for technical support and staff development for “Universal Screeners for Response to Instruction and Intervention”. How this will be done without counselors did not seem to be a concern. (Maybe this is just for charters?) By the way, the PFT contract and negotiations were not mentioned during the entire meeting.
Submitted by garth (not verified) on September 27, 2013 12:20 am
As a long-term public school parent (17 years so far), I always found it weird that the school district focused their budget and efforts on the worst public schools in the city. Never even a mention or a shout-out about the great public schools around town. Somebody please explain that to me, and I've been around long enough to know how many great schools there are. How about Vallas building brand new buildings for the absolutely worst performing schools, many of which have now been given to charter operators. Ackerman's focus was also on the worst schools in the poorest neighborhoods, so it's not new with Hite's regime or the current SRC. Why should Promise Academies get extra money and more staff than the best performing schools? I'm not sure I agree with it, but I guess they feel that it's either convert them to charters or give them extra resources. The high-performing public schools don't fit the model, they make the charters look bad, so the district is trying to give them as few resources as legally allowable. It's sad, but true, and I think it's really unfair to all the hard-working students in good schools.
Submitted by Mayday (not verified) on September 27, 2013 5:22 pm
I'm outraged and sad. My former school had a very serious incident occur this week that I am almost certain could have been prevented had I been in the building. I worked with the child in question all last year on anger management, and he trusted me and came to me when he felt himself losing control. He made wonderful progress. No one was available to him this week, and now he's locked up. I'm also disgusted with all players, including the PFT, who are leaving me in a dire situation as a single homeowner now living on Unemployment and with no health benefits when I have a chronic health condition. It is morally bankrupt to treat a human being in this manner. Not to mention that, had counselors been called back in seniority order, without favors operating, I would likely be working right now.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 27, 2013 7:09 pm
You are spiritually grounded with the right intent to help kids. Keep the faith and never ever give up. Perhaps the Obama health exchanges will help? Retraining? There is a need for behavioral health workers right now with your skill set. New doors may open for you. The SDP as we know it is a sinking ship anyway. It's just a matter of time.
Submitted by anonymous (not verified) on September 27, 2013 7:35 pm
Are you saying a system pf public education in Philadelphia is "a sinking ship" and you're OK with that? And if so, what do you think is going to replace this sinking ship? Do you imagine a city with 100% properly functioning charter schools? A city where all the children are above average? Really???? Problem solved. Really???? Reminds me of the refrigerator analogy we use at home. Sometimes when we want to toss some leftovers, it doesn't feel right to do so. So we just leave the food in the fridge for a while and ignore it. Eventually, it rots. Then, when it looks pretty horrible we feel much more comfortable throwing it out.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 29, 2013 6:26 pm
Please use the contacts in this article:
Submitted by anon (not verified) on September 27, 2013 10:40 pm
ten or fifteen years ago, you'd have sued their ass for your job back along with backpay and something extra for your aggravation and inconvenience and there ain't a court in the country would've ruled against you. today, they tell you to suck it in. this country's going to hell in a hand basket as we race to the bottom.
Submitted by Anonymous on September 27, 2013 11:42 pm
Potter Thomas has two counselors both the same from the previous year.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 28, 2013 10:55 am
And Farrell has 2 Counselors.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on September 29, 2013 6:10 pm
Promise Academies getting special treatment doesn't negate the need for counslors in traditional high schools and neighborhood elementary schools (especially those with high needs populations). I see some big lawsuits looming for the District, I don't know what they are thinking, I would measure the cost of counselors against the payout in suits if I were them. Just sayin
Submitted by germantowntaxpayer (not verified) on September 29, 2013 10:35 pm
If you review the data for the schools that are Promise Academies, you will see that the need for student support is dire. However, the issue is not who has the most counselors, the issue is why doesn't every large elementary school and comprehensive high school have more than ONE school counselor. The research concludes that school counselors support both students and staff within their school buildings. The climate of schools improve as a result of their presence and targeted work of prevention and intervention. Unfortunately, many individuals in leadership within the District do not understand the role or work of the 'School counselor'. School counselors possess Master's in their area of study, many counselors work hard within the environment of poverty and trauma, which the students in Philadelphia navigate and survive everyday. It is time for an elected school board in Philadelphia. The citizens of Philadelphia do not require a paternalistic SRC that is not accountable to the taxpayers of Philadelphia.
Submitted by tom-104 on September 29, 2013 10:29 pm
It's only going to happen if the people rise up and demand an elected school board.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 1, 2013 2:25 am
Let's be clear. Promise Academies are suffering a shortage of counselors also. It's just not as bad as at other schools. It's a sad day when merely inadequate is considered acceptable simply because most of the district is at the grossly inadequate level.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 1, 2013 10:42 am
BS, there was never a uniform supplement and we still have to wear them even though some of us received up to $10k salary cuts, without warning! We should have at least been given the option to return to other schools. Considering we'll get individually evaluated by how our entire building does, there's no incentive to stay in consistently failing schools with a lack of resources. There were no books or supplies ordered for my classroom this year. Where's the extra $65 per student? I wouldn't have to rely on Donor's Choose to fund my classroom!
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 3, 2013 6:19 am
Having worked at Barry for two years I can tell you that the Principals, administrative staff, SBIS personnel, and counselors were incompetent and grossly negligent. many sat in their offices unless district staff was in the building. Their inability and unwillingness to promote student achievement, support classroom instruction, and advicate for school safety was appalling and surreal to witness each day. I can deal with the kids but when the administration is antagonistic towards students and staff rather than supportive that's a battle I'm just not willing to fight. I hope for the sake of the kids there that things are turning around since they certainly deserve much better.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on October 3, 2013 7:12 pm
Hater!!!!!!!!! Have several seats!!!!!!

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