NC schools average one counselor to 400 students

Posted September 26, 2014

School lockers

— During lunchtime, school counselor Kim Hall takes a break from her desk and roams the hallways of Providence Grove High School.

On her five-minute walk, she encourages a senior to apply to UNC, consoles a student dealing with a scratchy throat and reminds a young teenager to see a teacher.

“We try to make sure that we’re accessible to students during their free times,” Hall says.

Hall has been a school counselor for 29 years. She says she tries to make more time for students as her clerical duties have grown over the years.

When she first started, she was one of four counselors. Today, she is one of two counselors in a school with more than 800 students. That means more work and more school programs to manage.

“Not only have they taken away the number of counselors … but then they have added on more programs and then they think, ‘Oh, who’s going to take care of that? Oh, we’ll have the counselor do it!’” she says.

And it’s not just more programs. Across from her desk, there’s a large stack of folders filled with student test scores. They’ve landed in her office after Randolph County cut its testing coordinators last year.

“[They] need to be filed,” she says. “Things they don’t tell you in school counselor school that you get to do.”

Lawmakers did pass legislation last year to make sure that counselors do not coordinate the actual tests, since that eats up hours and hours of their time.

More students, more responsibilities

But, still, their role is more demanding than before, according to Cynthia Floyd, student support services consultant for school counseling at the Department of Public Instruction.

“Less than 10 years ago, we had 1.3 million students, now we have 1.5 million students in the public schools of North Carolina,” she says. “So, we really don’t see the increase in counselors keeping up with the increase in student body.”

The American School Counselor Association recommends at least one counselor for every 250 students. In North Carolina, it’s more like one counselor for every 400 students.

She says that school counselors are sometimes the first ones on the chopping block whenever there is a cut in education funding and school administrators are forced to make tough decisions. Or if other positions are cut, she says, school counselors and other staff often feel the impact as they have to take on more duties.

"Schools just start saying 'we need a warm body to do this here,'" she says. "So you find a school counselor, rather than doing what's in their job description, they're managing student records.'"

Over the years, the job of the school counselor has shifted.

Floyd says in addition to dealing with academics, counselors are handling more and more students who are facing social and mental health issues.

“It’s kind of hard to focus on math or reading when you just saw mom and dad have a knock-down drag-out this morning, and that’s where your school counselor comes in,” Floyd says.

At West Lee Middle School in Lee County, counselor Valerie Nelson says it can be hard to juggle everything when the school is growing and the problems her students face are only getting tougher. She says last year she saw more sexually active and/or pregnant middle school students than she had in her previous nine years combined.

“The kids … they you make laugh, they make you want to pull your hair out, you want to cry with them,” she says. “I really enjoy the role of a counselor, but I just feel like there are so many needs that are students have, I just wish I could address them all.”

School counselor Kim Hall says she feels the same way – that she never goes home feeling like her job is complete.

“You have to figure out which fires are the largest, ya know? When you’ve got fires all around, the one that needs fighting the most is the biggest, so you run to that one,” she says. “Some of the others have to smolder until you get there.”

Even if she can’t fight all the fires, she says she tries her best to make small gestures because she never knows when those will make all the difference.

This report first appeared on WUNC/North Carolina Public Radio as part of their education coverage

Reema Khrais is the 2014 Fletcher Fellow focused on Education Policy Reporting. The Fletcher Fellowship is a partnership between WUNC and UNC’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication funded in part by the Fletcher Foundation.


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  • Pensive01 Sep 29, 2014

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    I said NC never got money from the other 49 states, as well as mentioned that other states nor NC had any control of how other states spent their education funding, and never addressed the federal side of things at all. Fail and try again.

  • Maurice Pentico Jr. Sep 26, 2014
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    Actually... NC receives LOTS of Federal funding and grants from the Department of Education and other Federal programs.... try again.

  • Pensive01 Sep 26, 2014

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    I'm afraid you're timeline is a wee bit off. I went and checked the rankings and what I found was this.
    2002-2003 ranked 24
    2003-2004 ranked 22
    2004-2005 ranked 26
    2005-2006 ranked 27
    2007-2008 ranked 25 2008-2009 ranked 25 As you can clearly see NC was ranked average in the US throughout Easley's term in office. it was after 2009 that NC started to drop in the rankings. First the Great Recession happened so no raises were given out that year, in fact the state was seriously looking at furloughing employees since the states revenue was hit rather severely. As a result NC did drop down to the rank of 36. After the republicans took control of the legislature Perdue did try to get raises into the budget, but the republicans stripped them out and easily overrode her veto. So we hit the way below rank of 46, where NC has remained ever since.

  • Pensive01 Sep 26, 2014

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    Well since NC does not get any funding whatsoever from the other 49 states, not to mention NC has absolutely no influence on what the legislatures of the other 49 states spend, lumping their spending together with what NC spends isn't relevant. Now if you want to compare what NC spends to what those other countries spend, then have at it.

  • Maurice Pentico Jr. Sep 26, 2014
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    Well we (NC) are part of the US, and the US is part of the world... so when comparing... lets compare the big picture.... what EVERYONE is paying for public education. It puts things into perspective. US Taxpayers and their children are not getting as much for their money as what taxpayers in other countries get.... by a long shot.

  • Pensive01 Sep 26, 2014

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    This is dealing with what is spent by NC, so why are you adding the other 49 states into the picture?

  • PanthersFan45 Sep 26, 2014

    Those blaming the Republicans have not been paying attention since Jim Hunt left office back in 2000. He was instrumental in bringing North Carolina teacher pay to the national average, classroom size, etc .... The slide accelerated under Easly and Perdue and they had democratic control of all branches during some of those years. Of course there will NO MENTION of that by those on the left.

  • Pensive01 Sep 26, 2014

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    This is an article dealing with NC education spending, a fact you seem to have missed entirely with your bringing up what the US spends. You also conveniently fail to mention that the US figure is an average that is based on what all 50 states spend on education, so your use of it as a comparison is meaningless in the context of the article. A more valid comparison would be what NC is spending compared to the spending in the other 49 states, and leave the rest of the world out of it entirely.

  • Maurice Pentico Jr. Sep 26, 2014
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    The United States spends the most per pupil on education in the world.... yet our children test scores are lower. The US pays its teachers on par... or even a bit more than the rest of the world... yet many countries have better educated and specialized teachers... and the children do better overall. Clearly the liberal myth that throwing more and more tax dollars a problem will cure it... is simply not true. The entire way we deal with public education in this country needs to be overhauled, so that true competition exists, and that parents/students view education and its costs more realistically. Parents dont write checks each month to a school that isnt performing well or cant teach their child. Parents writing checks are also far more involved in the education process.

  • Dukefan1 Sep 26, 2014

    One to 400 is a joke. In my school district it is one to 750! I could respond to so many of these comments here, but I will refrain.