Several Waxahachie High School counselors were on hand during Monday night’s school board workshop to address the board and administration – and to request additional personnel so they can better serve the student population.
“We need a crisis counselor,” Ramona Leonhart said. “There are only seven of us and we need help.”
She noted that each counselor is assigned 350 or more students.
“I don’t have the time to learn all of their names,” she said of the current workload that sees the school counselors working with class schedules and academic issues while also overseeing testing.
“We work well together and we’re an amazing team,” Leonhart said, noting, however, that when a student walks in and indicates that he or she is in crisis, more than one counselor has to be diverted to assist.
A full-time crisis counselor also would have the licensed professional counseling credential as well as the training to better assist a student in crisis as opposed to a school counselor whose expertise and training are related to academics.
“We are trained as school counselors – and there’s a difference between being a school counselor and being an LPC,” she said.
While some of the counselors, including herself, do have their LPC, there remains a high need to provide help and support for students, Leonhart said of the need for a dedicated crisis counselor at the high school.
“We don’t have the resources and the staff,” she said, noting that while the counselors are able to run some groups and sessions, “How many other kids do we have needing services [that are unidentified]? … All of our kids who walk into our buildings have a story.”
During the discussion, it was noted that the recently adjourned 86th Legislature saw the passage of Senate Bill 11, which provides funding for school safety and security measures, including those related to student mental health.
SB 11 was signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott on June 6 and took immediate effect.
The legislative session’s impact on public schools, including how their funding will be affected, continues to unfold, however, with assistant superintendent of business and finance Ryan Kahlden saying that districts are still determining what their funding will be now that the legislative session has concluded.
The counselors made their request during a workshop presentation by deputy superintendent Lee Auvenshine on the district’s safety and security plan. Since its August 2018 adoption, the administration has provided information on the 13-point plan’s progress to the board every four months.
Relating to security staffing, Auvenshine said two additional personnel will be hired for the high school for the upcoming school year, along with a clerical/dispatch person who will assist in monitoring the district’s video cameras.
He also noted that the video feeds are being connected with the Waxahachie Police Department so it will have immediate access in the event of an incident.
“The police department will have access to the video system,” he said. “They will be able to know what’s happening inside before they even arrive.”
Upon its adoption, the plan called for the hiring of a second school resource officer. That SRO was hired and in place throughout the 2018-2019 school year, with Auvenshine noting a third SRO is not being requested at this time.
He highlighted the success of one of the plan’s points, which was to implement a program that encourages first responders and law enforcement to have more of a presence on the district’s campuses by offering them work space and lunch.
“I think you’ve seen a much higher police presence on our campuses – and for a good reason,” Auvenshine said of the program’s success this past school year.
The district has also implemented its participation in the state-approved marshal program, which has at least one person fulfilling that role at each campus and with multiple people in that capacity at the high school.
Although approved by the board to implement, the similar, state-approved guardian program has not been put into action due to the district having its marshals in place, Auvenshine said.