Breakdown of counselors in different school districts and what it means

SEATTLE – If there is one thing we should tell our kids everyday, it’s this.

“If a child is told they are loved 365 days out of the year over and over, it gives them something to live for,” David Lewis said.

Some kids may not be getting that message at home, making adults at school that more vital.

“I think every single student should be positively attached to an adult,” Lewis said.

Lewis is the Director of Behavioral Health at Seattle Public Schools.

With more students at a younger age expressing anxiety and depression, the traditional role of a counselor is changing.

“Our children are taking their lives at record rates in this state and this country,” Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal said.

Reykdal says traditional counselors have been focused on academics, but now the need has expanded to social and emotional learning.

So Reykdal’s main priority in the upcoming legislative session is to convince lawmakers to invest in more school counselors.

“It’s a smarter investment for taxpayers and will reduce overall violence,” Reykdal said.

The state’s recommended ratio is to have 1 counselor to 250 kids.

When you look at OSPI data from 2017 to 2018, districts like Vancouver are in good shape at 1 to 259 students on average.

But counselors in many other school districts have large caseloads.

For example, Walla Walla is at 1 counselor to 705 students. In Northshore, it’s 574 students, in Seattle it’s 402 students and in Tacoma it’s 309 students.

Reykdal says although legislators approved billions more for public education because of the McCleary decision, much of that is going to teacher compensation. And also because of McCleary, the state will start capping local levy dollars for districts starting in January of 2019, something many districts were using to hire counselors.

“I think for some places the focus is academics,” Lewis said. “I think there are schools in districts where the focus is more social and emotional.”

Lewis says a ratio doesn’t give us the full picture.

“It’s not down to the ratio of a counselor per student, but how are we using all of our assets in our community,” Lewis said.

David’s department has trained thousands of educators at Seattle Public Schools on how to recognize a kid in need and how to effectively respond.

“I do believe there are other additional positions that partner with counselors that build a team around students,” Lewis said.

And that’s a strategy more districts are using.

Lake Washington School District is using an outside agency to train employees they already have.

“It’s anyone from the janitors to the librarians to administrators,” Suzanne Peterson with Youth Eastside Services said.

Peterson’s organization contracts with the district and they go into the schools arming employees with information a counselor would know.

“People leave feeling like they actually have, it’s kind of like CPR, it’s the ability to resuscitate someone in a crisis,” Peterson said.

Reykdal says he supports what districts like Lake Washington and Vancouver are doing, but he says schools cannot do it alone and Lewis agrees.

“Every child needs an adult that thinks the world of them in and out of school,” Lewis said.