Burbank school counselor program could be revived after a decade

Burbank school officials this week considered reviving a position that hasn't existed for more than 10 years, but it would initially be funded by parents and not available to all schools.

In the 1990s, guidance counselors served students across the district, working with them in small groups or individually in classrooms or on playgrounds.

But the district did away with all of those positions in 2004.

At the end of last school year, two elementary principals suggested bringing back the guidance counselors.

Jennifer Meglemre, principal at Roosevelt Elementary, and Sandra De Barros, principal at Jefferson Elementary, suggested sharing one counselor and paying for the position with funds raised by PTA and booster clubs under a one-year pilot.

Parents at each of the schools have already raised about $30,000 each, according to a district report. Meglemre said the parents had previously set aside the money to pay the salary of a computer lab technician, but that position is now funded by the district.

With that money already available, the principals hoped they could use it to pay for the counselor, who would meet with at-risk students, those who frequently miss school or visit the nurses' office on a routine basis.

Meglemre said she often sees students who have run into trouble with others on the playground, but it can be difficult to follow up with them because of other priorities and time constraints.

"There are kids that come to me after recess because they've had some conflict with another student on the playground and they're brought to me for discipline and I end up doing conflict resolution with those kids…a couple weeks later, they're back again," she told the school board on Thursday. "What really needs to happen is there needs to be somebody in between that is checking in with them."

While school board members recognized the need for the position, some were concerned about the lack of equity it could create because the guidance counselor won't be available to all 11 elementary schools in the district.

"When you talk about the welfare of kids and things that are going to benefit and enhance their opportunities for success, it should be universal in the district, not just where it can be afforded," school board member Dave Kemp said.

Even so, other members supported the test run. "Sometimes you just need to do something and see how it goes, and it's perfectly OK to tweak things, in my opinion, as you go along," school board member Charlene Tabet said. "I'd like to see you give it a try."

School board president Roberta Reynolds and member Larry Applebaum urged Meglemre to return to the board with specific ways the schools could measure the pilot's success.

Meglemre said she would monitor how many times students visit the principal's office and nurse, saying that children's stomach aches often manifest from their anxious feelings over certain academic struggles. She said she would also keep track of their attendance and discipline records.

Assistant Supt. Tom Kissinger said the schools could also survey parents and teachers about the effectiveness of the counselor, if the position is approved by the school board.

Board members will review creating the position in the coming weeks.

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