Counselors Face 'Bigger Issues' Than One Florida

Article excerpt

Guidance counselor Everett Morris isn't worried about explaining to Englewood High School students the One Florida Initiative, which promises college admission to kids who graduate in the top 20 percent of their class.

For Morris and other high school counselors, the challenge is motivating students to care about high school, let alone college.

Last year, more than one-third of all Duval County high school freshmen failed. Guidance counselors are charged with correcting this problem along with their regular duties as the testing coordinator, class scheduler and in many cases, social worker.

"Most of our time is spent on trying to get them to graduate," said Morris, chairman of the guidance department at Englewood. "One Florida is not a real big factor. We have bigger issues to take care of."

Under Gov. Jeb Bush's One Florida, which ends the use of racial preferences in university admissions and state contracting, students who graduate in the top 20 percent of their high school class are guaranteed admission to a state college provided they complete 19 college-prep courses.

For One Florida to be successful, public schools must identify early students who are interested in college and encourage them to take the courses to make them eligible for the guaranteed admission, Lt. Gov. Frank Brogan said.

"The job of prepping kids for college falls back on the the people doing the scheduling," Brogan said. "They can't force students to take certain classes, but the guidance counselors have a responsibility to work for and fight for the child. The idea is to motivate students."

This incitement is key in the state's historically low-performing schools where students typically do not attend college, he added.

Local guidance counselors agree they should provide the stimulus for students to attend college. They realize an ideal time to do so is while scheduling students for next year's classes. But counselors explain they lack the staff to meet with kids one-on-one.

Among the large school systems in Florida, Duval County has the highest number of students assigned per counselor, 634 to 1, according to the state Department of Education. By comparison, Orange County public schools, which is closest in size to Duval with about 128,000 students, has one guidance counselor for every 476 students.

Andrew Jackson has two guidance counselors working with the school's nearly 1,500 students. Rather than meeting with each student individually, the counselors will hold assemblies to explain course offerings for next year.

"I am not sure we are putting forth as much effort as we should because we are short-staffed," said Sharon Stone, guidance department chairwoman at Andrew Jackson. "And to be honest, I really don't think this whole One Florida program is necessary. …