New counseling positions added to meet students’ mental health needs

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Frisco ISD is adding 44 positions to its guidance and counseling department for the 2018-19 school year to provide counselors with more time to address student mental health needs.

The added positions are part of an effort to be proactive rather than reactive, Guidance and Counseling Director Stephanie Cook said.

Originally there were only nine additional positions being added to the department, but the number of positions increased after the high school mass shootings in Parkland, Florida, and Santa Fe, Texas, and the unveiling of Gov. Greg Abbott’s School and Firearm Safety Plan.

“[These events] shifted the conversation for us to say, ‘What is it that we really need if we don’t look at the money … and doing whatever it took to meet student needs,’ which we had a lot of support from the leadership,” Cook said. “I think the other piece was wanting to be preventative and not just reactive and also anticipating legislative changes.”

The FISD board of trustees approved the positions as part of the budget approval in June. The positions added were six student assistance coordinators, or crisis counselors, and 38 campus instructional support facilitators.

The responsibilities of the student assistance coordinators include individual, group and crisis counseling for students, and connecting families and staff to counseling resources.

One student assistance coordinator will be assigned to two middle schools and a high school.

“We wanted to make sure we had greater capacity to meet mental health needs on the campuses,” Cook said.

The facilitators will create 30,000 minutes of available counseling time per year for each campus, she said.

There will be a facilitator for each middle school and one for every two elementary schools.

High schools already have facilitators.

The facilitators will take on all the non-counseling duties, such as taking over standardized testing for elementary schools and middle schools and overseeing services for students with disabilities.

“[The facilitators are] going to take all those non-counseling-related activities off the counselors so the counselor has the capacity to just serve in the role of the counselor,” Cook said.

Abbott released a wide-range school safety plan in May that included programs for mental health, which would require more of the counselors’ time to focus on mental and behavioral needs. Many of the proposals laid out in the plan would require legislative approval. The Texas Legislature meets in January.

“We could see the direction the state was going, and so we didn’t want to react in a year to maybe some things being mandated by the state,” Cook said.

Cook said the department also has automated its counseling referral process so the counselors have the documentation of every student who has been referred for counseling services. The process includes easy follow-ups with students and families.

“What our counseling queue is going to allow us to do is we’re going to be able to have comprehensive mental health data for every single kid for every single issue that’s been reported by campus,” Cook said. “It puts us way ahead of the curve of whatever Gov. Abbott and [Texas Education Commissioner] Mike Morath legislate because we have the capacity to do it now.”

Cook said the goal is to make sure students have access and connections to resources to receive the help they need without much delay.

Cook said all positions have been  filled, and processes are in place.

“I think we’ll come up with a best-practice model that even exceeds the expectations of the state,” Cook said. “By developing these relationships and connectedness we’ll be able to see if something is not right.”

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