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District's counselors give board overview of efforts to improve services

Charged with establishing an "expectation of excellence with accountability," the counseling staff in the Sweet Home School District briefed the School Board on Tuesday on their efforts to improve counseling services districtwide while devising ways to track their efforts.

Counselors have spent much of the past year working on how to meet these goals, according to Mike Baumann, the district's assistant superintendent for human resources and planning.

Now, with the Dignity for All Student Act anti-bullying legislation set to take effect in 2012, there is even more for counselors to consider, Baumann said. The key, he said, is to reach every student and ensure that students get what they need to succeed.

At the elementary level, counselors at all four schools step into every classroom and devote time to character education and pro-social skill development, according to Donna Sperrazza, an elementary counselor in the district. Counselors at that level help students get along better while improving academically, she said.

Once students transfer to middle school, bullying really begins to take hold -- particularly in electronic form, according to middle school counselor Pat Kumm.

"There are so many students who just don't realize the impact that their texting is having," said Kumm, who also cited the "pollution over cyberspace" of social networking, upon which issues often initiate at home and then fester before affecting time in the classroom.

In addition to assisting parents in getting involved in their children's online lives, middle school counselors also train students and faculty members in how to defuse potentially dangerous situations and promote social awareness, she said. This is especially important, Baumann said, because of the irony that often sprouts from Internet-proficient students.

"Kids who communicate quite well electronically, when you put them in a room with each other, they can't talk to each other," he said of middle schoolers. "They can't get across the point they want to make to each other."

That issue carries over into the high school, said counselor Scott Harriger, as does the prevalence of soured friendships and romances that often leads to problems for students. In addition, he has seen a "tremendous increase" in the number of instances of involvement with Child Protective Services at the high school, which he attributed in part to increased mandates by CPS workers to follow up more thoroughly with students.

While the main goal is to improve students' lives in these areas, counselors are also working on how to measure their results. They plan to use a combination of student/staff surveys, tally of disciplinary referrals and staff development to monitor themselves, Baumann said -- all measures that, while soon to be required by the DASA, Sweet Home has already considered for months if not years.

In addition, counselors look to maintain several positive trends. Graduation rates hve climbed the past three years, peaking at 93 percent in 2010, Harriger said, while every student is counseled individually to set and keep an academic plan.

For complete coverage, go to buffalonews.com/amherst.

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