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Superintendents weigh in on SOQ

On Oct. 17 the Virginia Board of Education proposed new Standards of Quality (SOQ) for public schools across the commonwealth.

Amy Griffin

The SOQ describe the foundational instructional programs and support services that all schools must provide and drive approximately 85% of state funding for local school divisions.

The new proposed standards, if approved and enacted by Gov. Ralph S. Northam and the 2020 General Assembly, include several updated requirements in staffing ratios. Some of these requirements include providing one full-time school counselor for every 250 students, requiring a full-time principal in every elementary school and requiring a full-time assistant principal for every 400 students.

While many public schools across the state are already in compliance with some of the newly-prescribed standards, others may have to hire and find funding for new employees. The proposed ratio of one full-time school counselor for every 250 students would affect local school districts in particular.

Superintendent of Cumberland County Public Schools (CuCPS) Dr. Amy Griffin cited that while she agrees with the staffing recommendations by the board, the school district may temporarily struggle to find additional full-time counselors should the 2020 General Assembly improve the legislation required to enact new SOQ.

“I am in agreement with these recommendations, of course. You know, I want to see an assistant principal and a principal in every school building, and I would love to see a school counselor for every 250 students,” said Griffin. “We meet the assistant principal and the principal, that ratio. Right now we do not meet the school counselor ratio, and we’ve been advertising for a school counselor but have not been able to find one. There’s a shortage of licensed school counselors right now.”

“I do feel like it’s needed with the mental health issues our students experience and all of the college and career planning that they need to do,” Griffin continued, “So I definitely think it’s necessary, it’s just that we’re going to struggle to find licenced school counselors, and we’ll struggle with the funding unless more funds with the state come with it. We’ll struggle on the local side of funding that.”

Griffin highlighted that CuCPS currently employs three full-time school counselors and has been proactive in seeking to hire a fourth counselor that would allow the district to meet these proposed standards, although the process has proven difficult. She also stated that while a fourth counselor would meet new requirements, a fifth counselor would be ideal.

“We could get four, which we’re advertising for the first one, but it would be great to have five. It would be nice to have two down at the elementary school and then have the three at the middle/high school level,” Griffin added.

“We do have some other supports in place that are helping,” she stated. In addition to the three full-time school counselors, CuCPS also has resources like career coaches, a financial aid coordinator and a career development specialist for high school students, as well as a behavior specialist for the elementary school.

Griffin stated that she didn’t believe these other resources would count as school counselors or help meet SOQ staffing requirements regarding counselors. “I would love to see flexibility around some of that so you can hire what you need,” she added.

Daisy Hicks

Superintendent of Buckingham County Public Schools (BCPS) Dr. Daisy Hicks had similar feelings about the prescribed standards, stating that while BCPS meets the staffing ratios for principals and assistant principals, the school division would have to hire more counselors if legislation passes. “In addition to what I have now, we definitely would have to hire at least one more and possibly two,” said Hicks.

She added, “That would have a huge impact, especially if they’re not going to mandate any state funding for that. That could be a huge impact on Buckingham County School’s budget, as well as trying to find those people, because I know everybody else in the surrounding divisions would be looking for those same types of positions, and with the shortages of school counselors and school psychologists, it would be an issue.”

Hicks shared the feelings of Griffin, stating that she hoped to see some flexibility in the state’s staffing requirements. “It would be great if they gave us the option to determine our own staffing needs based on the fact that we could hire a behavior specialist, social workers, whatever we determine as the division what our needs would be versus just saying school counselors,” added Hicks.

Hicks highlighted her hopes that state funding would be allocated for the new standards if enacted. “And I can’t express that enough about it being state funded,” she stated, “because again, in localities we’re already struggling with money with funding for those positions … That’s always not pleasant in the budget session when you have mandates that you have to meet but there’s no funding for those mandates other than what our local counties can give, and as we know being in a rural area that’s always an issue or concern.”

The Farmville Herald reached out several times by phone and email to Prince Edward County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Barbara Johnson for comment on the proposed standards, but did not hear back as of press time.