Solana Beach Schools to add school counselors to support students


The Solana Beach School District board approved increasing staffing to support its comprehensive social and emotional learning program, to help students in need and equip children with the tools they need to successfully respond to the challenges they will face in middle school, high school and beyond.

At its May 23 meeting, the board approved five school counselors to support the district’s seven sites as well as four guidance assistants across all schools. Currently the district has one school counselor at Skyline School and six guidance assistants.

“We are increasing services for school counselors but decreasing the number of guidance assistants because our goal is to provide services for all students daily,” said Sabrina Lee, assistant superintendent of instructional services. “The school counselor position requires another credential above what current guidance assistants may or may not have at this time.”

Utilizing a team approach along with a school psychologist, the district is looking at having two full-time counselors split between four sites and counselors at the larger schools 80 percent of the time.

“We really are committed to meeting the needs of all students,” Lee said of the goal to provide a baseline of support for all, additional support for some, and more intensive services for the few to address issues such as anxiety, defiance, bullying and aggressive behavior. “I’m so excited to see what we have in store for this next year.”

Solana Beach School District Board President Julie Union credited Clerk Debra Schade for advocating to add $350,000 into the budget last year to develop a comprehensive health and guidance program, “that was the catalyst for action.” Workshops were held throughout fall 2018 and since February, district staff has fine-tuned its plan and gathered feedback from stakeholder engagement groups. Last week they also held a student focus group meeting with 24 kids from Solana Vista and plan to hold more in the future.

“Once again our district is on the forefront,” said Union. “This work is very vital and the earlier we can reach our students and parents the better, before they hit middle school and high school. I really appreciate that we’re attacking this now in elementary school.”

Schade’s goal was to become a model for school districts in San Diego and across the state and even before implementation, she believes they are meeting that goal. Schade said she has been contacted by many colleagues asking about Solana Beach’s approach and how they were able to “move the needle.”

“We really are making a difference for kids in California because other districts are listening,” Schade said.

During the board’s discussion of the plan, Schade did express concerns about the staffing levels as she would like to see a full-time counselor at all sites and she was not sure four guidance assistants would be enough to cover all the schools. Board member Gaylin Allbaugh agreed with Scahde to use this year as a pilot to monitor the success regarding splitting the assistants between schools.

“More is always better but maybe we’ll learn that we can make it work back and forth,” Allbaugh said. “I’ve heard sentiments both from families and staff alike that building relationships with a guidance assistant and/or a counselor is imperative to the success of social emotional learning especially with some.”

Lee said they have taken a thoughtful approach to the way they are assigning splits, such as assistants that cover both Solana Pacific and its feeder school Solana Highlands to provide continuity. Lee said the district’s goal with the team approach is that all students feel connected to a trusted adult on campus —everyone on campus, including the custodial and secretarial staff, will be trained and a part of the program to create a culture where all students feel safe, valued and appreciated.

In addition to approving the staffing increases, the board also approved the use of a universal screener beginning in the fall—a series of questions administered by the teachers.

“The purpose of the universal screener is to really identify students who need additional social and emotional supports who otherwise may fly under the radar,” Lee said.

The district also plans to pilot the free Sanford Harmony Buddy Up and Meet Up teaching program at select sites. During Meet Up, students and teachers meet in a circle to share ideas and experiences, classroom goals, solve problems and participate in team building activities using Sanford quick connection cards. Buddy Up is a peer buddy system designed to bring students together to participate in activities or conversations using the cards.

Over the last two years, Torrey Pines High School has used the middle school and high school version of the Sanford professional development program, Sanford Inspire.