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St. Helens schools to add counseling, attendance staff

SHHS counselors successful in lobbying for reinforcements


Photo Credit: MARK MILLER - Aaron Fugere and Kerry Marshall-Knight (right and far right) address the board of directors for the St. Helens School District and Superintendent Mark Davalos (center-left) on Wednesday, Sept. 10. Fugere and Marshall-Knight, who work as counselors at St. Helens High School, argued the district needs to add counseling staff at their school and St. Helens Middle School. The board agreed, bumping half-time counseling positions at each school up to full-time.St. Helens High School and St. Helens Middle School will both have an additional full-time counselor, Lewis & Clark and McBride elementary schools will get part-time aides to improve student attendance rates, and St. Helens High’s student intervention specialist will become a full-time staff member under a resolution approved by the school board on Wednesday, Sept. 10.

The St. Helens School District board of directors moved, at the recommendation of Superintendent Mark Davalos, to reassign funding it previously set aside for positions that were never filled. While Jeff Howell and other board members have been pushing for increased attendance support staff for months, the discussion at Wednesday’s meeting came after St. Helens High counselors testified to ask for more support.

Kerry Marshall-Knight, appearing before the board alongside fellow counselor Aaron Fugere, read a strongly worded letter in which she described feeling “heartsick” and “exploited and devalued” by the school district.

“I take great pride in the work I do for you, but I find it increasingly difficult to do my job in a comprehensive, proactive manner,” Marshall-Knight said. “You’re lucky to have me. I come in early and I leave late, and I’m damn good at my job. You can increase support, and I expect you to do so, in attendance and counseling.”

St. Helens High currently has two full-time counselors and one part-time counselor, while St. Helens Middle has one full-time counselor and one part-time counselor. The resolution adopted by the board Wednesday bumps those part-time positions up to full-time positions; Davalos said new counselors will be hired to fill them.

Fugere listed a number of tasks that school counselors perform, including changing student schedules, making sure students are on track to graduate, dealing with mental health issues, coordinating student evaluations, adjusting teachers’ class loads and more.

“There’s no question that you’re overworked,” Gordon Jarman, chairman of the school board, observed.

Howell moved that the board formally approve the reallocation of money in the budget to provide the additional counseling and attendance staff.

“These are pressing problems that impact our students and our schools,” said Howell.

It is one of the district’s stated goals to improve attendance in all grade levels, as well as among students at risk of falling behind in their education, during this school year.

After the meeting, Marshall-Knight said she was happy with the board’s decision.

“I feel fabulous,” said Marshall-Knight, who said she has worked at the school district for 16 years and is entering her sixth year at St. Helens High. “I feel supported and valued.”

Marshall-Knight said the third full-time counselor will allow her more “face-to-face” interaction with students and help the counseling staff to be “more proactive.”

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