Due to a shortage of school counselors and a lack of qualified candidates, TUSD will contract with social workers to fill some of those positions next semester.
There were 18 school counselor vacancies across 16 schools in Tucson Unified School District as of Dec. 6. The governing board approved a measure that day that would place about six social workers in eight of those schools.
“We have dangerously close to 20 vacancies right now in our schools and we need urgent action to make sure that our students get the behavioral and emotional health and building (of) student support services that they need,” Superintendent Gabriel Trujillo told the board.
The eight schools that opted to fill their counselor vacancies with social workers are Maldonado, Tolson and Warren elementary schools; Dietz, Hollinger, Roberts-Naylor and Safford K-8 schools; and Secrist Middle School.
People are also reading…
The contractual services for those social workers will be in effect through the second semester of the current school year, which starts in January 2023 and ends in May.
The estimated cost is $49,500 per worker, for a total of about $325,000.
The district didn’t need additional funds to fulfill the plan, but rather approval for flexibility to fill those vacancies, said Julie Shivanonda, director of TUSD’s Social Emotional Learning and Development Department.
The governing board approved the measure unanimously.
“Ideally, we would have TUSD hire permanent staff to fill these positions and vacancies,” board member Ravi Shah said. “But the reality is we need these positions filled yesterday.”
“This is one of those situations that we come across often where we need to do this for reality and we’ll continue working towards the ideal solution down the road,” Shah said.
Need for SEL support
TUSD follows the American School Counselor Association model for school counseling programs, which recommends a ratio of 250 students per counselor.
Currently the district has an average ratio of 500 students to one counselor, though that ratio is much higher on some campuses and other schools don’t have a counselor at all. Additionally, Shivanonda said, there are now zero applicants for the counselor vacancies.
She said TUSD reached out to schools with counselor vacancies to see which were interested in hiring social workers to assist with counseling duties.
“Our schools are seeing an increased need for Tier 1 and Tier 2 SEL (social emotional learning) mental health support,” she said, noting that counselors also often help students with their academic needs.
Tier 1 SEL support helps students with self-regulation, coping and social skills as a prevention-based effort, according to information previously provided by the district. Tier 2 is a combination of prevention and intervention to help groups of students with discipline issues.
Tier 3 implies a stronger focus on intervention for students who need more support than the efforts carried out in Tier 2.
“What we recognize is that social workers also have a unique set of skills and qualifications to be able to support mental health, social emotional learning,” Shivanonda said.
She added that the plan includes helping the social workers to learn and meet the expectations of a school counselor.
Board member Sadie Shaw suggested reaching out to former TUSD school counselors to see if they would be interested in returning to work for the district under the social workers contractual plan.
Trujillo said it can be challenging to bring back former employees, since some may be working for other school districts. But he said the district could amp up its efforts to find retirees who may be willing to return to TUSD for a semester.
“Maybe the idea … to come back for a whole year might be a little overwhelming at the beginning of the year,” board member Adelita Grijalva said. “But maybe for a semester. … If they’ve been retired for a little while, maybe they’d like to come back and hang out with the students.”
Have any questions or news tips about K-12 education in Southern Arizona? Contact reporter Genesis Lara at email@example.com