Manual to hire full-time mental health counselor

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Manual to hire full-time mental health counselor

Piper Hansen

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Manual will welcome a new mental health practitioner to the faculty for the 2019-2020 school year due to new district funding.

The district is also providing funds for hiring an instructional coach, part-time Exceptional Child Education implementation coach and part-time In-School Adjustment Program teacher.

At a budget meeting on Feb. 4, Manual’s department chairs discussed the ways in which money from the district’s section seven funding program, which provides money for projects based on the needs of students in specific schools, will be used to support the new employees.

Prior to being hired as Manual’s principal, Mr. Darryl Farmer served as principal and Budget Committee chair at Ramsey Middle School. At Ramsey, Farmer made sure that the section seven funds were used to hire and pay a community school liaison because the school needed more help in that area.

In November of last year, JCPS Superintendent Dr. Marty Pollio hoped to “provide more mental health and behavioral supports for students” despite receiving no new funds in the budget, according to Insider Louisville.

During the November meeting with the School Safety Working Group, Pollio said that JCPS had less than 70 mental health professionals for 155 schools. WLKY reported that “Pollio […] believes mental health counseling is every bit as important as security officers or physical security features” and he called for the appointment of one counselor per school.

Pollio “included allocations for the counselors in the draft budget” that was presented to the Board of Education in January and must be reviewed three times before it’s passed, JCPS District Three Board Representative James Craig said. “We don’t yet know what budget sacrifices we’ll need to make to fund the counselors […] but I believe there’s strong consensus among board members that we need these counselors and a willingness to make sacrifices.”

The proposed salary for a single mental health professional is $50,500 per year. With 150 schools in JCPS, the district is looking at spending roughly $7,500,000 on the new counselors.

“We have to acknowledge the growing trend of youth suicide in Kentucky,” Craig said. “The money will be worth it even if we save just one life.”

The National Center for Education Statistics reported during the 2015-2016 school year that 71 percent of public schools anonymously assessed their students for mental health disorders. Only 64 percent of those schools had available treatment.

Students at Manual are more than aware of the issues surrounding mental health in schools. In November of 2017 when Manual administrators first announced Crimson Hour, 173 of 176 surveyed Manual students believed that some of their stress was school-related.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “common mental health disorders in adolescence include those related to anxiety, depression, attention deficit-hyperactivity and eating.”

“I think Manual’s special academic circumstances definitely necessitates a mental health specialist to assist students who need someone to talk to during school,” Andrew Meiners (11, J&C) said.

In 2016, NPR reported that one in five children show signs and symptoms of mental health disorders. When conditions like anxiety, depression and other common adolescent disorders go untreated, they tend to get worse and can even develop into physical conditions according to the American Addiction Center.

The Board of Education believes that JCPS students aren’t receiving the support that they need but if they do, “their lives will significantly improve,” Craig said.

“All high schools should hire a mental health practitioner considering that mental health issues, whether chronic or not, have their onset in teenage years,” Caroline Bowling (12, MST) said.

However, like any new policy or addition to the school’s infrastructure, some students aren’t quite sold on the idea, how it will play out with the number of students at the school and other variables.

“I like the initiative, but I don’t know how much help it would be in getting students to speak up about anything they may be dealing with,” Anabel Magers (10, J&C) said. “I think it depends upon how [the new counselor] acts in the school building and creating a reputation as someone that students can trust.”

In addition, some students think that the new practitioner will be a “good way to remove some pressures from the other counselors,” Meiners said, mentioning how they can focus on preparing students for college, helping with scheduling and other duties.

“I’m hoping that [whoever we bring on has] a level of expertise on adolescence and what a kid is going through […] in a high academic school and the pressures that students face when it comes to wanting to do their best,” Farmer said.

Although there weren’t many dramatic changes to the budget or how Manual will operate this semester due to the impending building renovations, Farmer and the rest of the Budget Committee are making adjustments based on a loss of approximately $1,000 in operational funds.

Manual’s Site-Based Decision Making leaders will move forward by determining budget priorities. More recently, mental health, security, technology and wheelchair accessibility have been prioritized.

At the JCPS Board of Education meeting next Tuesday, members of the board will discuss and approve further plans surrounding job description, implementation and further funding for the new positions.