By Mike Kruzman /

A recent decision to shift a counselor with Hartland Consolidated Schools within the district has some teachers concerned that it will have a negative effect at the high school.

In 2018, the district agreed to support hiring a fifth counselor at Hartland High School on the condition that LEGACY and Virtual Academy students were served by that staff. An email to WHMI from Superintendent Chuck Hughes states that to date that has not worked out as well as planned, requiring the district to continuing looking at how they can support those students. On top of that, a need for additional support at the middle school level has become apparent. In an effort to help this, next year the district is moving one high school counselor to float between LEGACY and Ore Creek Middle School.

At a recent Board of Education meeting, a pair of Hartland teachers spoke during public comment, concerned about losing a high school counselor. Karen Quinn said that in a pandemic year, where social-emotional support is so important, reducing the number of counselors places added stress on already overworked teachers who will be forced to fill that role. She said, “When teachers are dealing with the mental health aspects of students, it pulls us from our classrooms. This year I have received countless emails from parents addressing the mental health of students. It’s not going to go away next year. It’s only going to intensify.”

Quinn said she would typically applaud this move and that LEGACY and Ore Creek are in dire need of this help, but by moving a counselor instead of hiring a counselor is leaving the high school shorthanded. She reported The American School Counselor’s Association recommends numbers of 1 counselor per 250 students. Quinn said they are currently at 1 in 375, and estimated next year to be 1 in 460. To compare with other Livingston County high schools, Quinn said Brighton has 5 counselors, Howell has 7, and Hartland will be dropping to 4.

Fellow teacher Barb Johnston agreed, not wanting to downplay the importance of counselors at other schools, but said this said this does hamper teachers as much as it does the students. Johnston said the when she sees a student struggling in the classroom, her first course of action is to contact a counselor and see if there is something going on in the child’s life. She said sometimes the info is confidential and when that happens, “the counselor will touch base with the student so that the student does not feel alone or helpless. One less counselor means one less specially trained adult meeting with students and helping teachers navigate students’ health and well-being.”

Johnston said they don’t know what the next school year will look like, but she guarantees they will be dealing with the social-emotional and academic fallout for years to come.

Superintendent Hughes, in his email, said since the addition of the 5th counselor in 2018, they have added a full time social worker and next year (2021-2022) committed to a full time psychologist on top of the District Student Support Coordinator who spends the majority of her time at the high school working with the homeless, foster care, and students in need of intervention as well as parent programming and representing the district on county-wide social and mental health collaboratives. They have also added a counselor to FIS and committed to a full time psychologist or social worker in each of their additional buildings.

Hughes said the district is heavily invested in providing support systems for the ever-growing needs in the social emotional realm while being aware of fiscal responsibilities, which includes continued investment and support at the high school.

The Superintendent said that while total enrollment numbers at the high school indicate a decline over the next few years due to smaller class sized in the lower grades, the district is committed to reevaluating this move if they are incorrect in enrollment projections.