How improving data processing can empower school counselors
What does it take to educate all students for success?
This is the guiding question for teachers, counselors, and administrators across the country, who face challenges like reduced school funding, growing populations of disadvantaged students, and simply not having enough time to do their best work. To get a better understanding of the obstacles and opportunities educators face, the Mesa Cloud team sat down with Nicole Fisher, the Director of Assessment and Accountability for Florida’s Martin County Schools.
Profile of a top ten Florida school district
Mesa Cloud: Tell me about Martin County schools. I believe your district stands out for academic success in Florida?
Fisher: We're considered a small district in Florida, even with almost 20,000 students, and we’re an academically high-performing district. That's a designation from the Florida Department of Education. We were in the top 12 of Florida districts in 2019 when district grades were last awarded. Still, we definitely have our struggles. We have undergone a lot of demographic changes in the last decade or so, with a higher free- and reduced-lunch population and higher subgroup populations. But to us, it's just really important to make sure we help every kid get across the finish line. Our motto is Educate all students for success, and all means all.
Challenges and opportunities for counselors in Martin County
Mesa Cloud: Great mission and I’m sure your school counselors are a big part of that. What’s a typical day like for a counselor in Martin County?
Fisher: We have six counselors per high school, and they’re pulled in an amazing amount of directions. Because we have testing frequently, whether it's a PERT test, or an ACT, or an SAT during the school day, or with our four EOC windows a year, counselors need to figure out who needs to be tested, and they serve as test coordinators frequently. They're working on students' financial aid applications, scholarships, personal statements for college, college counseling, career counseling. And then also, scheduling of students, grade changes, and transcript changes.
Counselors spend a lot of time on these testing and academic portions of their job, but they would like to spend more time getting to know their students and counseling them towards what happens next in their lives. This is the student's finish line of their K to 12 education. And you're basically the steward of it. Trying to help with that college and career component is tough when they’re often bogged down by the more tedious academic aspects of their work.
Managing student graduation requirements with a patchwork SIS
Mesa Cloud: It’s tough when school districts need all that data to make decisions, but it takes a lot of time to input and manage all that information. How did Martin County handle that?
Fisher: We had changed student information systems right before I came on. They were using very basic programming that our technology department was programming themselves. And then, they switched to this web-based SIS called Focus. It was very different than what everybody had used. We had a couple of years of growing pains there, and we still needed to do a lot of customization. Our technology department has written many reports to try to help counselors isolate where there were issues. And not just counselors. Administrators, registrars, data entry, lots of people in my office. But they require you to run them and look at them periodically, and that's an extra step.
Mesa Cloud: Sounds like a lot of manual processes. How did that affect students?
Fisher: Very often, kids scheduled into the same class twice would not be caught until after completing the class a second time. And then, students who were entitled to some grade averaging where it wouldn't happen. There was a graduation requirements report in our SIS, but it wasn't always accurate for the credit nuances that we needed. We could never get the nuances adjusted, so everybody could feel comfortable that the report they saw was actually correct. And so, they would run the report and then still have to look at every kid. It was a very manual, slow way that we ensured students had everything they needed.
Mesa Cloud: It seems like your counselors were in a tough position.
Fisher: Yes, the most challenging part of their jobs are all the requirements; all the things that they’re trying to keep track of for students. It’s tough on administrators too. Increasing the graduation rate is a major part of our strategic plan because it unlocks further opportunities for those students. We've known that the high school data is a problem, and we don’t want any kids to slip through the cracks. We needed a more streamlined, efficient way for counselors to correct students’ issues so that counselors can spend more time on that social/emotional counseling aspect.