JCPS Sign

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- The Jefferson County Board of Education unanimously passed new job descriptions for mental health practitioners Tuesday, paving the way for Kentucky’s largest school district to more than double the number of such counselors available for students.

Jefferson County Public Schools Superintendent Marty Pollio said the additional mental health counselors and two other new job descriptions passed by the board Tuesday, for special education implementation coaches and academic instructional coaches, are part of a broader effort to improve outcomes for students and give them better access to needed resources.

“It would be much simpler to travel down the path of complacency and keeping continuing to do what we are doing, but we are asking for courageous conversations and decisions to be made that won’t just be minimal changes to our district but instead long-term, lasting and sustainable changes that change outcomes for our students,” Pollio told the board.

Pollio has said the district’s preliminary budget gives schools additional money to hire more mental health counselors.

His plan calls for a practitioner in every high and middle school and in every elementary school identified for targeted or comprehensive supports by the Kentucky Department of Education. Other elementary schools would share a mental health counselor.

Those hired as mental health practitioners for the 2019-20 school year will be responsible for providing group- and individual-level interventions, engaging with families of students who need help, and training and consulting with school staff, among other job duties listed in the description.

Board members voiced their support for the push to hire more mental health professionals. Ben Gies, who represents District 4, said he told principals in his district that “mental health enjoys a chorus of support from the board.”

“Frankly I consider it to be a moral imperative of our district in these times that we find ourselves in,” he said.

Board Chair Diane Porter, who represents District 1, said she hoped to see the district direct mental health professionals and others hired into newly created jobs placed where they’re most needed.

“If we’re trying to help, let’s really help put the people in place and the resources in place to get the work done,” she said. “I commend us for what we’re doing, but I want to make sure that we are taking care of the needs of every child, not just based on high, middle and elementary school.”

“I can assure you of this: We will not fail at this,” Pollio responded. “We will not, and so if we find we have a school that needs additional support in this, we will provide it to them.”

The school board’s  to expand the presence of mental health counselors in JCPS comes less than a week after lawmakers on the Senate Education Committee altered portions of Senate Bill 1 that originally called for school districts to hire more mental health practitioners as part of broader school security efforts.

Instead, SB 1 would require districts to hire more school counselors by July 1, 2021, as funds are available and greatly reduce their workloads from a counselor for every 1,500 students to one for every 250 students.

Sen. Max Wise, a Campbellsville Republican who sponsors SB 1 and chairs the education committee, said after Thursday’s meeting that counselors were better suited to handle tasks like leading schools’ trauma-informed care teams because they’re more familiar with students.

The Senate unanimously passed the amended version of SB 1 Friday.

Reach reporter Kevin Wheatley at 502-585-0838 and kwheatley@wdrb.com. Follow him on Twitter @KevinWheatleyKY.

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