The Juneau School District has extended the contracts of three problem solvers to address the district's dropout rate.
Three counselors were hired last year after the Strategic Plan Committee recommended that Juneau-Douglas High School, Floyd Dryden Middle School and Dzantik'I Heeni Middle School each have another counselor to affect student graduation rates.
"That's the big goal, is to affect the overall dropout rate," said Barb Conant, the new counselor at JDHS. "And I think personally, that being the umbrella, it goes beyond that to help kids find a meaningful and successful experience at the high school."
Superintendent Peggy Cowan said many of the students that are dropping out are doing well on standardized tests but are "slipping through the cracks" in school. These three counseling positions have helped lighten the caseloads for the other counselors and hopefully will have an impact on the graduation rates, she said.
"The counselors still have huge caseloads, and still have more students than we would like them to, but this is a step in the right direction to better serve students," she said.
Cowan said the Legislature provided extra money last year that enabled the district to maintain the three new counseling positions.
"We didn't make any cuts because we were able to add these positions and lower class sizes, but we didn't get new textbooks like we had hoped," she said.
Cowan said it will take time to see if these positions help the overall goal of graduating more students.
"One of the things that we will be doing is collecting data so we can learn if these additional positions do make a difference," she said. "A lot of education is not a quick turnaround, so we may need to get multiple years of data to see how things have changed."
Ray Malaby, a longtime counselor at Floyd Dryden, said he has seen an immediate affect in his job.
"If you take the overall load and divide it in half, that says it all right there," he said. "They were far below national standards. Having one counselor for 600 kids is unacceptable ... . I'm really happy they decided that we did need more counseling."
Floyd Dryden Principal Tom Milliron said the new middle school counselor at his school has been able to focus on eighth graders and getting them ready to make the transition to high school.
"I wanted the focus of this second counselor to be on lowering the dropout rate and ensuring a high graduation rate," he said.
Conant said the extra counseling position lets them connect with students in more ways and will give them a better chance to connect with students before they decide to drop out.
"We're being more proactive in intervening with students and being more available," she said.
Malaby said the counselors are a vital part of the team that leads to a successful education.
"I think the counseling program is as important as any of the academics ... . There are things you can't teach in a classroom," he said.
Conant said the three new counselors in the district will help out tremendously.
"I think they're very important, and I think we're an important part of the team," she said. "We're problem solvers."
Cowan said JDHS will get even more counseling assistance in the near future. She said the district has received two counseling grants, one to focus on substance abuse and the other for counseling support.
"There are more counseling services for their students at all three buildings and this serves as a good reminder if their students need counseling for school (parents) should call on them," she said.