Wednesday, December 3, 2014

School Counselor Summit II: Big Teams, Big Plans, Big Possibilities

By: Patrick O'Connor Ph.D

The White House initiative to strengthen school counselors and college access took a big step forward, when development teams from 30 states convened at the San Diego State University in mid-November to share and develop ideas on how to improve college access, readiness, and completion.  The first White House summit this summer offered 125 attendees insights into best practices in improved counselor readiness in college counseling. The November summit brought together about 400 participants with the goal of taking the broad framework established this summer and building a foundation for growth to meet the individual needs of their state.
The San Diego State gathering was notable for three reasons.  First and foremost, there were far more school counselors present at this second summit.  This was an important advancement, since it brought the voice of school counselors into the discussion of college access innovation in a way it has not been included before.  With such a large school counselor presence in the discussion and construction of state-based plans to improve counselor training and college access, it is more likely these plans will have attainable goals that will be reached through programs and policies that will realistically advance school counselors and their training from where they are now to where they want to be, all in the interest of helping students make better college choices.
A second important component of November’s meeting was the variety of other educators and education partners.  Invitation to the San Diego State summit was predicated on having a group of advocates who could not only plan change in college access, but deliver on those plans as well.  As a result, many state teams included school superintendents (Including one state superintendent), principals, state-based policy makers, and a surprising number of counselor educators.  The strong presence of this last group was particularly encouraging, since interest among counselor educators in improving counselor training in college advising has been significantly absent in many regions of the country.  Their attendance last week suggests systemic change in graduate school training of counselors may at last be at hand.
Finally, the state-based goals announced at the November summit represented a wide array of approaches that are needed in the field of college access.  From increasing the number of well-trained school counselors to improving counselor training to emulating successful models of increased college attainment, development teams used the inspiration and resources of this national convening to focus on the challenges counselors and students were facing back home.  The end result promises to be a variety of state-based solutions to a host of challenges facing counselors interested in raising college attendance and completion rates, with each successful approach likely to be structured in a way that could be implemented by other states.  Since education has always been a state-based responsibility in the US, the labors of the development teams promise to bring greater focus and autonomy to college access policy at the state level.
The next White House-led meeting of counselor advocates is scheduled for December, when select state leaders descend on Washington to announce the commitments their state is willing to make in the interest of helping more students make strong college choices, and supporting the counselors who work with these students and families.  This next gathering is likely to be smaller than the convening at San Diego State, but since many of the initiatives announced in December will be the result of the work of the teams meeting In November, it’s more than safe to say the impact of the San Diego State summit will resonate in Washington—and beyond—for quite some time.

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