The Use of Data for Sustainability of Grant-Funded School Counselors

Grant funded school counselor? Learn how to use data to benefit your school site, students, community and eventually sustain employment as a permanent school counselor.
This month's blog post is written by Andres Castro - CASC Northern California Representative.
Grant funded school counselor? Learn how to use data to benefit your school site, students, community and eventually sustain employment as a permanent school counselor. A two year grant-funded school counselor himself as well as the Northern CA Representative for CASC, Andres Castro explains how the use of data can potentially lead to long-term status once grant funding ceases.
My official work title is "Two year grant-funded elementary school counselor." Don't get me wrong, I am honored to be employed as an elementary school counselor, personally it is a dream come true; the fact, though, that I am grant-funded and already on the midpoint of year two, has me diligently gathering, collecting, analyzing, and presenting data and research with the dual intention of upholding the principles that govern our career per the California Standards for the School Counseling Profession and ASCA National Model and also to continue employment serving in the role of an elementary school counselor post-grant funding. It is all too easy to fall into a routine that can sequentially lead into burn-out and blur the line of what are actual school counselor duties and where time is mostly spent.  A good manner in which this can be potentially thwarted is by structuring your school counselor program around the priorities by which the grant was written.  For example, my grant emphasizes the following three areas: Academics, Attendance, and Discipline, therefore, in order to address the priorities of the grant and ensure that the goals and objectives of the grant were met, I need to revolve my program in a manner that would make accountability clear.
The amazing aspect of addressing the priorities of the grant, is that the delivery of school counselor services in terms of individual/group counseling as well as classroom intentional guidance lessons all overlap with one another.  Once the first trimester ends, I gather report cards from the teachers and sort out the students with two or more N&'s (Needs improvement), contact their parents and work with them in small groups that focus on the academic realm while also addressing responsibility, work ethic, social skill building and organization.  The West Virginia Department of Education website contains many resources that can provide help for small counseling groups in this regard.  The individual student(s) goals can be in the form of homework completion for one week as well as organization of space and materials.  The difference from one trimester to the next in terms of the number of N&'s on the report cards of the students with whom I worked with is a strong determinant of the effectiveness of service delivery; it also sets the pace for the next plan of action when rendering services in the next trimester.  
When addressing attendance, I run a daily query from our student data management system to see which students have an unexcused absence for that day.  A connection to home is necessary, therefore I contact the parent/legal guardian to explain that it is necessary that they call the school each and every time their child is absent.  It could very well be a given that the parent is fully aware of the protocol, however making that connection with said parent via a phone call is a gesture of consideration and a maintaining of communication, it also allows the parent to see that the school counselor is at their side.  An initial challenge I had with the aspect of attendance was SARB (Student Attendance Review Board); I had to ensure that I ran SARB letters from the data management system in a fashion that correlated with the months within the school year as well as with the SARB referral calendar.  This experience can virtually build a strong professional relationship with the school counselor and the office staff because there is a collective effort to reduce truancies and increase parent awareness with regards to unjustified absences.  A possible suggestion to offer to the Principal with regards to attendance is the thought of Saturday school for students to make up absences.  Although funds from ADA (Average Daily Attendance) will not be immediately disbursed to your school, the lasting fruits of your labor from this effort is garnering support from parents and increasing student attendance.
In the realm of discipline, I found that configurations were the underlying fabric in this concerning aspect.  In the 2013 CASC Conference, one of the workshops that I had the pleasure of attending was about PBIS (Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports) and effective tools and strategies when addressing student discipline and behavior.  The two facilitators (Suzy and Jackie) shared with us the concept of “The Dashboard” which is a spreadsheet of sorts that visually provides specific details of a particular discipline referral and then builds on further indicators as new referrals come in, thus pinpointing the location, time, incident, and then providing even more information in the form of graphs, tables, charts all the while maintaining pertinent information about office referrals, suspicions and the like.  
After receiving that vital piece of information from the conference, I was quick to inform my grant coordinator, my Principal, and District personnel.  Eventually, contact was made with a local PBIS trainer to provide a district-wide professional development day directed around PBIS.  Recently, our school began piloting a new data management system that allows for the PBIS dashboard system to come into effect and I was given the task of performing the data entry for our school site, we are the only school in our district to take part in this endeavor. 
Having buy-in and support from the school community with regards to PBIS is essential when working towards the discipline reduction rate because the same vision is shared and the students&' best interests are at heart.  Having made that connection with Suzy and Jackie as the PBIS trainers from the CASC conference allowed me access to an array of resources that I was able to share with my district and it helped me get more involved with the office of education within my county, thus I am able to lend my perspective as a school counselor to mental health collaborative meetings, pupil personnel services meetings, district committee meetings, and work with staff in implementing PBIS tools and strategies with students in the Tier II and III realm.
I want nothing more than for my position as a school counselor at my school district to remain long-term once the terms of the grant cease; in order to ensure that, though, I must establish the positive and lasting effects that a school counselor has on their school community.    I strongly urge you to attend the 2014 CASC Conference in San Diego on November 14th and 15th.  I am very pleased to say that Suzy and Jackie will facilitate a workshop about PBIS, it is definitely worth attending!
Please feel free to contact me and share your thoughts, feelings, suggestions, recommendations, and the like.  You can contact me at the following email: 
I appreciate your time and consideration, looking forward to seeing you on the 14th and 15th at the CASC Conference!