Principals from Burlington’s four elementary schools urged the Burlington School Committee to prioritize additional staff to support students’ behavioral and emotional needs, in part due to post-pandemic mental health challenges.
The requests came at a marathon budget meeting Tuesday in which principals and department heads shared their initial asks in a $63.7 million budget proposal, about $2 million, more than the final FY2024 budget that’s likely to be approved. School committee members will be tasked with prioritizing needs before a final budget can be approved.
Elementary principals stressed the need for adjustment counselors to help higher-needs students beyond the capacity of the two counselors already in each elementary school.
“We knew before COVID that the needs and mental health challenges for very young children have been on the rise,” said Memorial Elementary School Principal Patricia English-Sand. “Certainly COVID just exacerbated that. We’re seeing that demand and that need. It’s as critical as teaching kids to read, making sure kids feel safe and they have the skills to navigate their school day.”
Each elementary school currently has two guidance counselors who offer group support to all students or targeted support to some students who demonstrate particular need. But the principals said those current counselors don’t always have the time or the resources to support students with more intense behavioral or emotional needs. Adjustment counselors could work with more students one-on-one.
“The earlier we get to kids and we help them build their coping skills, the better their long-term outcomes are,” English-Sand said.
“We see a significant need of students needing individual counseling. Our existing counselors are doing an amazing job, but they are worn very thin,” said Fox Hill Principal David Rosenblatt.
The district is also hoping for a district-wide bilingual adjustment counselor to be shared with Burlington’s Youth and Family Services.