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New hires will work to address students' needs

The Red Wing School Board unanimously approved the hiring of multiple positions in the district that directly benefit from the referendum passing at their regular meeting on Feb. 19.

The board approved positions for a guidance counselor, mental health therapist, media and technology specialist, and flight path coordinator in the district.

When designing the education plan and referendum, the district wanted to address numerous positions of need.

Some of their largest focus came in an increase of mental health services.

Twin Bluff Middle School Principal Chris Palmatier and Goodhue County Special Education Director Cherie Johnson advocated for the guidance counselor and mental health therapist positions to be approved.

Having more counselors in the district would help greatly, according to the educators. Johnson said this service may be the only why some students have access at this time their lives and if professionals are able to speak with students at a young age, it could help prevent future problems from starting or forming.

Palmatier said the district currently has no counselors at Sunnyside and Burnside, 1.5 counselors at Twin Bluff Middle School, and 2.5 counselors at Red Wing High School; Robin Pagel splits her time between buildings.

The hiring would allow for two full-time counselors at the middle school and three full-time counselors at the high school.

At the middle school, Palmatier said counselors deal mainly with students with what's called a 504 plan. The hope would be with an additional counselor, they could divide the work and focus more attention on character education.

Superintendent Karsten Anderson said the issues at the middle school apply to the high school as well, saying the counselors do more personal counseling of students and less on student services.

Board member Holly Tauer said at the school building where she works in St. Paul, there are five counselors and five social workers. Tauer added that building is still "busy all day long."

School Board Chair Arlen Diercks called the ratio of counselors "out of whack," saying he sees a higher need in the high school than the middle school. Diercks said he supports the proposal, but said the focus should be aimed more toward the high school.

Palmatier said Twin Bluff Middle School counselors are still busy.

Redefining a position

"It sounds like we're interchanging counseling as almost like a social work, mental health (position)," Board member Janie Farrar said. "When I think guidance counselor, just in my normal mind, I'm thinking 'Oh, they're helping with guiding them to their next job or guiding them with what they should be doing in course work, but that's truly not what the majority are doing in our schools right now, is that correct?"

"Correct," Palmatier responded. "And I think, as I said, a guidance counselor just by nature has a different definition at a high school versus at a middle school. ... It's a broad term for somebody who is there to support students and (to respond) to what their needs are on that day."

Johnson focused more on the mental health therapist positions in her presentation, employing four in the district through the School Linked Mental Health Grant.

Johnson said they were looking for referendum money as a startup of $15,000 for each position and additionally $2,000 per therapist each year for computers and miscellaneous expenses.

Having therapists in the schools is a "need" Johnson has said she's observed throughout her time in the district.

The therapists will be self-sustaining after five years due to the fact that they will bill insurance companies and medical assistance for their services. However, when Vice Chair Heidi Jones asked if students who don't have these services will be unable to access the care, Johnson said those students will be supported with county money.

The board also approved a media and technology specialist that would be shared between Sunnyside and Burnside, specializing in media, technology and literacy. A Flight Path coordinator, who will be a full-time teacher-on-special assignment, was hired to oversee the development and coordination of the student work based learning plan.

The following positions approved have the following costs from the referendum:

• Guidance counselor: $85,000-plus

• Mental health therapy: up to $36,000

• Media and technology specialist: $15,000

• Flight Path coordinator: $85,000-plus

Matthew Lambert

Matthew Lambert joined the Red Wing Republican Eagle in March 2018 covering school board, public safety, and writing features. Lambert previously wrote for the Pierce County Herald and River Falls Journal. He is a graduate of Winona State University with a Bachelor's degree in Mass Communication: Journalism. 

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