Roger Curtis: Helping School Counselors

Jan 4, 2018 by

An Interview with Roger Curtis: Helping School Counselors

Roger Curtis is the director of the Michigan Department of Talent and Economic Development. In this interview, he discusses the need to give school counselors more resources to help students with career pathways.

Michael F. Shaughnessy –

Q: First of all, can you tell us about yourself, and your experience?

A: Gov. Rick Snyder appointed me to lead the Department of Talent and Economic Development in November 2016, and we’re focused on sustaining Michigan’s economic momentum – especially through connecting people with the skills they need for good careers. I previously served as president of the Michigan International Speedway. I’m also a father of three, serving on my local school board and was a member of Gov. Snyder’s 21st Century Education Commission. So I know the challenges faced by our employers and by our educators.

Q: In terms of transparency, I have to indicate that I have a master’s degree in counseling and guidance and worked for 3 years as a guidance counselor, so I am somewhat biased. But in your mind, why are guidance counselors so often the most important person in any school?

A: We know that school counselors play a vitally important role in preparing students for their future pathway, be that college, an apprenticeship, a credentialed program or another direction. The challenge faced by many counselors in Michigan is that they are just spread too thin.

A recent report from the American School Counselor Association shows Michigan with ratio of 729 counselors per student – the third highest in the country. Keep in mind the national average is 482 students per counselor, and the association suggests an optimal ration 250 students per counselor.

Not only are counselors asked to work with more students, but they are asked to do more and more, pulled away from their core responsibilities. I travel across the state talking to employers, educators and community leaders, and it seems that everyone knows this is a problem that needs to be addressed.

We know counselors need to play a bigger role in helping students think about careers. We know they need help, and they need additional information. That’s why we’re looking to help communities provide additional resources for counselors and give them the support and tools they need.

Q: What is Michigan doing to help?

A: The Governor directed me to partner with State Superintendent Brian Whiston, and together we’ve formed the Michigan Career Pathways Alliance, which now has more than 100 members, including educators, employers and other stakeholders.

The Alliance has 17 recommendations, several of which are aimed at helping counselors.

One recommendation is to create a program to provide state matching dollars through crowdfunding to assist in covering the costs for additional counselors and Professional Trades programs.

Another initiative calls for hiring career development facilitators to support counselors, with the focus on helping students explore career options and learn what training they need to get in-demand jobs.

The alliance also calls for counselors and teachers to be able to use externships and other experiences gained with local employers to count toward professional development requirements.

Q: Has there been progress?

A: Yes, and there is much more we have to do.

The Governor in November signed into law a bill directing school counselors dedicate 50 hours of the current 150-hour professional development requirement to better assist students with college and career selection, helping them assist students with additional information about career technical education and all possible pathways.

Superintendent Whiston signed some of the Alliance recommendations into action earlier this year while others are in various stages of completion. A number are included in bills that cleared the state House of Representatives.

Other bills have been introduced in the state Senate, including one that allowing counselors to develop a talent portfolio to allow students to show off their experiences and accomplishments.

Q: Are there any new tools that school counselors can use?

A: I recently spoke to several counselors and they said something that gave me pause. They said, “We want to be able to better help students find career pathways that align with their passions, interests and aptitudes, but we only know about helping them go to college. How can we learn more about other pathways such as apprenticeships, or stackable credentials?”

That hit me hard. I realized that not only are our counselors overwhelmed, but in many instances, we are not helping them learn about the rapidly changed workforce, about the great careers in professional trades or the education and training needed for those pathways.

So, we need to make sure that we provide counselors meaningful and easy to find and easy to use tools to help with their professional development.

One tool recently unveiled is Pathfinder, a free, online resource created by several Michigan state agencies to provide counselors, students and adult jobseekers with real-time data about careers, the training needed to get those jobs, projected openings and average wage information. We also have our Going Pro in Michigan campaign aimed at helping students, families and counselors become more aware of the opportunities in the professional trades.

Q: Are there other avenues for assistance?

A: One of the main things we are doing with the Alliance is bringing groups together. There is a role for everyone to play as we help our young people select their pathway to a good career. Businesses and higher education can become involved. Communication between these groups has been missing for too long, and we want to break the silos down to at least shoulder high to we can arrive at community solutions.

The goal here is to make Michigan the national leader in developing and attracting talent. That’s the best way to continue growing the state’s economy, creating more and better jobs and making our state stronger long into the future.

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