Borrego Sun - Since 1949

Cause for Concern


Last updated 3/27/2017 at 4:51pm

Yolandi Jooste

With ninety-four percent of students at Borrego Springs High School receiving free school meals, they have been classified as growing up in ‘at risk’ situations. Students and their families, face the day-to- day reality of living with a spectrum of difficulties from; poverty, domestic or sexual abuse to an increased effect from the danger of drugs. Finding people in authority to respect and emulate, someone who began from humble beginnings similar to their own, is not an easy task.

When parents stand-up to be counted, they expect to be listened to, or at the very least, to have their concerns acknowledged. At the March 8 school board meeting, there were parents queuing out of the door ready to stand up for the future of their children and that of school counselor Dr. Elizabeth Stephens. What they didn’t feel, was heard.

Anticipating fewer students and reduced state funding in next years’ budget, a special board meeting was pulled together to discuss the possibility of making savings by removing the need of a full-time councillor, as well as cutting the writing program and reducing ground personnel. It is due to this decision that parents felt the need to stand up and be counted, as not needing a councillor financially, is a lot differ- ent to not needing one.

There doesn’t seem to be a public reason for the cause of the conflict between Dr. Elizabeth Stephens, high school principal, Steve Dunn, elementary school principal Sherrilynn Polanco and Superintendent Mark Stevens, however for the sixteen-year old child who is trying to work full time and attend school, there should be at least one good reason given.

Dr. Stephens is currently a probationary member of staff due to the short time spent at the school. However, in her year of employment, Stephens has developed pro- grams and events for the Borrego Unified School District with a focus on ALL students having options when they graduate. A task she is proud to share.

It appears that the administration, students and their parents, have a very different outlook as to how best to give and receive help. In the beginning, the councillor’s office was located at the back of the administration building allowing two ways in to the office. This suddenly changed when it was decided to split the office, using the old councillors section for a meeting room and placing the new location in the main part of the build- ing, cutting off the more discrete back route that was favored by most people. Parents and children now walk through the administration building in full view of staff, students and visitors alike. For a generation that look on authority with dis-trust, this puts a lot of parents in a position of reluctance when trying to seek help. One of Dr. Stephens ways of overcoming this barrier, is to take her skills out to where the children are. This means stepping away from her desk and being seen and available out and about in the school. Dr Virginia Johnson is a retired school counselor, behavioral health therapist and has worked internationally as a consultant for schools who want to develop a counseling program

Johnson was a mentor for Stephens through her training and in a letter to the school board, states “Like Dr. Stephens, I was seldom in my office. The most responsive counsel- ing takes place where the students are located: In the classrooms, on the school grounds, in the library, cafeteria, and gym.”

Students have complained for a long time about having teachers that don’t understand them and don’t care if they’re failing. An opportunity arises for them to have a bilingual representative from an immigrant background who cares about their needs. There are certainly enough children in the school requiring ongoing support and with 98 percent of students being of Hispanic decent, there is certainly a cultural link. Especially for a school that claims to want to offer a culturally sensitive learning environment.

If the decisions made by the administration are based purely on budget, then there are obvious questions and obstacles to be faced by their wisdom.

Due to the location of the school it is difficult to entice decent, qualified staff in to a part-time position, the vacancy would remain empty or at worst be filled by someone unsuitable for the role. A fate our children do not deserve.

Removing the counselor position entirely, creates no harm necessarily but it certainly creates no good. There will be no change in students’ future prospects or that of their families. However, there are cost effective ways to create enough funds to maintain a critical aspect of the students education and that would be to look at the current staffing within the school. Larger school districts within the county are unable to provide funding for a Chief Business Officer, yet Borrego Unified School District found the funds to employ one. If the rumors are true and Principal Dunn leaves later in the year, funds could be created by joining the Principals role of the elementary school and high school in to one position.

What should not be the first course of action is to remove a pillar of support from what is already a fragile foundation within our child’s development.

BSUSD Response

BSUSD held its most recent, and most highly attend- ed, Board Meeting on March 8. Community members and parents came out in support of our school coun- selor and to oppose potential budget reductions. Due to the poor outlook of the Governor’s Budget and declin- ing enrollment, our District was forced to look for ways to lower its costs, while at the same time looking to maintain or improve our programs and services. In this meeting the Board voted to reduce the counseling position to its previously held level of just over half- time. The Board also authorized other reductions to balance the budget. It is truly unfortunate that even in times of relative economic prosperity, school districts in California are still poorly funded.

The Board of Education and District Administration welcome participation from all members of our com- munity. Board meetings are open to members of the public in order to provide transparency and open com- munication with all stakeholders. BSUSD remains committed to providing a comprehensive, valuable education to all students. We welcome your feedback and have provided a survey that will help us to plan and create goals for next year. The survey can be found on our website at Alternatively, you can always contact the District office at 760-767-5357 and schedule a meeting with the superintendent.

-Mark Stevens Superintendent

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