Speakers call for diversity, praise budget's support for guidance counselors at W-JCC school board meeting

Staff writer

It was standing room only at the March 5 meeting of the W-JCC school board, which held the first public hearing of the superintendent’s proposed school budget for the 2019-2020 school year.

During public comments, several members of the public praised steps to increase funding and staffing for guidance departments in Williamsburg-James City County schools, while others decried the lack of steps taken to increase diversity within the school district.

Claire Grantly, a school counselor at Stonehouse Elementary School, praised steps taken to help guidance counselors in the district, while urging school board members to go even farther.

“The priority given to counselors in the budget is wonderful, and we ask that those additional counselors remain on the budget, if not be increased,” said Grantly. “It’s recommended that there be a guidance counselor for every 250 students, and ratios are double that right now at Stonehouse, and it is difficult to provide help to every student at those numbers.”

During board member comments, vice chair Julie Hummel responded that the budget is taking steps necessary to offer support where it’s needed most.

“We are making great progress with that budget, and it's great to be able to say we’re putting resources where they need to be, more counselors, more ESL teachers,” said Hummel. “This budget will allow the district to do what it needs to make it the very best that it can be.”

Other commenters, such as Vanita Singh, came to speak about equity and diversity in the school division, or the perceived lack of support for it in the proposed budget.

“We are pleased to see the board has planned to offer equitable salaries … but many of us are concerned about the lack of any initiatives to increase hiring teachers and staff members of color,” said Singh. “We encourage the board to expand initiatives to hire more teachers of color, offer stipends to minority teachers, and reaching out to colleges in the area to recruit people of color.”

Board chair Lisa Ownby responded that this is an issue that the board should look into in greater detail in the future.

“We all know the importance of having teachers that look like their students,” said Ownby. “We looked into it a few years ago, perhaps it’s time that we revisit this again.”

The next meeting of the W-JCC school board will be on March 19, at 6:30 p.m. in the Stryker Center on 412 N Boundary St.

Sean CW Korsgaard can be reached at 757-968-1529, by email sean.korsgaard@vagazette.com, and on Twitter @SCWKorsgaard.

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