In response to the proposed school budget for fiscal year 2011 that would cut five social worker positions, students, parents, and teachers at Brookline High School have spoken out against this potential loss.
The five social workers at Brookline High School, Paul Epstein, Karen Kennedy, Ayanna Kilpatrick, Fran Kuehn, and Hallie LeBlanc, assist the students with issues from helping students obtain school supplies and bullying to substance abuse, sexual assault, and emotional stability.
According to Brookline School Superintendent Dr. William Lupini, the proposed budget will total to $75.1 million, a 4.98 percent decrease from the previous year. The cutbacks are due to a combination of factors: federal and state funding cuts, in addition to increased enrollment. If approved, the plan would cut the five social worker positions, as well as 12 positions of special education paraprofessionals.
Matt Gifford, a sophomore at Brookline high school, founded the group Save Our Social Workers (SOSW) to fight the administration’s decision. Gifford said he started the group not only to raise awareness and rally in supporters, but also because he could “tell that students were either afraid, or did not know how to stand up to the administration.” SOSW created flyers and buttons and distributed them around Brookline High School.
Gifford describes his personal experience with the school’s social workers as “amazing,” and if the five social workers are fired, “you have no idea how torn my fellow students will be…if these people who the students have come to rely on leave, it will crush them. I also will be crushed deeply by the fact that the only people I trust leave, but also by the fact that I couldn’t save them.” Gifford believes the cutback would have “disastrous” psychological consequences.
Many teachers at Brookline High School support SOSW, alongside Gifford, is Jen Breen, a freshman English teacher, who has taught at B.H.S. for six years who believes social workers play an “essential role in the community”. Breen said: “I can’t teach kids who are in crisis, because they can’t study and learn if they feel unsafe or hurt.”
Language teacher Ricardo Calleja accredits social worker Fran Kuehn with giving his son a “great deal of help” when he experienced anxiety issues in his senior year.
Steve Lantos, who had taught Chemistry for the past 25 years at B.H.S., agrees that the social workers are an “undeniable critical” part of the larger functioning of the school. “Our social workers are vital, necessary, miracle workers and—literally, life savers…I can’t imagine our school without any one of them,” he concluded.
Brookline High School art teacher for 16 years, Greg Steinsieck, believes that the proposed budget is designed to test “how important the social workers are to us, the students and the community” and the students who are in need of their services have continued to seek out the social workers “because of the sophisticated and experienced work by these professionals.”
Malcolm Cawthorne, a Social Studies teacher for 12 years at B.H.S. with a child in the school, and attended the school himself, described the potential loss as a “huge blow to the school.” However, he is sympathetic with the administration saying: “No choice is easy and the school will hurt regardless of which personnel or program is lost.”
Chair of the School Committee, Henry Warren is confident that the guidance department, which has ten guidance counselors and three psychologists, are equip help the students in need and are “licensed social workers.” “The number of social workers available to students is a pretty robust service,” Warren said. The cut of the social workers are intended to offset the increase of 16 teachers in the elementary schools due to increased enrollment, according to Warren.
In response to this alternative assistance available, SOSW leader and founder Gifford said the students view guidance counselors as mentors to discuss their future. “I love my Guidance Counselor, but I could never tell her my personal problems,” Gifford said, explaining his fear of obtaining college recommendations from the same person he would be discussing his emotional issues. “I have no hope for the administration if they cut these people, and they don’t deserve any pity when it happens,” Gifford said.
The students efforts were heard; the budget was recently altered to keep the five social workers’ positions.