By ALAN J. ORTBALS
The Division of Education and Counseling at Lindenwood University-Belleville has made great strides this year, playing a key role in an Illinois school funding reform bill and gaining state recognition as a state institution and educational unit.
In August, the Illinois General Assembly passed a bill that will revamp the way Illinois schools from kindergarten through high school are funded. The law creates a new K-12 public education funding formula using an evidence-based model for school funding. A unique adequacy funding target for each school district is computed based on the cost of implementing 27 research-based best practices. As new funding for K-12 education is invested, funding goes first to those districts that are the farthest from their adequacy targets.
Lindenwood University Associate Professor and School Counseling Program Chair Dr. Sarah Patterson-Mills played a key role in making sure the proposed new formula included language requiring higher thresholds of staffing of guidance counselors.
This will help downstate school districts, Patterson-Mills said, as Chicago-area school districts, which are typically wealthier than those in central and southern Illinois, had an adequate staff of counselors on-hand previously.
“This levels the playing field across the state and brings schools south of Chicago up to the standards already in place in the northern part of the state,” Patterson-Mills said.
Dr. Therese Chavaux-Turnbull, associate professor of professional and school counseling at Lindenwood Belleville said, “Southern Illinois is often times ignored by the Illinois legislature for its school needs. This bill ensures that students from central and southern Illinois get the same high-quality education students in the Chicagoland area receive.”
Patterson-Mills said that Illinois has one of the worst school counselor ratios in the country with just one counselor per 644 students. The new law recommends that ratio be reduced to one counselor to 270 students.
A lot of work went into the effort to boost the level of counseling in the education bill, Patterson-Mills said. This included gathering evidence to show the impacts of counseling on academic achievement attendance and behavior.
“Counselors pursue three strands of curriculum,” Patterson-Mills said, “one is career readiness; one is academic; and the other is social-emotional. I tell my students all the time, if students don’t come to school feeling safe and a sense of belonging, it’s going to be pretty difficult to get the maximum academic performance out of them.”
Another component of the bill relative to counseling focuses on college and career readiness, said Patterson-Mills. Under the new law each district must have five days of college and career readiness programming.
“It’s really important to work with students early on their self-awareness, interests and those kinds of things,” Patterson-Mills said. “Understanding their education fits into their long-term career goals make them better students.”
The three strands of counseling curriculum come together under college and career readiness, said Patterson-Mills.
“You have to be able to manage stress,” she said. “You have to be able and persevere, tolerate frustration, make decisions, and stick with things and see them through. So, I’m hopeful that school districts will follow through on the law, increase the number of counselors at all grade levels particularly elementary and middle, and focus on career readiness.”
Lindenwood University-Belleville also made strides in recognition of its education curriculum by the state. In May, The Illinois State Board of Education’s State Educator Preparation and Licensure Board has officially recognized Lindenwood University-Belleville as a state institution and educational unit, streamlining the process for future graduates of the institution to obtain teacher and school counseling licensure in the state of Illinois.
The change affects students in Lindenwood Belleville’s elementary education and K-12 physical education programs in addition to the graduate program in school counseling. Up to this point, education students at the Belleville campus received a Missouri teaching certificate rather than an Illinois one because Lindenwood is based in St. Charles, Mo. However, incoming freshmen, sophomores and juniors will receive Illinois certification.
“I believe that this new certification of the Illinois licensure is going to provide some really good opportunities for students not only who stay within the state of Illinois but also plan on teaching elsewhere across the country,” said Paul Sharp, interim division chair for Education & Counseling.
“We are providing a really rigorous and relevant curriculum for our students,” said Sharp. “Every student who student taught last semester ended up either in a classroom teaching or as a paraprofessional. So, everyone who was looking for a job got a job, which I think says a lot about the quality of the students who are graduating from Lindenwood-Belleville. We continue to move forward. “We continue to keep raising our expectations both for students and for our instructors. My goal and my hope is that Belleville will become a destination for education students within a hundred-mile radius. If you want to be an educator, Lindenwood-Belleville is the place for you.”