School office staffers are feeling the crush of endless paperwork

Counselors pressed as student needs, enrollments increase

Howard hires registrars

January 25, 2001|By Tanika White | Tanika White,SUN STAFF

The region's crowded schools - where students battle through one-way hallways and teachers struggle to keep up - aren't just inconvenient for the buildings' primary occupants. Guidance counselors and office workers also feel the crush, seeing workdays stretch, their patience thin and staffs turn over frequently.

"I come in during spring break. I come in during Christmas. Rarely do I stop," said Joan Carback, the registrar at Howard County's Mount Hebron High School.

Around the region, guidance office workers are pleading for more help. Jobs that were advertised as requiring seven hours a day now require up to 12. Some guidance offices can't hold on to employees because the workload is too great. Students complain that important papers are misplaced and deadlines are missed."[Parents of students] remember what the guidance office was like when they were in school," said Barbara Guthrie, supervisor of guidance for Carroll County's public schools. "Things have changed dramatically. We're talking about suicide prevention, violence prevention ... helping kids find their future plans. That takes time and direction and energy. Rarely does a counselor have time to devote that energy to 500 kids."

"Because of the number of clerical things they have to do, the counselors don't have time to get into the schools like they should," said Barbara Lowe, education specialist for the office of guidance and counseling services in Baltimore City schools.

Responsibilities of guidance office workers have grown so much during the past several years that some school systems, such as Howard County's, have begun to use specially trained registrars to handle official paperwork.

Neither Anne Arundel nor Carroll schools have registrars, but Arundel officials are trying desperately to hire some.

Also, Howard Superintendent John R. O'Rourke announced this month that he plans to add 2 1/2 registrar positions to cover the county's five largest high schools.

"This was wonderful news," Carback said. "I mean, I love my job, but the demands are so frustrating."

Though her day should end with the close of school shortly after 2 p.m., Carback never leaves her office before 4:15. Even then, the phone is still ringing.

Colleague Susan Alderson, registrar at River Hill High School - Howard County's largest - said that describing her workload as "overwhelming" doesn't do it justice.

"The number of hours required in order to complete the job is impossible," Alderson said. "We are 10-month employees who, in order to get our jobs done, must work 12 months. Last summer, I worked all but 10 days."

Even the county's smaller high schools - such as Columbia's Oakland Mills - depend on parent volunteers to keep their guidance offices running smoothly.

In many of the region's schools, registrars and records clerks enroll students, check their records, contact former schools for transcripts and verify residency. Some are involved in scheduling as well, making sure all classes meet state requirements for graduation. When students are withdrawn from schools, registrars send their records and transcripts to their new schools.

For seniors, the registrars prepare the college packets that include letters of recommendation, transcripts and report cards - a process that takes several weeks, as students average six to nine college applications each.

"I've been overburdened with transcripts and the whole application process," said River Hill senior Alison Silber, who testified at a Howard County school board meeting in November about her frustrations with her registrar's work load. "Every time you go into her office, she just has so much work to do. She handles it well; she's so efficient and so organized, but it's just very unfair that she has so much work to do."

She applied to nine colleges, so her load was especially large. But for all graduating students - even those not going on to college or technical school - the official transcripts must be checked for credit counts and service learning hours and other state requirements such as completion of all four Maryland Functional tests.

From July 1, 1999, to last July 1, the registrar at Howard's Mount Hebron enrolled 223 students, withdrew 169 and processed about 2,000 transcripts, said Lisa Boarman, who supervises the district's guidance offices.

In Baltimore County's 25 comprehensive high schools, records clerks perform the jobs that Howard's registrars do. Although some of the clerks are 12-month employees working through the summer like school administrators, their work loads are becoming more difficult.

"They are swamped. They are absolutely swamped," said Lynne Muller, supervisor of Baltimore County's office of guidance and counseling.

Muller said one county school is without a records clerk because the job was too laborious for her.

"This was not the work she was expecting to be doing," Muller said, adding that some clerks are required to keep track of the library books students borrow.

Turnover is also an issue.

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