Back to their flock

‘Shepherd’ coun­selors can stay in schools – for now


City Ed­u­ca­tion Depart­ment of­fi­cials Mon­day told 130 coun­selors and so­cial work­ers from the axed “Sin­gle Shepherd” pro­gram they’ll tem­po­rar­ily stay on at their schools — with a big catch, the Daily News has learned.

The staffers will be sent to the Ab­sent Teacher Re­serve pool — a hold­ing ground for Ed­u­ca­tion Depart­ment staffers with­out per­ma­nent school as­sign­ments that of­fers lit­tle long-term job se­cu­rity — but re­as­signed to their cur­rent schools, of­fi­cials ex­plained, sources said.

The di­rec­tive is a shift from the depart­ment’s pre­vi­ous plan, which didn’t com­mit to re­as­sign­ing coun­selors to their cur­rent schools amid bud­get cuts.

The new stance comes as city of­fi­cials en­ter the fi­nal throes of bud­get ne­go­ti­a­tions — and a source with knowl­edge of the dis­cus­sions said plans for “ex­cessed” Sin­gle Shepherd staffers could change be­fore the bud­get is made fi­nal. An Ed­u­ca­tion Depart­ment spokesman added that “noth­ing is fi­nal” un­til bud­get ne­go­ti­a­tions are fin­ished.

Still, the prospect of stay­ing at their cur­rent schools of­fered some re­lief for coun­selors dev­as­tated by the prospect of leav­ing their stu­dents at such a crit­i­cal and trau­matic mo­ment.

“We’re still in school. … I’m happy for that,” said one Bronx coun­selor who asked to stay anony­mous. “I can email my stu­dents and let them know we’re still stay­ing in the school.”

The new di­rec­tive doesn’t re­verse the long-term dis­man­tling of the Sin­gle Shepherd pro­gram, which has drawn ar­dent sup­port from ed­u­ca­tors, stu­dents and law­mak­ers in re­cent days.

Even if staffers get to stay put for the time be­ing, en­ter­ing the Ab­sent Teacher Re­serve pool means they could be re­as­signed at any mo­ment, and won’t be re­placed if they leave.

In a 15-minute call, Ed­u­ca­tion Depart­ment of­fi­cials en­cour­aged the coun­selors to find open po­si­tions at other city schools, ac­cord­ing to sources. Staffers weren’t given a chance to ask ques­tions, the sources said.

“Shep­herds play a crit­i­cal role in schools. … To­day, we shared their pre­lim­i­nary as­sign­ments for next year would be at the same school they’ve worked in, and are en­cour­aged to find per­ma­nent place­ments at other schools,” said Ed­u­ca­tion Depart­ment spokesman Nathaniel Styer.

“This is not a so­lu­tion,” fumed David Garcia-Rosen, the dean at the Bronx Academy of Let­ters, where five of the eight coun­selors are from the Sin­gle Shepherd pro­gram.

“Our stu­dents should not have worry day to day if their coun­selors are go­ing to be taken away,” he added. “The mayor needs to fully re­store the Sin­gle Shepherd pro­gram and not play bud­get games with the men­tal health of our stu­dents in some of the poor­est com­mu­ni­ties in New York City.”

The shift fol­lows more than a week of heated back­lash to the scrap­ping of the Sin­gle Shepherd pro­gram and re­as­sign­ment of the 130 coun­selors, first re­ported by The News.

Asked about the Sin­gle Shepherd cut at a news con­fer­ence last week, Mayor de Bla­sio said the city is keep­ing a “piece” of the pro­gram.

But coun­selors say that con­tra­dicts pri­vate mes­sages from the Ed­u­ca­tion Depart­ment, which make clear the pro­gram is gone for good.

“The idea of you be­ing used as a game pawn be­tween what he says and what we’re told is frus­trat­ing,” said a Bronx coun­selor who spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity.

And with­out cen­tral guid­ance gov­ern­ing the role of the Sin­gle Shepherd coun­selors, some ed­u­ca­tors worry ex­pec­ta­tions could change.

“If we go back to the school but our pro­gram doesn’t ex­ist any­more, will we be used in the same way?” asked one Bronx coun­selor.

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