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.