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Staffing to Support Student Needs

Describe the extent to which the SEA has developed or will develop strategies and will support its LEAs in increasing student access to key support staff within school buildings, including school counselors, special education personnel, nurses, social workers, and psychologists (e.g., hiring additional personnel or freeing up these staff to focus on providing services to students).

PDE is aware of the need to both update existing and develop new educator preparation programs to meet school staffing needs for mental health professionals. These professionals are necessary not only to support the mental health and well-being of students, but also to provide direction on ways to improve school climate and equitable practice, support teacher mental health, and provide support to teachers and other personnel as they implement trauma-informed practices and SEL instruction. Through stakeholder engagement, educators have underscored the importance of learning and preparation about trauma, equity, and social-emotional skill development, but most do not feel they were adequately prepared to address these issues when they entered the profession. When asked about the top issues currently facing K-12 students and schools because of or in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, roughly one third of postsecondary stakeholders representing the interests of educators or future educators identified social-emotional learning and mental health as top priority areas.

PDE's Office for Safe Schools has developed Pennsylvania Career Ready Skills progressions, which underscore the connection between SEL and development of career- ready adults who are able to successfully navigate relationships within their family, school, college, career, and the global community. School-based mental health professionals, including school counselors, school psychologists, and social workers have an important role to play in the development of healthy students and schools. These educators can benefit from more structured postsecondary programs of study that incorporate not only SEL and equitable, trauma-informed competencies into their programs, but also the practical application of these competencies toward development of positive learning environments in schools and consultation with staff and students.

As shown in Table F1, Pennsylvania's educators who support student SEL are nearing retirement age, and supply has not caught up with demand. The pandemic only served to heighten these critical staffing shortages at LEAs.

In 2020–21, PDE introduced several new educator certifications, including one for School Social Workers, the first of its kind in Pennsylvania. The availability of this new certification, which complements the certifications for school counselors, school psychologists, and home and school visitors, will help equip LEAs with the student support staff they need, especially post-pandemic. Many colleges have been developing new programs of study for school social workers in anticipation of this new certification.