Q. What first inspired you to begin your career in education?
A. Growing up as a Hispanic, I began to notice that there was a stark difference in the opportunities that were being offered to students based on their ethnicity and/or socioeconomic status. I wanted to become an educator to help ensure that all students within my reach are offered equal opportunities and are inspired to reach their college and/or career goals.
Q. Dr. Perez, you have engaged hundreds of students in your work for safer schools. As the assistant superintendent of your district, why is it important to you to get your students involved?
A. The world that our students are living in now is a completely different world than the one we adults grew up in. We have a generation of digital natives and I do not believe our world was prepared to quickly adapt and meet the social needs that would be sacrificed with the tsunami of technology that has captivated/captured our students. Technology is a wonderful and exciting tool that is taking us to places we never dreamed of! However, it is also making our world much smaller by bringing people/students from across the globe together with a simple touch of a screen. Unfortunately, this fast paced technological world is isolating many students, so much so that there is a syndrome called FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) that is developing within our students because the demand to constantly be present in the world of social media is extremely overwhelming. With this isolation and fear, in addition to many of the other stressors that teenagers experience, our students are not taking time to reflect and share their feelings. I have discovered that there is a deep desire for students to reflect and share their feelings and thoughts, but it’s very difficult for adults to listen because adults are basically trying to keep up with this digital generation. The school shootings or suicides are a consequence of the need for students to be heard. If we adults do not stop and take time to listen to our students then we will never find answers to help our students cope with the stressors of “their” world.
Q. What are your recommendations on improving the current counselor-student ratio, and are there additional resources for students when it comes to guidance counseling?
A. There is definite improvement that needs to be made to the counselor-student ratio. Counselors are tasked with guiding students throughout their educational path. The students are literally making life altering decisions throughout their high school journey, so it is imperative that counselors have ample time to guide them effectively. In addition, counselors are also the go-to people for students who are in crisis. Some schools have as high as a 1 to 600 counselor-to-student ratio. With increased paperwork and accountability requirements, counselors are being stretched thin and students are falling through the cracks. Counselors are well intentioned and dedicated; they need support so that they can support our students. In my presentation, I outline several out of the box tips and tools to help in this endeavor.
Q. As we get closer to the event and your upcoming session, “School Safety: Get Real” what can attendees expect to take away?
A. Attendees will hear some “real world” tools and systems that principals and counselors can put in place to provide support for our counselors and to free them up to do more counseling and fewer administrative duties. We will also discuss tips for creating a crisis plan and for handling the aftermath of a school shooting or a suicide.
Q. What do you envision for the future of teaching and learning in your district?
A. I envision more emphasis on social-emotional learning, coping skills, and service learning from PreK through 12th grade. We must develop the “whole child” from the affective to the academic. Students who suffer socially or mentally do not have the social capital to support their academics.