Furious school counselor resigns, cites ‘toxic environment’

Vanessa Stone, a high school counselor at Maricopa Unified School District, tells school board members why she's quitting. [Jeff Chew]
Vanessa Stone, a high school counselor at Maricopa Unified School District, tells school board members why she's quitting. [Jeff Chew]

A Maricopa Unified School District counselor has abruptly quit her job, citing a heavy workload created by a shortage of counseling staff. 

Vanessa Stone worked as a school district counselor for more than four years. She recently went before the school board to announce her resignation, effective Nov. 17, in dramatic fashion. 

“I can no longer take the physical and emotional damages created by the toxic work environment,” she said. 

She said she was responsible for the 460 high school seniors, which is 200 above the national model. 

When she started her job, she said there were eight full-time counselors, but the staff is down two positions today. 

“And our job is becoming more complex and challenging, including this toxic environment,” Stone said. 

She called the expectation and workload of counseling staff “abusive” and “unsustainable.” 

“I’ve decided to leave this environment for my own safety and stability,” she said. 

She counseled high school and RAM Academy students. 

Stone asked the school board and superintendent’s office to review her concerns. She also called for a review of the overall counseling program’s practices with an independent consultant “to provide a safe and healthy work environment for all.” 

Tracey Pastor, assistant superintendent for administrative services, said while personnel matters are confidential, “any issues brought to our attention will be reviewed and addressed accordingly.” 

Stone also cited “public shaming and ridicule” by the school administration and leadership and counselors being shamed for issues of class sizes. 

Pastor said the district has three counselor vacancies. 

“Finding qualified candidates is challenging,” she said in a statement to InMaricopa. “We maintain high standards for certification and education.” 

Stone’s school district website profile states she earned a master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling from Prescott College and a bachelor’s degree in social work from Weber State University in Utah. 

Pastor said throughout the school district there are 24 counselor positions budgeted through 2024.  There are seven counselors serving 2,080 students at Maricopa High School. 

“In addition, we have a community project manager funded through Project AWARE to coordinate mental health initiatives that directly support students and staff,” Pastor said. 

Project AWARE (Advancing Wellness and Resiliency in Education) is a federal initiative to develop a sustainable infrastructure for school-based mental health programs and services. 

Pastor said another issue is the state funding formula does not include dedicated funding for counselors.  

She said the school district “has proactively secured external funding and dedicated district funds to support the staffing standard.” 

She said district counseling ratios are well below the state and national averages.