Key West High School has a college counselor. Coral Shores High School has a college counselor. Marathon High School does not. The need was revealed by school parent Cathy Walters at a recent Monroe County School District meeting.

“The other two schools have a separate position for a college advisor,” she said, later. “All the kids deserve to have someone take time to sit down with them and ask what are their dreams and how they can make them happen — whether that’s a university, a community college, or a trade school.”

What Marathon Middle High School does have is two guidance counselor positions — one serving 6th to 9th grades, and the other 10th to 12th grades. Counselors provide social and psychological services, as well as track academic progress, i.e., whether the students have the proper credits to graduate. Nine months ago, when the mental health plan was forming in response to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Safety bill, School Superintendent Mark Porter said the school guidance counselors devote most of the work week to academic concerns.

The Weekly asked Porter if Marathon High School needs a college counselor, or what the district calls a CAPS counselor.

“I’m not necessarily qualified to make that decision,” said Porter, referencing the district’s decentralized decision-making process. “That’s why we let the ‘building’ make the decision about what’s really needed. We really need both. The tough part about it is there’s significant need both in the guidance area and the college counselor area.” Marathon High School used to have a CAPS counselor, but the position disappeared years ago. School board member John Dick used to hold that position in fact, and he said it was invaluable to the students.

“It affects future outcomes,” Dick said.

Porter and Marathon High School principal Wendy McPherson said the school budget is based on enrollment. Some of the allotment must be spent on certain positions – for example, school principal – but other money is subject to the perceived needs of the school. Marathon Middle High School has about 650 students, spread out over six grades; Key West High School has about 1,250 and Coral Shores High School has 715.

Marathon High School does receive a stipend for a CAPS counselor, but the funds are allocated elsewhere. McPherson said if the school had a college counselor, he or she would help the students with personality tests, or skill inventories, and also be able to point them toward particular colleges, universities or vocational programs. “Basically, a CAPS counselor helps the students with an exit strategy,” she said.

The Coral Shores High School CAPS counselor is Christanne Harris; she earns $60,100 annually. The Key West High School CAPS counselor is Lydia Estenoz, earning $54,700. Both women provided the Weekly an extensive list of their duties – beginning with meeting with every junior and senior at least four times a year. The CAPS counselors assist with college transcripts, Florida Bright Futures scholarships, and help students polish college admission essays.

“I provide information to students about specific program offerings at specific colleges and universities in and out of state. I approve and track their college-visits and I also connect them with military recruiters as needed,” Estenoz said.

Harris said she meets with every senior individually at least one time in their last semester to discuss post-grad plans.

“Many seniors I see every day. I have an open policy and meet with their parents and students for private meetings on a regular basis,” Harris said.

Walters, the parent of a student at Marathon High School, said she worries most about the “regular” kids. There is a Take Stock in Children counselor for low-income families at MMHS, and AVID curriculum, typically geared toward first-generation college students.

“The students I worry about are the ones that I meet at the Hammock House,” Walters said, referring to the free after-school care for elementary and middle school children at St. Columba Episcopal Church. “They are somewhere in the middle.”

Staff at Marathon High School does help graduating seniors with college transcripts, and does host an annual college fair. In 2018, the Take Stock In Children counselor held an hour-long seminar for parents of mainstream students seeking higher education. About 30 students and parents attended.

Coral Shores High School
Take Stock Grads in 2019: 13 graduates
General Grads from 2018:
86 students headed to 4-year university
68 students headed to community college
8 students headed to vocational program

Key West High School
Take Stock Grads in 2019: 25 graduates
General Graduates from 2018:
88 headed to a university (4-year institution)
98 headed to a college (2 or 4-year institution)
12  headed to vocational training school (1 yr/ less)
14 joined the military or chose an alternative plan

Marathon High School*
Take Stock Grads in 2019: 13 graduates
General Graduates from 2018:
71 students headed to colleges or universities
4 headed to the military

(*The school district was unable to provide a break down of how many MHS students went off to university, versus those headed to a community or state college.)


Sara Matthis thinks community journalism is important, but not serious; likes weird and wonderful children (she has two); and occasionally tortures herself with sprint-distance triathlons, but only if she has a good chance of beating her sister.