School system honors counselors, names best of year

DULUTH - School counselors bear some resemblance to a group of highly specialized paratroopers in World War II, said Bobby Crowson, an associate superintendent of Gwinnett County Public Schools.

The paratroopers, known as Pathfinders, flew into a hostile situation in the dark and set up strobe lights to show where their cohorts should land, Crowson said.

"It's not quite warfare what you do every day, even though it might feel like it," Crowson said Monday morning during an awards ceremony. "You create and find pathways to success for students in school. Thank you for your path finding work."

The school district honored its counselors Monday morning at an annual recognition breakfast, which took place during National School Counseling Week. Gwinnett Schools Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks told the counselors their work is helping students to succeed.

"The best way to help a child is to help them become educated," Wilbanks said. "Opportunities don't mean anything if you don't take advantage of them. As you continue to create pathways to student success, you make a difference in not only the lives of students, but in their families."

The school district ended the annual event by naming its top counselors for the 2007-08 school year.

Helen Clark of Dacula High School was named the 2007-08 Secondary School Counselor of the Year.

"It's an honor to be awarded for a job I enjoy doing," Clark said.

Clark said she enjoys being able to work with the students and their parents. She said she likes helping the pupils succeed academically and helping them move forward with a successful life.

Dacula High Principal Donald Nutt said Clark has participated in the school's ninth-grade academy, which helps freshmen with the transition from middle school. She has also worked to promote peace and prevent violence, he said.

"The one thing you cannot teach, the one thing you cannot measure, is heart," said Nutt, who described Clark as the "biggest-hearted person I know."

Sweetwater Middle's Dana Booker, the Middle School Counselor of the Year, said it was "truly an honor" to receive an award for what she loves doing: making a difference in the lives of students. Booker said she has worked at each grade level, and she loves working with middle schoolers.

Booker's "Mix It Up" program has helped promote cultural awareness in the school, said Georgann Eaton, Sweetwater's principal. Eaton said Booker is committed to the academic, social and emotional atmosphere of the school.

"She is the most valued person I can imagine," Eaton said. "She has the integrity and the spirit and the love and the data and the personality and the drive."

Berkeley Lake Elementary's Karen Griffith, who was chosen as the Elementary School Counselor of the Year, said her success is due to the people she works with, such as the administrators at her school. She said when you're part of a group that supports you, you can't help but be better than you would be alone.

Griffith said she enjoys counseling because she loves the children. Her principal, Leigh Wescott, said Griffith has helped the students succeed by helping the students in the safety patrol and peer mediators programs become leaders in the school.

"Karen has created a thorough and fun 14-hour training program that produces competent and confident fifth-grade peer mediators," Wescott said.

Grayson High School Principal Keith Chaney was honored as the 2007-08 Counseling Advocate of the Year. He was nominated by the counselors at his school, who credit their success with his leadership.

"I'm very honored and humbled," Chaney said.

Chaney said he knows what the counselors do for students and that they want to see each and every student become successful.

"They make our jobs as administrators extremely easy," he said.

The district winners will now go on to compete in the regional competition.

The Georgia School Counselors Association has honored 57 Gwinnett County Public Schools employees, and the American School Counselors Association has honored 29 of the state winners.