CEO/Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks, left, Robin Zorn, counselor at Mason Elementary, Dianne Thompson, director of advisement and counseling and David Jones, principal of Mason Elementary, pose for a picture on Tuesday morning after Zorn was named National Counselor of the Year by the American School Counselor Association. (Staff Photo: Keith Farner)
DULUTH — As a planner and organizer, Robin Zorn is not usually the one being surprised.
So it took her a while on Tuesday morning to let the news digest that she was named the National Counselor of the Year by the American School Counselor Association. Zorn, who works at Mason Elementary, was honored before an audience of students and staff at Mason and senior officials from Gwinnett County Public Schools during a program in the school’s cafeteria.
Not even after subtle arrangements were made, and CEO/Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks arrived, did Zorn realize she was the person everyone came to see. So tears flowed and astonishment was clearly evident as she accepted well wishes from her family and colleagues.
“This was a huge surprise,” said Zorn, who was joined at the announcement by her husband and two daughters.
Many offered congratulations because they know Zorn thinks about her job around the clock, and is known for waking up in the wee hours of the morning with a new idea, while she also e-mails herself throughout the day with reminders.
Zorn was selected among five finalists after she won the Georgia Counselor of the Year award. The other finalists came from districts in Scottsdale, Ariz., Wanaque, N.J., El Paso, Texas and Orlando, Fla. The finalists were chosen after they met criteria that included school counseling innovations, effective school counseling programs, leadership and advocacy skills and contributions to student advancement.
Zorn, the other finalists, their principals and a representative from the state school counselor association will visit Washington in January for three days of celebratory events, meet with members of Congress, attend a Congressional briefing and be recognized at a black-tie gala.
“It’s a pleasure to recognize someone who not only works for this school, but works for this district and the state of Georgia,” Wilbanks said.
Jill Cook, assistant director of the American School Counselor Association, said a nine-member committee that interviewed the finalists said Zorn’s advocacy efforts set her apart from others. Zorn’s contributions at the local, district and state levels were evident.
“That was the thing they kept talking about, was the advocacy,” Cook said. “Not only for her students, but the profession. They thought that was huge.”
Zorn has organized programs such as district-wide peer leadership conferences, where eighth-grade students visit fifth-graders and discuss relational issues like rumors and gossip. Zorn said the lesson is better received coming from an eighth-grader than from herself.
“It’s a huge accolade for us as a district,” said Dianne Thompson, director of advisement and counseling. “She has a great concept of comprehensive counseling. She does an amazing job analyzing (discipline) data to really target programs here at this school to help the students, to remove barriers for student achievement.”
Zorn has been elected to leadership positions at the state level, and served on committees that develop counselor evaluations, discuss legislative issues and create a comprehensive school counseling program.
“I think in my application my love for counseling and my love for children came out,” Zorn said.
Counseling is a second career for Zorn after she worked in the business world, and was also a youth director. Her husband, Bob, a counselor at Hull Middle, and Zorn each left the business community for school counseling in part because of their time working as youth directors.
“We just really enjoy working with kids,” she said. “We left two very high-paying jobs, and maybe now we’re almost to the point of making as much as we did 20 years ago. We joke about that, but both of us enjoy it so much. I was never born to do something else but this.”