Retirements lead to realignment of counselors and the students they help


Photo: Lindsay Breslin

Counseling Department Chair David Elliott chats with senior Dani Carrington about schedule changes and conflicts early in the year.

Lots of changes are taking place at Fairmont — changes in security, technology, curriculum and testing, for example. So it may not seem surprising that even the Guidance Department has undergone some significant changes this year.

How significant? Consider that nearly half of the counselors are new this year, and some of the veteran counselors got new assignments and/or locations. As a result, about 1,700 Fairmont students found themselves with a new counselor this year.

It all began with the retirement last spring of three counselors: Tim Whetsel, Cheryl Abraham and Patty Ellis. Three new counselors — Nicole Will, Tara Shirk and Spencer Brown — were hired to replace them.


Will, who is the counselor for all Career Tech students, is ecstatic to be at Fairmont. “I’m really happy to be here. I’m excited to be at Fairmont,” she said. “I think this is a wonderful place, and I’m looking forward to a great school year and a great future with Career Tech.”

Guidance Department Chair David Elliott says he’s pleased with the quality and credentials of the new counselors, but he admits that all the changes made for a rough start to the school year.

Elliott said that scheduling changes led to lines out the counselors’ doors. Elliott, who moved his office from Career Tech to East Unit this summer, said he logged 120 hours in the first two weeks of the year.

“It has been a very challenging beginning of the school year,” said Elliott, who added that he recognizes all the changes caused some stress for students as well.

Will said communication is a key way students can help make their counselor’s job easier, while helping themselves, too. “Students should stop in, introduce themselves, and get to know me,” she said.

Elliott agreed and urged students to help the counselors help them.

“We have seven counselors here right now who care deeply about the academic and personal success of every single student who attends here, and we take that awesome responsibility seriously,” he said.

Many people are not aware of what counselors actually do. They have many responsibilities. Counselors work with scheduling and credit checks. They also help with college applications and make sure students are on track to graduate. Counselors are here to support students, whether it is providing academic support through tutoring and test prep or even providing social and emotional support with drug or alcohol intervention, housing issues, and severe financial problems.

Changes like the ones in the Guidance Department this year always present a challenge, but Elliott believes things are beginning to settle down.

“Whenever you try something new,” he said, “there are going to be growing pains.”