Counselor Shuffle

The disruptive effect of counselor reassignments.

In a chaotic start to the school year, many students found themselves with their counselor assignment suddenly changed, disrupting years of supportive relationships many students had developed.
All 10, 11th, and 12th grade students in the Highly Capable Cohort (HCC) track were switched to Mr. Courtney regardless of their previous counselor. Running Start and students with 504 forms, which accommodates varying types of disabilities, were re-assigned to Mr. Willis. Many other 10th, 11th, and 12th grade students were reassigned to new counselors based on their last name. As in past years, 9th graders are with Ms. Alston.
For seniors, the student-counselor relationship is extremely important since counselors write letters of recommendation, which are a crucial part of college applications.
Counselors also play a vital role in helping students navigate key decisions related to the college process and beyond, including mental health support, academic guidance, and scholarship information.

For students that require extra assistance, this relationship is even more important. So when senior Theo Unger’s counselor was changed from Mr. Courtney to Mr. Willis, it came as stressful news.
“I have a lot of issues with school, and I talked to Mr. Courtney a lot and he helped me get a 504,” Unger said. “He knows what’s up with me and can help me make the right choices in a way somebody who’s just met me can’t.” Unger’s problem with school was centered on attendance, so when Mr. Courtney recommended they look into taking Running Start classes at Seattle Central instead of attending Garfield full time, things noticeably improved for them.
Although they believe that Mr. Willis will likely be able to give them the help they need to graduate high school and get into college, it’s no substitute for a counselor who knows their history.
“You can know my backstory on paper, but for me personally [as someone] who’s had to deal with a lot of special circumstances regarding school, it’s hard to meet someone for the first time and have them actually be helpful,” Unger said.
Senior drama president Julia Haralson also experienced stress due to the counselor change. After having Mr. Courtney for 2 years, since she is not an HCC student, her counselor changed to Mr. Lee.
“Mr. Courtney got me into theater classes all my previous years at Garfield, so there’s some relationship to build off there,” Haralson said. When her counselor changed, that prior knowledge of Haralson’s interests and personality disappeared.
“Even if the relationship is [meeting] every year for a required session, it’s still better than, hello, nice to meet you, for the first time, right now!” Haralson said.
Even without the benefit of years of familiarity, the mandatory senior meeting can still be useful if the counselor and student are able to establish a speedy connection.
“I’ve often written letters of support to students in that application process having just met them,” Courtney said. “The interview process I do in the senior meeting gives me enough information to present a good summary of who the student is.”
Much of the class of 2019 now finds itself hoping that such a condensed relationship will work, with the counselors acknowledging that the situation is not ideal.
“One thing we as a counseling office have lobbied for is to not change our caseloads, so we can have that 4-year relationship,” Mr. Courtney said. This enables counselors to get to know students and their needs in deeper way, and to help them navigate academics.
As Mr. Courtney surveyed a sample of seniors, he noted that only 16 of the 42 he had met with all three years. That leaves 28 students to be advised by someone who does not know them as well.
Mr. Courtney is confident, however, that the graduating class will receive the guidance they need despite the irregularity of the situation.
“Students think that, I don’t know my counselor, I’m a senior, I’m applying to college. It is a really nerve-racking time, but the counselors are here to help with that.”