Laura Ross, a Five Forks Middle School counselor, who was named 2020 National School Counselor of the Year by the American School Counselor Association was among those recognized at the Dec. 19 Gwinnett County Schools Board of Education meeting.
The American School Counselor Association honors professionals who devote their careers to advocating for students and addressing their academic and social/emotional development as well as college and career readiness needs.
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Principal Christine Douthart acknowledged that Ross is "a true hero" when it comes to helping their school grow in terms of building relationships with students.
“She is a school counselor who has the best interest of students at the heart of everything she does. When we come together to think about our mission as a school, Laura always asks, ‘Are we making decisions for adults, or are we making decisions based on what is best for our students?’” said Douthart.
A graduate of the University of Georgia, Ross has served as a school counselor for nine years. She has been at Five Forks Middle School since 2014.
Ross’ prior work as a counselor at an adult men’s correctional facility fueled her passion for restorative justice in her current role at Five Forks. During the 2018–19 school year, she noticed male African American and Latino students made up 49% of all discipline referrals. “With referrals come consequences, such as in- and out-of-school suspension, disconnecting students from direct instruction,” Ms. Ross said.
After setting a goal to decrease referrals by 15%, Ross and her department developed a multi-tiered intervention plan for the entire school. Schoolwide programs on peer relations and positive behavior incentives were paired with targeted interventions that included strengths-based, small-group sessions and weekly one-on-one advocacy and support coaching. Staff members received professional development on implicit bias, including weekly emails to reinforce ideas for teachers to cultivate culturally responsive connections to students. By the end of the school year, discipline referrals for African American and Latino males decreased 32%.
As this year's winner, Ross along with the three School Counselor of the Year finalists Amanda Jo Bustamante of Paso Del Norte School in Texas, Jennifer Kline of Festus High in Missouri and Julie Taylor of Starr Elementary in Ohio, will be honored at a black-tie gala in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 30.
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