Clayton ES School Counselor Heather Chesnut is surprised with the news Tuesday that she is the Cherokee County School District’s 2021 Counselor of the Year.
See the video, posted above, of today's surprise presentation.
NOTE: A gallery of photos from today's surprise is online here.
Clayton Elementary School’s school counselor sees her mission in three parts: to connect, to educate and to advocate.
Heather Chesnut meets and exceeds that mission with love, hope and a lot of hard work, according to her students, their families and her colleagues.
“She is a safe haven,” one parent shared, noting her children have been strongly supported by Ms. Chesnut as they navigated through family challenges over the past two years. “She goes above and beyond what is required of a school counselor.”
Ms. Chesnut earlier this year was selected by colleagues as the Cherokee Innovation Zone’s Counselor of the Year in recognition of her outstanding service for the past nine years, and Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower surprised her Tuesday with the honor that she’s the Cherokee County School District 2021 Counselor of the Year! Ms. Chesnut now advances to the statewide Counselor of the Year competition.
“Heather may be Clayton’s only school counselor, but you would think it’s served by an army of counselors with all that she’s able to accomplish,” Dr. Hightower said. “She shows so much heart in everything she does, and inspires not only her students and colleagues, but has inspired me as well. This past school year has been among the most challenging for all of us, but Heather has dedicated herself to ensuring the children and teachers and staff she serves know she’s here to support them.”
Credit Union of Georgia, a CCSD Partner, sponsored gifts including an iPad with case and an engraved plaque for Ms. Chesnut that were presented by Branch Sales and Service Manager Jason Blakey, as well as a $50 gift card for her and each of the Innovation Zone Counselors of the Year, which will be delivered to their schools. Chief Operations Officer Dr. Debra Murdock, Student Services Administrator Dr. Ben Lester and Clayton ES Principal Carrie O’Bryant joined in the presentation, as did Ms. Chesnut’s husband and one of their children.
“She is viewed as a leader in our District,” Principal O’Bryant said, noting that not only does Ms. Chesnut lead in her school, but she frequently serves on District committees and mentors fellow school counselors.
Ms. Chesnut joined CCSD after a successful career in private practice, which followed service as a counselor for a children’s group home and a Naval Base fleet and family support center. She has earned a master’s degree in counseling and is a licensed professional counselor, nationally certified counselor and a professionally certified school counselor.
As the sole school counselor at Clayton Elementary, Ms. Chesnut fulfills numerous roles ranging from teaching guidance lessons to classes, meeting with small groups on specific issues and coordinating testing to overseeing the school’s positive behavior program, attendance promotion program, charitable activities and career exploration events. Not only does she wear all of these school counselor hats, but, as Clayton is not large enough to earn a full-time assistant principal, she also unofficially serves in that role and assists Principal O’Bryant with duties including student discipline.
One of her greatest accomplishments in her school’s charitable efforts has been the establishment of a backpack snacks program, inspired by a student sharing with Ms. Chesnut that he didn’t want to go on summer break because he wouldn’t have as much food to eat at home as he does at school. Through a grant from the Service League of Cherokee County, Ms. Chesnut started the program five years ago, which she has sustained and grown through collaborating with school partners including churches and nonprofits.
“I want to know their likes, dislikes, what sport they play, who they admire, what makes them sad and what brings them joy,” she said of her students. “This is the stuff that will build connections and impress upon my students that Mrs. Chesnut doesn’t just know me as a student, but she knows the person I am.”
And that stuff works. “Mrs. Chesnut helps kids through tough times,” one student shared. “She makes them feel better about their situations. She is always a kindhearted, hardworking and caring woman. Everyone should be grateful to have her as a counselor.”
The award process begins with each Innovation Zone (high school and feeder elementary and middle schools) selecting a Counselor of the Year. Applications from these honorees then are considered by a panel of retired educators and community leaders, who select the CCSD Counselor of the Year.
In addition to Ms. Chesnut for the Cherokee Innovation Zone (IZ), the other Zone winners are: Creekview IZ, Tina Word of Macedonia ES; Etowah IZ, Whitney Morberg of Etowah HS; River Ridge IZ, Alicia Davis of Mill Creek MS; Sequoyah IZ, Taylor Herman of Dean Rusk MS; and Woodstock IZ, Jennifer Farlow of Woodstock MS.
Celebrating the announcement on Tuesday that Clayton ES School Counselor Heather Chesnut is the Cherokee County School District’s 2021 Counselor of the Year are, from left to right, CCSD Student Services Administrator Dr. Ben Lester, Chief Operations Officer Dr. Debra Murdock, Principal Carrie O’Bryant; Grant, third-grader Eva and Heather Chesnut; Credit Union of Georgia Branch Sales and Service Manager Jason Blakey and Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian V. Hightower.