McKinney, TX -  Principal Darla Jackson stood in the main corridor of Evans Middle School, greeting kids as the current of sixth, seventh and eighth graders swept by her on their way to class. Some waved and offered greetings in return as they moved along with the flow.

Hundreds of students pass through the halls of Evans each day, a tide of kids moving back and forth with the ebb and flow of the school day. Most days are great, but this is middle school, and the waters can get choppy at times for any student. Sometimes, it can feel like a tempest.

That’s why the Evans Guidance and Counseling Department created a quiet place for their students called the “calming room,” a harbor of sorts in which a student can catch their breath for a few minutes. Students can request to visit the calming room, one at a time, for 5 or 10 minutes and choose a tranquil activity such as journaling, listening to music, working on a puzzle or using one of the sensory stations.

Each student completes a brief survey on their way out that indicates whether the time was helpful for them. The counselors track student visits, and if they note a student who has been in and out of the calming room frequently, or a student who expresses a need for additional support, they’ll follow up.

“Around 90 percent of the kids said they felt much better when they left than when they walked in,” said Jackson. “The majority of them don’t need to see a counselor after that. They felt much more soothed, which is the whole purpose—being able to have that time to reflect, to have a brain break, whatever their needs are.”

It was her leadership and support of efforts like the calming room and the comprehensive counseling program at Evans Middle School that led the Texas School Counselor Association (TSCA) to name Darla Jackson the 2020–2021 Rhosine Fleming Texas Campus Administrator of the Year.

“She has a lot of faith in our counselors’ expertise and strengths and really wants us to be everywhere,” said MISD Coordinator of Counseling Errin French. “She wants counselors in front of the staff, in front of the kids, in front of the community—everywhere. She believes in our role and she gives a lot of freedom in putting together the school counseling program because she sees that what counselors do impacts the whole building.”

MISD counseling departments are doing great work all across the district. In addition to the honor for Jackson, an impressive total of 12 McKinney ISD schools earned the 2020–2021 TSCA CREST Award, the highest state-level recognition of a school’s comprehensive counseling program awarded by TSCA.

2020–2021 TSCA CREST Award Schools:

  • Bennett Elementary: Principal–Amy Holderman, Counselor–Christie Thompson
  • Burks Elementary: Principal–Al Conley, Counselor–Katie Wallace
  • Eddins Elementary: Principal–Sharon Havard, Counselor–Mandy Biros
  • Lawson Early Childhood School: Principal–Susie Towber, Counselor–Jennifer Mitchell
  • McGowen Elementary: Principal–Kim Luyster, Counselor–Shiela de Leon
  • Minshew Elementary: Principal–Inetra Nelson, Counselor–Brandi Moore
  • Press Elementary: Principal–Rachel Constantinescu, Counselor–Susan Washa
  • Webb Elementary: Principal–Maria Hafner, Counselor–Jennifer Lidington
  • Wilmeth Elementary: Principal–Kristen Ellis, Counselor–Teri Morgan-Boyte
  • Evans Middle School: Principal–Darla Jackson, Counselors–Cathy DeLisle, Kelly Sojack, Patricia Spear
  • McKinney High School: Principal–Alan Arbabi, Counselors–Pamala Adams, Andy Crawford, Angela Wylie, Brandi Ribble, Dr. Jeff Cranmore, Gretchen Madison, Jill Lueke, Lori Mitchell, Melissa Howard, Rebecca Moreno, Susan Bell
  • DAEP (Disciplinary Alternative Education Program): Principal–Kyle Luthi, Counselor–Carrie Dewey

And, beyond all of that success, Jennifer Akins, MISD senior director of guidance and counseling, was elected in January to serve as president of TSCA. Akins has served on the TSCA board for the last three years and was elected by the association membership to serve in an expanded leadership role over the next three years.

For Akins and French, the accolades from TSCA bring to light what they see every day on campuses across the district.

“I feel like we’ve known for a long time the caliber of professionals that we have in our district and our team,” said Akins. “And, I think that this is an acknowledgement of the talent that is here and the quality of services that we provide to our community. I think that there are other programs across the district that are equally strong that maybe didn’t submit an application this year, but that doesn’t mean that those programs aren’t amazing programs. I think that we have talent all over, and our kids deserve that.”

During the 2019–2020 school year, the 60 professionals who make up the district’s cadre of school counselors met with students individually nearly 51,000 times. They led more than 1,500 small group meetings, taught 6,200-plus classroom lessons and had contact with parents more than 13,500 times—not including emails.

Those numbers represent the myriad hopes, challenges and successes of MISD students.

But, the MISD counselors will be the first to point out that they don’t do the job alone. They are part of campus-wide teams putting into action the Texas Model for Comprehensive School Counseling Programs, which is endorsed by TEA and features four primary components: individual planning, guidance instruction, responsive services and system support.

The CREST awards recognize schools across Texas that appropriately utilize their school counselors and demonstrate a continuous commitment to building a campus team to accomplish that goal at a high level. According to TSCA, “Award-winning campuses engage their Professional School Counselors to provide students with the classroom guidance, college and career readiness and social/emotional skills needed to be academically successful and well-prepared for life. Professional School Counselors receiving the CREST award use data-driven results to show the effectiveness of their comprehensive guidance and counseling program.”

For Jackson, earning the TSCA award is an opportunity to highlight the work of MISD school counselors.

“I’m very honored to receive the [Campus Administrator of the Year] award because it tells me that I’m letting our counselors do the amazing work that they need to do for our campus,” said Jackson. “They take care of our staff; they take care of our students; they have vision for what the social/emotional work needs to look like, and I basically just get out of their way and give them my blessing to do the awesome work that they do every day.”