June 11, 2014 Edition

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Debbie Findley named
Counselor of the Year

Walnut Ridge High School Principal Jacob Kersey (left) and Secondary Counselor Debbie Findley look over grade sheets at WRHS on Monday. Kersey said that behind every good principal is a good counselor, and he wouldn't be able to do his job without Findley. Findley was recently informed that she won the Arkansas School Counselor Association Secondary Counselor of the Year award because of her dedication to her work as a counselor.
TD Photo ~ Megan Heyl
Megan Heyl
Staff Writer

Walnut Ridge High School Counselor Debbie Findley recently received a letter from the Arkansas School Counselor Association congratulating her on being selected for the Secondary Counselor of the Year award.

This is the second time Findley has been selected for this award, also winning it in 2000 while counseling at Nettleton, and further cements her as a valuable member of the WRHS staff, something of which Principal Jacob Kersey had no doubt.

Kersey said she has always gone above and beyond in her work at the school. "It doesn't matter what it is, she not only does it, but she wants to do it. She's a very hard worker," he said.

Findley graduated from Bay High School and earned her Bachelor in English from Arkansas State University in Jonesboro. She later received her Master in Secondary Counseling, a degree she said she didn't use for nearly 15 years. "I wanted an advanced degree in education in a field where I knew I could help young people. I thought counseling was a program well suited to me."

Returning to Bay High School to teach English, she worked there for five years before starting in 1979 at Nettleton, where she continued to teach. Findley didn't start counseling until 1994.

"I saw a real need for students to have an advocate on their side for the things they face in school," she said. While she enjoyed teaching, she felt it was time for a change and used the things she learned about students in the classroom to help them as a counselor.

Findley retired from Nettleton in 2007 after working there 28 years and seeing both of her sons, Judd Findley of Jonesboro and John Findley of Columbia, Mo., graduate from there.

She and her husband, Kenny, moved to Cherokee Village after her retirement. Though she didn't relax for long. After retirement, she taught at Valley View for a semester and later worked part-time as a K-8 counselor at Imboden Area Charter School for a year. However, it was a job offer at Walnut Ridge High School that really pulled her out of retirement.

Starting at WRHS in 2010, Findley said it's the best place she could imagine to be working.

"I feel very appreciated. The teachers and staff make me feel like part of the Walnut Ridge family, even though I haven't been here very long," she said.

Debbie said she was a little apprehensive when she started at Walnut Ridge because she knew she'd be following Joyce Rose as counselor and she knew those would be big shoes to fill. She challenged herself to try to do as good a job as Rose did.

Supt. Terry Belcher commented on Findley's work at the school and her being named Secondary Counselor of the Year. "Mrs. Findley is an outstanding counselor and very deserving of this honor. We are very fortunate to have her," he said.

In addition to working with the students at the high school, she also has acted as a mentor to other counselors at the Walnut Ridge and Black Rock schools, helping them to become better counselors.

"Mrs. Findley has been a tremendous mentor for me," said Kelly Rider, WRES counselor, who worked with Findley at the high school as part of an intership.

"Whenever I have a situation arise and I want to make sure I am proceeding with the proper course of action, I make contact with Mrs. Findley for her professional opinion. Her years of experience are priceless."

Counselor Penny Sloan shared Rider's praise of Findley's work. "As a first-year school counselor, Mrs. Findley has been a huge help to me. She is always super busy but doesn't think twice about stopping what she is doing to help me or one of our students. She works so hard to help our students succeed and she always does it with a smile on her face. She is amazing to watch in action," she said.

Findley said she really enjoys working with the younger counselors. "It's good to know the profession is getting some good people," she said.

When not acting as mentor, adviser or counselor, one might find Findley back in the classroom where she occasionally assists teachers with lessons. Kersey recalled her coming to school one day dressed as a character from the literary work she was helping to teach that day. He explained that this was just one of the many ways she sets herself apart.

Walnut Ridge teachers even voted her Teacher of the Year in the 2012-13 school year, which Kersey said goes to show how well respected she is. Findley works in many areas of the school, helping with career days, scheduling, summer schooling, ACT prep, grading and keeping students on track for graduation.

"Graduation is always kind of bitter sweet," she said. "I've seen so many students grow and mature and find their focus and decide what they want to do, and I like to think I might have had a little influence on that, that I helped them along the way."

Recent graduate Cody McClendon was one of many she helped. "She is the best counselor I've ever had because she really works with the students," he said. McClendon said he is very grateful for the help Findley gave him in applying for scholarships at ASU, where he is attending in the fall.

The 2014 graduating class was a special one to Findley as it was the first class she saw through all four years at WRHS. She said that both the students and their parents were really committed to the school and they appreciated that she worked with them. She also said she knew that they were part of the reason she received this award because they wrote letters to ArSCA.

"I'm so humbled. I don't feel deserving of this award because I know there are so many other secondary counselors that deserve it more," Findley said. "I'm very proud of it."

Findley will be presented the award at the ArSCA summer conference on July 14 in Hot Springs. Counselor of the year is a statewide award presented to one secondary counselor and one elementary counselor at the end of every school year.

Findley also works as the district 504 coordinator and district test coordinator.

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