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The student news site of Clayton High School.

The Globe

The student news site of Clayton High School.

The Globe

College Counselor departs, letters remain unwritten

It was, as PTO Co-President Christy Breckenridge put it, “jaw-dropping”. At the Aug. 9 PTO meeting, Principal Louise Losos announced, to the surprise of the parents and students in attendance, that Chat Leonard would not be returning for the 2010-2011 school year after 13 years as a CHS college counselor.

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Chat Leonard had been a CHS college counselor for 13 years leaving students and parents shocked at her sudden resignation.

“[Losos] said that we would be receiving a letter in the mail that had just gone out announcing Chat Leonard’s resignation, and that technically Ms. Leonard had retired at the end of the year with the expectation that she would be coming back in the fall, and she basically got an offer that she couldn’t refuse….” Breckenridge said.

According to Losos, because of fears that experienced teachers were being “forced” to retire by the retirement system, the system was changed several years ago. It now allows teachers to retire at the end of a school year, receive a payment from the retirement system, and be rehired by the District. This is what Leonard was expected to do, but she received a more attractive offer from Metro High School.

“We had sat down and come up with a plan that she would be here for another at least one to three years, very specifically to give time to recruit or to train someone to replace her,” College Counselor Carolyn Blair said. “That was the conversation that we had….  I was pretty shocked. I felt that we had this settled.”

Losos said that Leonard was informed about the position in the spring but that the city’s budget was not finalized until early August, when she was actually offered the job. She informed the District of the job offer on Aug. 3 and of her resignation two days later.

“When Dr. Doug Moore, principal at Metro Academic and Classical High School, which is a magnet school in the St. Louis Public School District, called during the last week of July to offer me a position as college counselor, I was both humbled and honored,” Leonard said in a statement. “However, I was torn… not because of the challenge, but because of the timing. This was a one-time opportunity where I would hopefully stay until I actually retired from education… which will hopefully be five years plus some.”

To help students and parents deal with the situation, brown-bag lunches will be held for students and parents, a senior class meeting has been added in early October, and Blair said that she will be setting up a blog that will answer frequently asked questions.  She hopes to use more group discussions to address the common questions to avoid individual meetings where students ask the same thing.

“Now is a really anxious time,” Blair said. “People are trying to finalize lists, ‘Do I need to retake a test?’, ‘Do I need SAT II’s?’, ‘Which ones should I take?’− those types of questions are all sort of swirling around.  So to be able to have someone to talk about that with is my first thought. My second thought is the letters.”

Leonard did not write the letters over the summer. Instead, Blair will seek advice from other staff to ensure the letters maintain their characteristic high quality.

“Mr. Gutchewsky and Ms. Smith know the whole class best,” Blair said. “They will feed me all of those personal details that go into the letter, and I will in effect craft the letter tailored to the student and their list and that kind of thing.”

As far as hiring a replacement, which is undoubtedly necessary, Losos said the process is underway but uncertain.

“It could happen tomorrow or it could take a few more weeks…” Losos said. “We’re trying to locate a few recent retirees that she knows and thinks highly of, because once we get that in place, we can start looking for a permanent replacement. NACAC, which is the National Association for College Admission Counseling, is holding their national convention in St. Louis this year, which is convenient .So then we can go out and recruit for the 2011 school year.”

Though Blair said she had talked with Leonard about possible replacements, it is difficult for high school and even college counselors to leave their schools at this time of year. For this reason, Blair said they are looking at possibly hiring a retired counselor.

In her statement, Leonard said that she feels that her departure will have “very little at all” impact on the current seniors, saying that “counselors do not get students into college, the students get themselves in.”  She said that CHS students are their own best advocates, and that they will also have “some of most knowledgeable, caring and professional teachers in the state of Missouri” to help them through the process. As for her new job, Leonard said the administration and PTO at Metro have been supportive and welcoming.

Though Blair said that she is not stressed out– “that wouldn’t help me”– and is not concerned that seniors will receive poor or worse than normal counseling, she emphasized the need for finding a replacement.

“To be sure that everybody gets the service that they’re used to, we’ve got to get somebody in here,” Blair said. “I’m one person. But it is what it is; we’re just going to have to make it work.”

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College Counselor departs, letters remain unwritten