A former leader of school counselors in Forsyth County passed away July 5 after a battle with pancreatic cancer.
Debra “Debbie” Conrad Rondem, 60, retired from the local public school system in 2011, after working as director of student support services since 1990.
She also had served as a middle school counselor and had a total of 35 years in education.
Susan Atkins, current director of student support services, worked as assistant director for four years before succeeding Rondem after her retirement.
Atkins said many words come to mind when she thinks of her predecessor.
“Dedicated, hard worker, led by example, high expectations,” she said. “But I think for me one of the most noticeable and really the strongest and most outstanding attribute was that she was so knowledgeable in the field.
“She was aware of emerging advancements … and led Forsyth County personnel to meet those new enhancements as they came along.”
Rondem was also known as a leader in the school counseling field throughout the state.
Lynn Pennington, executive director of the Student Support Team Association of Georgia, said Rondem helped found the organization 12 years ago.
“Debbie was very involved from the very beginning,” Pennington said. “She was part of the informal group … we’ve now been a statewide professional association for five years.”
Rondem served as a president of the organization, and last year received the organization’s first leadership award, which was named in her honor.
Pennington said the Debbie Rondem Award for Outstanding Leadership will be presented annually to a school counseling professional who displays strong leadership qualities.
“Debbie exemplified the type of leader that if we saw all over Georgia, we would have solved a lot of the issues with the difficulties we’re having with kids with challenges,” she said. “She understood you must intervene early, you must intervene very systematically and then know whether or not you’re making changes with students.
“It takes a lot of courage to train the professionals around you … to spread that word and then help people develop the skills to do it well. And she was all of that.”
Rondem’s outlook on life was another of her strongest qualities, Atkins said.
“She was always, always, always very kind, very positive,” she said. “Positive is probably the No. 1 attribute. She could always see the possibility and the bright side.”
According to her obituary, Rondem also served on numerous community boards such as the Cumming/Forsyth Council on Youth.
“She was very, very, very involved with really all aspects of care for students,” Atkins said. “In the community [with] United Way and through the child advocacy agencies like DFACS and Juvenile Court, she was always looking for ways to help students even though they were beyond the classroom.”
Rondem was also a veteran, having joined the Army Reserves in 1975 as an enlisted soldier. She retired in 2007 with the rank of colonel.
Throughout her service, she received a number of medals and other recognitions, and following her retirement was appointed by the president of the United States to be the civilian state director for Georgia’s Selective Service System.
Pennington called her “very patriotic.”
“One of the things she taught us was going through an airport, she said ‘thank you’ to every service person that we met,” she said. “So we started following her and doing the same thing.
“It was one of those things — she didn’t lecture you, she modeled … she inspired you to do more.”
Rondem is survived by her husband of 28 years, retired Col. Ronnie Rondem, as well as her son, Christopher Conrad Rondem and his fiancée Katie Ficco, and her parents and other family members.
Funeral services are scheduled for 10 a.m. Friday at Episcopal Church of St. Peter and St. Paul in Marietta. Interment will follow at Georgia National Cemetery.
The family will receive friends from 5:30 to 8 p.m. today and Thursday at Northside Chapel Funeral Directors in Roswell.