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Otwell counselor named tops in state
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Heather Roth receives a hug from Otwell Middle School Principal Steve Miller after learning she was named the Georgia Middle School Counselor of the Year. - photo by Jim Dean

For Otwell Middle School’s Heather Roth, work means changing the perception of counselors and motivating preteens.

“We’re trying to prove (to state legislators) that ... we have had a hand in helping students,” said Roth, noting that counselors can sometimes take the brunt of state budget cuts.

“We are here and we are helping all students, not just ones that have problems.”

Roth’s work has not gone unnoticed. On Monday, she learned that she had been named Georgia’s Middle School Counselor of the Year.

“It’s actually surprising considering this is only my fifth year of counseling,” Roth said.

Steve Miller, the new principal at Otwell, made the announcement at the school’s first staff meeting of the new year.
Superintendent Buster Evans attended the gathering, completing the surprise and noting that it is the “second consecutive year that Forsyth County Schools has had a counselor of the year.”

Last year, the honor went to Diann Branch of Chattahoochee Elementary School.

The annual competition, organized by the Georgia School Counseling Association, requires extensive documentation, including letters from parents, co-workers, administrators and children, as well as essays and evidence of “closing the achievement gap.”

Roth, who moved to the area from New York, has a teaching certificate, bachelor’s degree in psychology and master’s degrees in social work and school counseling.

The 37-year-old has previously worked with the Georgia Department of Family and Children’s Services, Child Protective Services and mental health case management.

“I’ve enjoyed it,” Roth said of her five years at Otwell. “I’m definitely where I need to be.”

When not counseling individual students at the school in Cumming, Roth can be found working with control groups that are learning English, trying to help their test scores.

“Every year we have to do focuses and show data on how we’re improving,” she said.

Roth also counsels students that live with one parent or other relatives.

She had a lot to say about her work with the English learners.

“I think sometimes they feel like, ‘I didn’t make the grade so I may as well give up,’” she said. “But you can show them, ‘Look at how much you improved.’

“A lot of our kids in that area in middle school start and give up and don’t see the benefit of education.”

Roth said she’s there to show them that they “have a great future in front of them.”

Evans said Roth’s award was “truly an honor.”

“It was a particular delight to be at her school when her principal, Steve Miller, made the surprise announcement,” Evans said.

And this may not be the last of Roth’s awards. She also has been nominated for a competition organized by the American School Counseling Association.