What It Means to be a School Counselor in Franklin County, Ohio

School Counseling in Franklin County

School counselors perform multiple roles in elementary and secondary education schools across FrankSchool counselor sitting in circle with studentslin County, Ohio, based on the income level of the city where they are located. School counselors receive professional training in ethics, counseling techniques, theory and more. However, they perform duties beyond their formal master’s training depending on their school placement and district. Therefore, it is crucial to understand the diverse practices of school counselors as they relate to student success in Franklin County.

Change from Within

Traditionally, school counselors in Franklin County did not have opportunities to use their training and expertise to inform greater social and academic changes within their schools. School counselors were thought to fill a specific set of duties including academic advising, college preparation, and discipline, and they are often referred to as “guidance counselors.” Today, school counselors’ roles look drastically different. They communicate more closely with parents, provide therapy for students with and without mental health diagnoses, or Individualized Education Plans (IEPs), and provide classroom guidance (Amatea & Clark, 2005; Fitch & Marshall, 2004). While these roles are not unique to Franklin County, the county was one of only a few selected that received support to transform the role of school counselors.

The National Initiative to Transform School Counseling examined and redefined the role of school counselors, to contribute to equity and increased services for all students in 1997. This task force included a strong advocacy role for school counselors, to position them as change agents at a systemic level (Bemak & Chung, 2005). The Initiative enlisted Dr. Susan Sears and The Ohio State University Counselor Education program as one of a select group of programs to participate in this endeavor. Dr. Sears (1999) redefined the importance of a school counselor in the early 21st century, emphasizing the larger role they play in addressing barriers to high achievement and success after high school, especially among low-income and minority students. Dr. Sears (1993) also recognized that many students faced additional difficulties in not only receiving comprehensive and adequate mental health care, but also in achieving in elementary and secondary school settings.

Today, school counselors in Ohio, particularly in Franklin County, through the work initiated by Dr. Sears, are now integral to Tier 1 interventions according to the Response to Intervention Model in education (Kaffenberger, Murphy, & Bemak, 2008; Ryan, Kaffenberger, & Carroll, 2011). School counselors have assumed a role that encompasses much more than providing individual services to students.

Learning from the Experts

Expert school counselors in Franklin County are invaluable resources to help people of Franklin County understand current inequities. We interviewed two school counselors and asked about how they perceive inequity in schools based on their roles as school counselors. These school counselors have held multiple roles that are all-encompassed into the title of “school counselor,” and they understand how inequity is present within each setting. We asked questions regarding the current roles of school counselors, how they would change the roles of school counselors, and what is most important to identify moving forward to close the gap of inequity that exists. We present the school counselors’ responses alongside previous research and our statistical analyses to provide a richer depiction of counseling-related educational inequality in Franklin County schools.

Disparities in School Counselor Role Between Low and High Achieving School

Research has established that school achievement highly correlates with income; if a student is from a household of higher socioeconomic status, they are more likely to succeed, and vice-versa [1] (Davis-Kean, 2005). With that, one can compare the roles of school counselors at high-achieving and low-achieving schools as a substitute for comparing on the basis of income. School counselors in higher achieving schools, based on standardized test scores, spend more time on program management, evaluation, and research than do lower achieving schools. (Fitch & Marshall, 2004). The roles and responsibilities of school counselors between low and high-income schools vary significantly and further contribute to educational inequity. School counselors function as both the school counselor and college counselor, providing clinical support to students, implementing programmatic changes, and more. School counselors also advise students in the college access process. In higher income and higher achieving schools, school counselors’ duties include conducting needs assessments, program planning, studying program effectiveness to implement changes, and spending more time aligning their programs with state and national school counseling standards. (Fitch & Marshall, 2004).

One school counselor, Dr. Brett Zyromski, commented on the status of school counselors in Franklin County. From his years of professional experience, administrators hire school counselors, but do not understand them, and see them as “low hanging fruit” that can carry out tasks that the school needs (B. Zyromski, personal communication, March 8, 2018). These tasks include test preparation, guidance counseling, discipline, and others. The variation in school counselor roles by district impacts student success. Dr. Colette Dollarhide, another veteran school counselor, stated, “In schools, everybody agrees that they want students to be successful, but they disagree around how to do that and what success means to each person” (C. Dollarhide, personal communication, March 9, 2018). School counselors are pivotal to the success of students, yet schools are still hesitant to utilize their training to help foster success in their students.

District Income Level and School Counseling Staff

Public schools primarily receive funding through local property taxes. Subsequently, a relationship might exist between the average household income and the services provided to students within the same school district. To explore whether there is a meaningful difference in the number of school counselors employed by a district based on local income, we ran a correlational analysis using SPSS. We collected median household income data for each district from the United States Census Bureau website (see Table 1). We identified the number of school counselors per 1,000 students for each district from the Ohio Department of Education 2017 Report Card for each district.

While disparity does not appear to exist in the number of school counselors, relative to the median household incomes, disparities emerge when analyzing the differences in school counselor role and responsibility based on income. We found a small, positive relationship between median household income per district and the number of school counselors per 1,000 students. However, this relationship was not statistically significant. Based on these findings, low- and high-income schools employ virtually the same number of school counselors per 1,000 students.

We can analyze this disparity by inquiring about the role that staff serve in their roles and school districts. Dr. Zyromski commented on how inequity would be addressed through the role of the school counselor in Franklin County. He notes that if school staff, teachers, and administrators were to understand the role of school counselors and recognize the need for them that student-to-counselor ratios would decrease; which would increase the time that school counselors can commit to Tier 1 preventative work and resiliency training for students. Further, there would be more opportunity for Tier 2 data-driven interventions for student success (B. Zyromski, personal communication, March 8, 2018). In addressing and clarifying the role of school counselors, amongst other acts of advocacy, the inequity gap would close, increasing opportunities for underserved students. We can combat the inequity gap that exists for students by understanding the role of the school counselor and using these professionals exactly in the ways in which they are trained.


The quantitative data from our correlational analysis of income and number of school counselors, along with the qualitative data from interviewing local school counselor educators, suggest that educational inequity in school counseling cannot be solely attributed to whether a school district is in a low-income area versus a high-income area. Inequity results not only from the number of school counselors employed by a district, but also from the varying responsibilities of school counselors in low income versus high-income areas. The previously cited literature and our qualitative data highlight how the roles and responsibilities of school counselors in high-income districts are more aligned with The National Initiative to Transform School Counseling guidelines in comparison to low-income districts.


Moving forward, these expert school counselors agree that change must occur. One way that we can advocate for school counselors’ roles and push for change is by educating others. Dr. Zyromski reported, “People don’t understand all that school counselors can do and the impact they have. Research shows that even adding interns to these environments adds to student achievement. People don’t know this research, and we need to make it more known to [this group of] people” (B. Zyromski, personal communication, March 8, 2018). Articulating this can be a great first step toward change. Adding a student assistance team to advocate for school counseling would also make an impact (C. Dollarhide, personal communication, March 9, 2018). These advocates would be embedded in schools, and would understand the roles of school counselors; they would be able to advocate for change by educating others, and by speaking up when they recognize the presence of inequity.


Amatea, E., & Clark, M. (2005). Changing schools, changing counselors: A qualitative study of school administrators’ conceptions of the school counselor role. Professional School Counseling9(1), 16-27.

Bemak, F., & Chung, R. (2005). Advocacy as a critical role for urban school counselors: Working toward equity and social justice. Professional School Counseling, 196-20

Central Ohio School Districts. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://medicine.osu.edu/residents/housing/centralohioschooldistricts/pages/index.aspx.

Davis-Kean, P. E. (2005). The influence of parent education and family income on child achievement: The indirect role of parental expectations and the home environment. Journal of Family Psychology, 294-304.

Fitch, T., & Marshall, J. L. (2004). What counselors do in high-achieving schools: A study on the role of the school counselor. Professional School Counseling, 172-177.

Herrington, D. E., & Ross, W. (2006). A comparative study of pre-professional counselor/principal perceptions of the role of the counselor in public schools. National Forum of Educational Administration and Supervision, 23(4), 1-18.

Household Income in Columbus, Ohio (City). (n.d.). Retrieved from https://statisticalatlas.com/place/Ohio/Columbus/Household-Income

Household Income in Olentangy Local School District, Ohio (Unified School District). (n.d.). Retrieved from https://statisticalatlas.com/school-district/Ohio/Olentangy-Local-School-District/Household-Income

Kaffenberger, C. J., Murphy, S., & Bemak, F. (2006). School counseling leadership team: A statewide collaborative model to transform school counseling. Professional School Counseling, 9(4), 288-294.

Ohio Department of Education. (2017).  District financial status. Retrieved from http://education.ohio.gov/Topics/Finance-and-Funding/District-Financial-Status.

Ryan, T., Kaffenberger, C. J., & Carroll, A. G. (2011). Response to intervention: An opportunity for school counselor leadership. Professional School Counseling, 14(3), 211-221.

Sears, S. J. (1993). The changing scope of practice of the secondary school counselor. School Counselor, 40(5), 384-88.

Sears, S. (1999). Transforming school counseling: making a difference for students. (School Counselors: A Bridge to Students). Nassp Bulletin, 83, 603.


Table 1. District Expenditures, Median Income, and School Counselors (Ohio Department of Education, 2017)

District Median Household Income School Counselors
Bexley City $173,331.00 3.1
Canal Winchester $63,390.00 2.2
Columbus City $47,337.00 2.8
Dublin $110,275.00 2.9
Gahanna-Jefferson $92,148.00 1.6
Grandview $105,644.00 4.7
Groveport-Madison $41,948.00 3.3
Hamilton $41,222.00 1.5
Hilliard $78,802.00 2
New Albany-Plain $224,940.00 1.9
South Western City $49,736.00 1.1
Upper Arlington $155,603.00 3
Westerville $74,605.00 2.3
Whitehall $34,381.00 4
Worthington $82,650.00 2.2
Reynoldsburg $51,464.00 1



[1] There is debate about how success is measured in the context of elementary and secondary education and relies upon school and district scores on state and national examinations. This measure of success does not always indicate whether or not a student will be successful in post-secondary education or in a career.