Counselor of the Month

Palo Alto High School's Sandra Cernobori is our Counselor of the Month


College Advisor Sandra Cernobori was sitting at her desk in the College and Career Center of Palo Alto High School in Palo Alto, California, when a parent came in to talk to one of her colleagues. She was not a parent at the school, but had some questions about college admission. A few minutes into the conversation, the visitor said to Cernobori’s fellow advisor, “Let me go get my son, I want him to hear this.” Whereupon she brought into the office her 18-month-old child. Yes, you read that correctly, her 18-month-old child.

Welcome to the world of college advising in the heart of Silicon Valley where the college learning curve -- and the pressure -- starts early for some.  Founded in 1894, Palo Alto High School, known as Paly, is nationally known for its academically rigorous environment. Its campus, which serves more than 1900 students, sits across the street from Stanford University. “Our students are often from families that are highly educated or highly value education, so expectations are high,” says Cernobori. “But we also have families where the parents have not attended four-year colleges.”

Kelly Dunham, Cherry Creek High School

Last week, one of Kelly Dunham's students informed her that he had received notification he was waitlisted at one of the colleges to which he'd applied. He was asked to follow a link to let the university know if he was interested in staying on the waitlist. He selected the link and it took him to a pornography website. "Thank goodness, he is a student with a great sense of humor," says Dunham.  "I contacted the university and the link was of course wrong!  What are the chances?"

It's all in a day's work for Dunham -- though her days usually revolve around more prosaic problems like academic advising and college lists.  As Counseling Department Coordinator for Cherry Creek High School in Greenwood Village, Colorado, in the Denver metropolitan area, Dunham is head of the department and also acts as one of ten counselors, who spend most of their time advising students on academics, social/emotional issues, and college.  The largest high school west of the Mississippi River, Cherry Creek is home to 3500 students, 95% of whom go on to college.

Laura Stewart, Ensworth School

Laura Stewart, our March Counselor of the Month, had both a unique opportunity and challenge when she joined the college counseling program at Ensworth School, an independent college preparatory high school in Nashville, Tennessee. For 46 years -- since 1958 -- the school had served only elementary and middle school students. Then, in August, 2004, Ensworth added grades 9 through 12, opening the new 127-acre Devon Farm campus one month after Stewart joined the school as Assistant Director of College Counseling.

Over the next five years, Stewart rose to become Director of College Counseling -- in 2009, one year after Ensworth School graduated its first senior class. As a result, she has had the opportunity to participate in building a counseling program where there were no preconceived ideas. As Director, she has been able to establish policies and procedures that reflect a philosophy with her own creative stamp and then watch the program grow. "It's hard for me to imagine being anywhere else because I've been so fortunate to get to do what I want," says Stewart.

Frank Palmasani, Hinsdale South High School

February is Financial Aid Awareness Month. So who better to feature as our Counselor of the month than Frank Palmsani?  A veteran counselor now in his 20th year at Hinsdale South High School in Darien, Illinois, Palmasani is also the originator of the Financial Fit Method, a program that provides families with a step-by-step process for figuring out affordable colleges, how to file financial aid documents, how to pay for college and how to analyze award letters. His guide to choosing and paying for college, Right College, Right Price, was published in January.

Palmsani spends his days at Hinsdale South, a comprehensive high school -- and a magnet school for the deaf -- with a diverse population -- socioeconomically, ethnically, and academically -- of approximately 1800 students. One of nine counselors at the school, Palmasani is charged with assisting students with personal, social, and academic concerns, as well as college counseling and selection and career/vocational plans.

Jim Montague, Boston Latin School, and Helen Montague, Lincoln School

Jim Montague is Director of Guidance and Support Services at Boston Latin School in Boston, Massachusetts, a public college preparatory school serving an urban, culturally and socioeconomically diverse student population in grades 7 to 12. Helen Montague is Director of College Counseling at Lincoln School in Providence, Rhode Island, an urban independent college preparatory school for girls from pre-kindergarten through grade 12. We are pleased to feature this husband and wife team as our counselors of the month for January in the new year of 2013. Twice the advice from a duo of counselors who approach our questions from the vantage points of two distinguished educational institutions.

Boston Latin is this country’s oldest school, founded in 1635, with 2,414 students among whom today more than 40 languages are represented. Latin admission is based on a secondary school exam and a strong academic record.  “We think of them as the best and brightest in the city of Boston,” says Jim Montague.

Andrea O'Gorman, Scarsdale High School

Andrea O'Gorman, Director of Counseling at Scarsdale High School, is our December Counselor of the Month. O'Gorman oversees a department of nine counselors at this Westchester County, New York, public high school, serving 1460 students.  Named as "one of the 144 exemplary schools to which others may look for patterns of success" by the United States Department of Education, Scarsdale High School serves a diverse community with a large international population. 

"The thing that I enjoy most about working here is that students and faculty are so engaged in the learning process," says O'Gorman. "There is so much going on, so many new ventures. Education is the industry of Scarsdale. People come here because they want a school system they can invest in and parents, faculty and the administration are invested. Everyone feels like a stakeholder."

Best Advice from our College Counselors


October is the cruelest month for high school college counselors, besieged on all sides with seniors intent on applications and juniors beginning their college search and testing. So we gave the counselors a pass for the month. Instead of our Counselor of the Month feature, we bring you a round-up of best advice from the counselors who have graced our website with their guidance and wisdom. Read on to learn their recommendations for applying and financial aid, mistakes to avoid, guidance for students with learning differences and undocumented students, and do's and don'ts for students -- and parents, as well.  One of our personal favorites?  From Albuquerque Academy's Ralph Figueroa: "Proofread. Spell Czech is knot yore friend and it will betray ewe." See more from Figueroa and others here: 

Alice Kleeman, Menlo-Atherton High School, Atherton, California

What is your best advice for applicants?

Have fun with the process; you have the opportunity to think about who you are and who you want to become. Why shouldn't that be enjoyable?


Jayne Caflin Fonash, Academy of Science, Loudoun County, Virginia

What is the biggest mistake you see students make in applying to college?

Ann Kjorstad, Academy of Holy Angels

Our counselor for the month of October is Ann Kjorstad of Academy of Holy Angels, a coeducational Catholic school in the Minneapolis suburb of Richfield. A graduate of Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, Kjorstad worked in admissions at the college level for sixteen  years, beginning as an admission counselor at her alma mater and rising to Associate Director of Admission. But Kjorstad is a true daughter of Minnesota. She grew up in the “Land of 10,000 Lakes” and wanted to return. In 2000, she joined Hamline University in St. Paul, becoming Director of Admission there five years later.

Aliza Gilbert, Highland Park High School


Our Counselor of the Month for September is Aliza Gilbert, College Counselor at Highland Park High School, a public high school serving more than 2,000 students in Highland Park, Illinois.  A graduate of University of Illinois at Chicago, Gilbert also holds a Master in Education from Loyola University Chicago and is working on her Ph.D. in Higher Education, also at Loyola. Formerly Associate Director of Admissions at Lake Forest College, Gilbert joined Highland Park's Counseling Department in 1998.

Located about 25 miles north of Chicago, Highland Park High School serves a diverse student body, including significant numbers of children from military and Hispanic families, a characteristic that drew Gilbert to the school. She has a particular interest in college access and undocumented students -- her Ph.D. dissertation explores how high schools influence undocumented students’ college process. (The state of Illinois is ranked sixth among states with the largest undocumented populations.)

Counselors of the Month: Marybeth Kravets and Imy Wax, Authors

Our Counselors of the Month for August are widely respected professionals in the world of college counseling and educational consulting -- though not high school college counselors per se.  Marybeth Kravets is Chief Education Officer for Chicago Scholars, a not-for-profit serving high-need college-bound students; previously she was the college counselor for Illinois' Deerfield High School for 31 years. Imy Wax is a licensed psychotherapist and educational consultant currently in private family practice.