Westfield High School College Counselor Dr. Clara Lauderdale has a lot of people depending on her. With over 700 seniors – and nearly 3,000 students overall on the Westfield campus – each working toward graduation and making plans for the future, Lauderdale has plenty of demands on her time and attention. But she takes it all in stride, taking a page straight from the advice she gives each day to students.
“I always tell them, have a plan,” Lauderdale said. “You’ve got to work it so we can achieve it, and we’re going to do this together. I’m going to walk the walk with them so when they’re sitting in their college dorm room and they’re thinking ‘How did I get here?’ they’ll think, Westfield – Westfield provided me the things that I needed.”
Now Lauderdale’s commitment has gained her the first 2018-19 Spring ISD Employee Excellence Award, a districtwide recognition program launched in 2017 by the Spring ISD Board of Trustees, who oversee the awards and personally hand out the prizes and accolades.
“It is a special occasion. It is truly a special occasion,” said Board President Rhonda Newhouse during a midday ceremony on Tuesday in Westfield’s main hallway. “We appreciate all that you do for your students and all students. The district is very grateful to have you as an employee, and we just want to show our appreciation.”
In presenting the award before a small crowd of trustees, administrators and support staff, Newhouse emphasized Lauderdale’s proven track record of success with students, as well as her ability to help students remain calm and focused during what can often be a stressful time.
“With the increasing costs of college and the explosion in the amount of college application submissions, the work of a college counselor is necessary,” Newhouse said. “Dr. Lauderdale develops and maintains relationships with students and campus stakeholders. She understands that opportunities, incomes, and even quality of life can improve dramatically for those who earn a college degree.”
Newhouse was joined for the presentation by fellow trustees Winford Adams Jr., Donald Davis, and Dr. Deborah Jensen. Davis, who worked with Lauderdale during his time as head of Westfield’s Army JROTC program, also praised her tireless work on behalf of students, specifically recalling times when she worked with JROTC cadets to help them fulfill their hopes of attending U.S. service academies, including West Point and the U.S. Air Force Academy.
During the ceremony, Davis also presented Lauderdale with a $100 prize check. Lauderdale will join other winners next spring in the chance for a $1,000 prize to be awarded at the district’s annual Employee Recognition Banquet. Like past award recipients, Lauderdale also received a framed certificate and a special recognition pin.
Westfield Principal David Mason remarked on Lauderdale’s dedication and willingness to go the extra mile for students.
“Her door never closes,” Mason said. “There’s not one thing we could ask her to do that she wouldn’t jump in, full speed, and give 100 percent to. And it doesn’t matter if she has 10 things going on, she’ll take on the 11th.”
Lauderdale started her career as a grade-level high school counselor more than 23 years ago, later working at the middle school level for a number of years before finally making the shift to become the college counselor at Westfield seven years ago. She said she’s getting the hang of it, but that there’s always more to learn.
“I like to perfect things,” Lauderdale said, “to see what worked last year and what didn’t work, so that it can change and improve. Every year, it’s got to get better. It can’t just be the ‘status quo,’ it can’t be, ‘This is how we do it every year.’ Let’s do better. It’s always got to be, ‘Let’s do better.’”
Also on hand for the presentation were several members of Lauderdale’s family, including her son and daughter-in-law, Tyrone and Amy Thompson, who are both educators in nearby districts; her son-in-law, Dennis McGregor II; and her husband, Kevin Lauderdale, who took the morning off from his work at MD Anderson Cancer Center to attend the surprise ceremony. Lauderdale said her family all encourage her in her work, and that she also relies on grace and her strong faith to see her through.
“It’s just an honor to serve these kids, and I just thank God for this opportunity,” Lauderdale said. “They really don’t realize it – while they’re here thanking me, I’m really thankful to them, for trusting me with so many lives to serve. I am thankful to them that they trusted me with so many children. It is simply a blessing.”
After the brief ceremony, Lauderdale was anxious to get back to the school’s college counseling office, where several students were hard at work, studying and doing research. Lauderdale praised their focus as she reflected on the core messages she tries to impart through her work.
“I always ask the kids, ‘Where are you headed? What’s your destination?’” she said. “I truly believe that if the students understand the importance of their character, no matter where they are in life, then their character really determines their destination. It doesn’t matter how much money you have or what color you are – what type of character you have will determine where you’re going to go. That’s what I live by.”
Most of all, Lauderdale said, it’s students who keep her motivated and excited about her own work, even on the longest days.
“When I come to work, I don’t feel like I’m at work,” she said. “This isn’t a job, it’s a service. I love my kids so much. They’re just awesome.”