The Montclair School District just sent a newsletter announcing a new Director of Guidance, Mr. Willieneil French. It includes a Q&A titled, “Meet Mr. French.”
MHS students will spot all kinds of exciting improvements today as they move through the hallways, classrooms and community spaces of their school. Among the most anticipated of these changes is the arrival of Willieneil French, the new Director of Guidance, who comes to Montclair from Johns Creek High School in Fulton County, Georgia. The North Carolina native brings 15 years of experience guiding students (and their families) through the college application and orientation process. His professional experience includes chairing the guidance/counseling department at Johns Creek as well as leadership positions with the Georgia School Counselors Association and the National and Southern Association of College Admissions Counseling. Mr. French holds a B.S. in Education from Appalachian State University in North Carolina and an M.Ed from Auburn University in Alabama.
What are your goals for the college guidance office?
Primarily, I want this office to become even more student focused and to involve families whenever possible. I plan to develop a comprehensive guidance program that delves into academic and college planning, and I have several ideas. One of these is a parent university that hosts speakers and discussions on a variety of topics designed to equip families with resources, tools and information relating to helping their children be successful in high school and prepare for college and career. Cookies with Counselors will give parents and caregivers a chance to visit the guidance office and ask general questions of counselors about the work of the office. And College Application Case Studies is a program I hope to introduce that allows juniors and their families to meet with admissions officers from colleges across the country to learn firsthand how college admissions decisions are made. I’m also putting together a counselor advisory board whose purpose is to identify the specific needs and concerns of students and families at Montclair High School.
The college search can be a stressful time. What advice do you give families?
I tell parents to smile and have fun. The exploration of your children’s next steps should be about discovery. Allow your students to drive the process, to cast a wide net and to explore. Don’t limit their opportunities by pushing them to look at the schools you want them to attend. Although it’s not a class, students need to do their homework about the colleges that interest them.
Are there great schools that students here are overlooking?
Absolutely. The Midwest and West Coast are hot tickets. Schools in those parts of the country are well aware that high school seniors in the Northeast and South don’t have to go far outside their region to attend great schools, and they are recruiting hard for our kids. There are some real gems out there. In December, I visited Occidental, Claremont McKenna, Scripps, Pomona, Pitzer—outstanding schools that are mostly unheard of by our students. Canada has some outstanding options too, especially for those interested in the European model of higher education. I’m thinking of such schools as the University of Toronto, York University, University of British Columbia, and, of course, McGill. The price tags can be appealing as well.
What tips do you have for students meeting with their college guidance counselors?
Be honest with your counselor about what you know and don’t know about your options. For example, we have a lot of students who are newer to the American school system, whose families may not be familiar with the college search and application process. Let your counselor know all of your questions so he or she can help you navigate.
What should a visit to a college fair look like?
I advise students to scan the list of colleges scheduled to be present and make a list in advance of 10 that interest them. The list should include some ideal fits, some reaches, and maybe some geographic distance. The point is to look at a range of schools, not just ones your friends are looking at. Research schools beforehand and determine what you like about them or have questions about. There is a wealth of information online, but students should be cognizant of the source. I recommend official college/university websites, the free ACT app, the College Board website, and using their PSAT report data. They should make a point of visiting those 10 tables and speaking with the alumnus or representative from the school. Even those few minutes of conversation can be extremely helpful. College fairs can also be good practice for students who are nervous about talking to others or to test questions they might want to ask during formal interviews. Montclair is planning to host a college fair during the spring semester.
How did you choose Montclair?
This was a big move for me, and to be honest, I’d never heard of Montclair. What absolutely sold me was the student panel of the interview committee. During my visit here, I spent an hour fielding questions from six students, ranging from an incoming freshman to a rising senior. I was blown away by their insights about living here and going to school in Montclair as well as by their hopes and expectations for the guidance office and the person who would take this job. My feeling was if these students—with their interest, curiosity, and engagement—were a sign of what students in Montclair are like, I was in! It was the hardest and best interview I’ve ever had. They made me fall in love with Montclair.