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New SMS House Counselor Brings Unique Skills to the Job

CurryMichael Williams will join the SMS Team as Cooper House CounselorMichael Williams will be the new House Counselor for Cooper House at Scarsdale Middle School. He has big shoes to fill, replacing Marjorie Najac, a beloved counselor, who has been helping students and parents for many years.

We were excited to hear that Williams will be coming to Scarsdale from Garrison and asked him to introduce himself to the community. Here is what he shared:

Please tell us about yourself … your background, your education and previous professional experience.

I am a career changer who graduated SUNY New Paltz with a B.A. in theater back in 1996. I was a professional actor for 15 years and along the way taught acting to kids (still do!). Once my own kids were born I became interested in a career that allowed me to be home more regularly. I initially went back to school to teach ELA but then, remembering how incredibly helpful and supportive my high school guidance counselor was when I was in need, I decided to pursue being a helper. I put myself through school at night at the College of New Rochelle and graduated in 2010 with a masters degree in school counseling. Shortly thereafter, I began working at Lakeland Copper Beech Middle School in Yorktown Heights and am currently finishing my 8th year as a K-8 counselor at The Garrison School in Garrison. I have been very fortunate to be able to support the kids and families in this community and am absolutely thrilled to begin doing so at Scarsdale Middle School next fall.

We heard you were previously an actor – tell us what you did and what you enjoyed about it?

The thing I enjoyed most about being an actor was the collaboration that took place in the theater and on film sets. Relying on others and knowing what you bring to the table is an essential skill in life and I credit my acting background for making me the team player that I am today. Also, it was just a ton of fun! I got to travel to places like Morocco and got to work with many people from all walks of life.

What lead you to make a career change?

My decision was based on family. My kids were young and I was missing out on a lot of milestones while I was off shooting independent films. On top of that, as everyone knows, it is not as stable as other careers. I would have a very successful year followed by a challenging year. I began to feel a bit selfish and wanted to provide a more stable life for my kids. It was a tough decision and one that I made slowly over a number of years. I am grateful every day that I wound up doing what I am doing now. Supporting and nurturing kids is more rewarding than anything I could imagine.

Do you use any of your acting skills in working with preteens and teens?

When I was trained to be an actor the key elements of that training were to actively listen and be present in the moment. I utilize those skills daily. Empathy is also extremely important for a counselor. I believe that my acting background has been crucial when it comes to really seeing how someone is feeling, not judging those feelings, and just putting yourself inside of that person's shoes.

What will be your role at SMS? Which house will you be in?

I will be the Cooper House Counselor at SMS. I will be there to support all students academically, socially, and emotionally. I hope to be a conduit between all stake holders in the students educational lives.

What are some of the similarities and differences between your current position and the new one at SMS?

The similarities are plentiful in that I will still be in a support role to all students, families, and teachers. I will help students navigate their educational careers with the input of everyone that impacts their lives. I will be running team meetings with the Cooper House teachers just as I am running middle school meetings where I am now The biggest difference is the size. SMS is much larger than Garrison. It seems as though my K-8 caseload at my present school is about the same size as my Cooper House caseload. I love the energy of middle school students and am housed in the middle school where I work now. There will just be more of that energy!

What do you find challenging and rewarding about working with preteens?

The rewards far outweigh the challenges. I think that preteens are still really open to ideas and generally lean into life with curiosity. Sometimes that curiosity leads them to bad choices but all of those choices can turn into teachable moments if handled correctly. I think social media is very challenging for them as they are truly the first generation to have to navigate this enormous world that they carry around in their pockets. Hopefully, we can help them figure it all out together.

How do you approach anxious teens and their parents?

I like to think that I handle anxious teens and parents with a calm, listening ear. Generally, I hope to find some concrete tools that may help alleviate some of that anxiety. At times, if the issue is larger than can be handled by the school, I will refer to a professional. Different approaches work for different situations as life is messy. The common approach for any situations is genuinely caring. That goes a long way for kids and families.

What are you most excited or nervous about in your new role?

I am really excited to get to know my new students, families, and school community. It really seems like an incredibly special place and I am so grateful to be invited to be a part of it. As far as nerves go, I recently had the chance to visit SMS and meet the incoming 6th grade who will be my students in Cooper House next fall. They were nervous just as I was. I told them something I heard a long time ago and it has always helped me to navigate nerves and that is that it is okay to be nervous - it's just proof that you care.

What do you do in your free time? What are your interests outside of work?

I enjoy my family time above anything else. My daughter, Mia, just turned 15 and is finishing her freshman year. My son, Dean, is about to be 13 this summer and finishing the seventh grade. My wife, Toni, and I love to be present for all of the fun things that my kids involve themselves in; theater, baseball, softball, singing, etc. On top of that I like to fly fish, play guitar, and I love baseball.

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