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ISCA History

The history of the Iowa School Counselor Association has been compiled through research of the ISCA archives and narrative provided by past board presidents.


The Iowa School Counselor Association (ISCA) was chartered under the American School Counselor Association (ASCA) in 1965.  At that time ISCA was under the umbrella of the Iowa Counseling Association (ICA).  In the mid-1990’s, there was growing dissatisfaction with this structure.  ISCA had little or no say in the organization of the fall conference or program although the bulk of the ICA membership was school counselors.  The ICA increasingly placed its organizational emphasis on mental health issues and therapy with little attention to the areas of concern to school counselors.  School counselors could only be members of ASCA  if they also joined ACA.  Most of the ACA’s activities and workshops had nothing to do with school counseling and ISCA felt that we were being used only to support mental health counseling. It was becoming increasingly clear that the needs of school counselors were not being met in this continued connection with the ICA.  The tension between the organizations continued to grow.

In 1999-2000, several  ISCA past and present officers met in Ames  and began to plan the  break from ICA.  This led to the Iowa Counseling Association split creating two separate organizations:  The Iowa Mental Health Counseling Association and the Iowa School Counselor Association (ISCA).  ISCA struggled for a number of years to gain a foothold as a viable association for the school counselors of Iowa.  There was very little money for the now independent organization as dues had been collected by ICA and only a portion had come under ISCA’s control.  Times were very lean.  ASCA provided guidance, but not financial support.  A number of Iowa school counselors emerged as leaders devoting many volunteer hours to insure that ISCA would survive.   Through their dedicated efforts and support of such organizations as IACAC, ISCA began to grow and eventually thrive into the vibrant association that it is today.


There were other challenges for Iowa’s school counselors in the 1990’s.  In 1994, school counselors and media specialists were removed from the Iowa Code and no longer required in Iowa schools.   That year, a Republican state legislator, Steve Grubbs objected to the “influence” that school counselors exerted over students in teaching them to think for themselves and also objected to the lack of censorship by school media specialists.  On the last day of the legislative season, the main task is to clean up the wording in the code and few legislators are present.  During this time, the legislator removed the paragraph requiring a certified school counselor and media specialist in each school.  Later when the Department of Education was reviewing the updated code, they discovered the deletion, and thought it was in error.  However, the change was now official and it would take 13 years for school counselors and media specialists to be reinstated.  During this time, the chair of the education committee refused to allow any legislation to reinsert the previously deleted paragraph from the Code to make it out of committee.  It was during this time that Day on the Hill began (1997) to lobby for school counselors.  It was only through the efforts of many dedicated ISCA leaders and other supporters of school counselors that we were returned to the Code in 2007.

The following is an article from the Sioux City Journal dated February 5, 2003 that gives one the flavor of the struggle that occurred during these years.

DES MOINES -- Iowa school districts would once again be required to employ a guidance counselor and a media specialist under a bill introduced Tuesday in the Iowa House.

Rep. Cindy Winckler, a Davenport Democrat and curriculum facilitator with the Davenport Community School District, said if Iowa wants to be serious about student achievement, it must make sure students have access to guidance counselors and media specialists.

"We need to recognize their value and set a standard for educational quality," said Winckler, one of the 20 House Democrats sponsoring the bill.

Until nine years ago, districts had been required to fill those positions.

Winckler said since the requirement was taken out, Iowa schools have lost 116 media specialists and about 50 guidance counselors, mostly because school districts have had to make difficult funding decisions.

Rep. Roger Wendt, a Sioux City Democrat who is a former middle school principal, said guidance programs and media specialists are essential for students and more of those positions could be lost without a state requirement.

"My fear is a school could, if they so choose, eliminate some of those programs," Wendt said.

The bill would allow exceptions for school districts that cannot afford to hire new staff members by allowing them to share a media specialist or guidance counselor or by waiving the requirement in special circumstances.

John Davis, a high school counselor from Shenandoah who supports the bill, said high school students without access to a guidance counselors are often unprepared for college.

"We have a number of schools across Iowa that no longer have guidance programs or guidance counselors because of cuts in budgets, because of the fact it is no longer a state standard that the schools have these programs and these professionals," said Davis, who is president of the Iowa Association for College Admissions Counseling.

Winckler said including counselors and media specialists in Iowa law again would be the first step in allowing them to qualify for merit-based raises and a mentoring program in teacher compensation legislation passed two years ago.

But Senate Majority Leader Stewart Iverson, R-Dows, said he doubted the bill would gain the support of Republican lawmakers. He said school districts can provide those services without a requirement they hire specialized staff members. "I have nothing against guidance counselors or media specialists, but can we accomplish the same things in a different manner? Yes," Iverson said.

During the years that school counselors were out of the code, our profession suffered. The Iowa Department of Education position of School Counseling Consultant was eliminated.  The number of school counselors began to decline and school counselor Education programs closed.  With additional coursework, social workers and psychologists were certified as school counselors.  Other positions such as social workers and school liaisons took over the roles of school counselors.  Overall, the number of school counselors in Iowa schools dropped considerably during the years out of the Code, from 2,100 to 1,350.


The annual ISCA Conference was held at the Merle Hay Holiday Inn, Des Moines from October 28-30, 2006. Keynote speaker was Carolyn Stone, ASCA.

The School Counseling Task Force, made up of K-12 school counselors, AEA consultants, and counselor educators from Drake University, the University of Iowa, and the University of Northern Iowa began work in January, 2007.  Their three main charges were to: 1) enhance the 1999 Iowa School Counseling Framework, 2) establish a consistent and extensive public relations campaign regarding the work of school counselors, and 3) collect current data from Iowa school counselors.  An important part of their work was advocating for the school counseling bill in the 2007 Iowa state legislature, the passage of which reinstated school counselors into the Iowa Code.

Section 256.11 Sec. 4, Code 2007, is amended by adding the following new subsections:

Beginning July 1, 2007, each school district shall have a qualified guidance counselor who shallbe licensed by the Board of Educational Examiners under chapter 272.  Each school districtshould work toward the goal of having one qualified guidance counselor for every threehundred fifty students enrolled in the school district. The state board shall establish in rule a definition of and standards for an articulated sequential kindergarten through grade twelveguidance and counseling program.

In 2007 the position of School Counseling Consultant at the Iowa Department of Education was also reinstated.


The annual ISCA Conference, Strengthening our Connections, was held at the Merle Hay Holiday Inn, Des Moines from November 3-5, 2007.  Keynote speakers were Dr. Troyce Fisher and Catherine Stjernberg, Love and Logic.  We held a mock caucus during the Tuesday luncheon. (355 members) 


ISCA was incorporated at a 501.C6 non-profit organization thanks to the help of President Steve Irvin’s son.  The growth of the membership and ISCA Conference allowed us to hire Alda Helvey of Dynamic Resources, Inc. as our event (conference) manager.  The annual conference was held at the Airport Holiday Inn, Des Moines, on November 2-4, 2008.  Keynote speakers were Cherie Louvre, Lessons Learned in School Crises, and ASCA President James Bierma, Rising to the Challenges – News from ASCA.

ISCA formally adopted ASCA’s Mission Statement:  The mission of the Iowa School Counselor Association is to represent professional school counselors and to promote professionalism and ethical practices.  (317 members)


The ISCA By-laws were amended to add the elected board position of VP K-12.  The new VP K-12 position will represent and support those school counselors in Iowa who serve multiple grades as the sole district counselor.   The board also approved the creation of a new chair position, the School Counseling Student Chair who will be a graduate student in school counseling and will serve a one-year term.  The School Counseling Student Chair will facilitate communication with the student organizations affiliated with the Iowa School Counselor Association and represent the interests of graduate students in school counseling programs.   (380 members)

The ISCA Conference, Iowa School Counselors - The Heart of the Core, was held at the Airport Holiday Inn, Des Moines on November 8-10, 2009 with 276 attendees.  Our keynote speaker was Frank Russell, President of Geo Learning.


The ISCA By-laws were amended to add the elected position of President Elect Elect.  The now four year president cycle will help with the learning curve as our organization grows and becomes more complex.

Communication and support was facilitated among Iowa school counselors through the addition of The Iowa Scene to the ASCA website as well as the creation of the ISCORE list serve.  The ISCA Conference, Changes, Challenges, and Champions, was held at the Airport Holiday Inn, Des Moines, on November 7-9 with 317 in attendance.  Keynote speakers were Dr. Mar, Grey, UNI, Impact of Demographic Changes on School Counseling, and Dr. Troyce Fisher.  The Tuesday luncheon speaker was Captain Ryan Sextro. (424 members)


The ISCA Conference, Building Bridges: Advocacy, Leadership and Student Achievement, was held at the Airport Holiday Inn, Des Moines, November 6-8, 2011.  Keynote speakers were Jim Verlengia, Building Bridges as School Counselors, and ASCA President Alan Burkhard, Top 10 School Counselor Accountability Practices.  Jason Glass, Iowa Director of Education, keynoted at the Tuesday Luncheon as ISCA works to build bridges at the state level in advocating for our profession. Shelley Klaas, Bettendorf Community School District, was an ASCA Counselor of the Year Semi-finalist.  Jan Kuhl, Iowa Department of Education, was named ASCA Director of School Counseling of the Year.


The Iowa Department of Education adopted the Iowa School Counseling Framework, supporting and affirming the work of school counselors in Iowa.  The ISCA Conference, Come, Learn, Grow, was held at the Airport Holiday inn with 522 attending.  Keynote speakers were John Littrell and Tarrell Portman.  Our new Director of Education, Brad Buck, spoke at the Tuesday Luncheon.  With the growth in our conference numbers, we will be looking for a new venue for the 2014 conference.  (544 members)


ISCA welcomed ISEA representation to our board as Cindy Swanson joined in the newly created position of ISEA Ad Hoc member.  We are looking forward to working together especially in the areas of professional development and advocacy for Iowa’s school counselors.  Governor Terry Brandstad pronounced February 3-7, 2014 as National school Counseling Week. We celebrated as the Iowa Board of Educational Examiners (BOEE) changed the licensure language from Guidance Counselor to Professional School Counselor. We welcomed the support and friendship of the Iowa Association of Independent Colleges and Universities as they began a $2000 stipend program with us to allow selected board members to attend the ASCA conference each year. Our first recipients were Shelley Klaas and Chris Wood.

Under the leadership of board members, Sue Schirmer and Meredith Dohmen, and with the support of ISCA and school counselors across the state of Iowa, an Evaluation Supplement of School Counselors was developed and endorsed by the DE(?).  This tool can be used in conjunction with the state required teacher evaluation instrument to facilitate discussion of the school counselor’s role with administrators and other stakeholders.  The ISCA Conference, Counselor, Educator, Advocate.  Supporting the Whole Child, was held at the Airport Holiday Inn, Des Moines, on November 2-4, 2014 with 630 attending.  Keynote speakers were Julia Taylor and Bill Whitters, UNI.  Brad Buck, Director of Education for Iowa, was the Tuesday luncheon speaker.  Michelle Bruty was an ASCA Counselor of the Year Semi-finalist.  Next year’s conference will be held at Prairie Meadows Conference and Convention Center, Altoona.  Our Policies and Procedures, while always a work in progress, has become a workable and working document to guide future boards.  It will be reviewed and updated annually.


After years of dreaming and planning, ISCA hired its first lobbyists for the legislative season.  The Capitol Group, Jim Obradovich, Pete McRoberts, and Robert Mulqueen, represented the interests of ISCA and school counselors in Iowa and will help us to strategize and formulate our advocacy at the state level. Governor Terry Branstad pronounced February 2-6, 2015 as National school Counseling Week.

We also celebrated holding our annual conference at our new venue, Prairie Meadows Conference and Convention Center, Altoona.  The theme was Iowa School Counselors: Putting It All Together and we had 680 in attendance.  This year we partnered with ISEA in bringing Dr. Trish Hatch to speak at both an ISEA event for school counselors on Sunday as well as keynoting for the ISCA Conference on Monday presenting Miracles for the Profession of School Counseling.  Tuesday’s keynote speaker was Julia Cook, Unlearning Helplessness – Motivating the Underachiever.  The Tuesday luncheon allowed for both table discussion and a panel discussion by “influencers” regarding school counselor issues:  Dan Smith, SAI, Lisa Bartusek, ISBA, Linda Fandel, Special Assistant for Education, Kathie Obradovich, Des Moines Register political columnist. 

Teresa Keefe O’Meara was named an ASCA Counselor of the Year Semi-finalist.  The IAICU stipend for ASCA Conference attendance went to Laura Gallo and Chris Wood. 

This year’s Visit the Hill participation was impacted by a winter storm.  On March 17th, Susan Langan, Advocacy Chair, arranged an additional “mini-Visit the Hill” with four ISCA members guided by our lobbyists meeting with a number of legislators who are key players in legislative issues of concern to school counselors.

Sue Farran attended the April Iowa ACA board meeting as a guest with the hope of our developing a more intentional working relationship with them in the future.


We celebrated 50 years as a school counseling association by Being Bold! – our 2015 conference theme. We received our plaque from ASCA at LDI in New Orleans. Candy Reed was our ASCA School Counselor of the Year nominee and was able to attend a reception at the White House. The IAICU stipend went to Chris Wood and Sarah Majoros and the rest was used for Jackie Dehner’s trip.

We began during this year a process of checking our different conference management. Our search led us to Diversified Management Services (DMS) in West Des Moines. We hired DMS in April 2016 to not only do conference management, but financial services and general association management duties as well.

The Iowa Road Map Team worked on devising a plan to help more Iowa students “reach higher”. ISCA members began working with President Rob Denson as part of the STEM Counselor Engagement group. Members of the group included: Meredith Dohmen, Casey McMurray, and Dave Ford. ISCA commissioned with the support of Heartland AEA and DMACC a survey of K-12 school counselors and administrators on college and career readiness perspectives within our schools. Also, during this year ISCA and Iowa ACTE had conversations around the relationship between the two associations. There was confusion that ISCA was a part of Iowa ACTE, however, we are not, as we are a branch of ASCA. During this time, Casey McMurray represented ISCA on the HF 2392 career guidance redesign. Many ISCA members and board members Meredith Dohmen and Sue Schirmer were also on this committee.


This year our conference theme was Agents of Change held again at Prairie Meadows. This was our first conference with DMS and it went very well. It will be exciting to have our association and conference grow with their guidance. This year Rosalind Wiseman was a keynote speaker in conjunction with ISEA. On Sunday, ISEA held a Ross Trust Symposium with Rosalind and her new curriculum, Owning Up. Participants were able to receive a new printing of the curriculum. This year with DMS we grew our sponsors and exhibitors and were able to bring in more money that way for our conference. We have revamped the sponsor and exhibitors levels for the 2017 conference. 

Becky Lins was the ASCA Iowa SCOY nominee. She was able to go to the White House with all SCOY nominees, semi-finalists, and SCOY to be with Michelle Obama for her last speech as First Lady. 

Over the past year college and career readiness, along with Reach Higher initiative the First Lady started in Orlando at ASCA in 2014, has become a focus our improvement. This year was a grace period with the new recommendations for HF2392. Schools were to be developing their plan to meet HF2392 during 2016-2017 for implementation for the 2017-2018 school year.  

ISCA commissioned a survey and received results and recommendations back which we will work on in 2017-18. Casey McMurray also served on a Career Pathways committee with the DE. The state of Iowa began a Future Ready Iowa Alliance to work on raising the percentage of Iowan’s who have some credential after high school to 70%.  Aimee Hospodarsky was appointed to the Future Ready Iowa Alliance. Casey McMurray was requested to sit on the Get Iowans Ready Workgroup, one of four workgroups that report back to the FRIA.  

At the Governor’s STEM Council Conference on June 21st, Casey McMurray and Dave Ford were able to present to the STEM Advisory Council the work of the counselor engagement group headed by President Rob Denson. Casey and Dave were also a speed session to share with attendees the Iowa CCR survey and recommendations. Aimee Hospodarsky also sat on the Chronic Absenteeism Advisory Council through the Iowa DE from August to November. The goal was to study chronic absenteeism and to make at least one recommendation by November to help schools and their communities improve attendance in kindergarten through third grade (The Council actually made four recommendations). 

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Phone: (515) 282-8192
6919 Vista Drive
West Des Moines, IA 50266
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