Back on the Bank: Herding Cats With Betsy James, Lovett’s New College Counseling Office Manager

Mr. Newman

“When I leave at night,” she said, “I like to leave things in a position where I’m not scrambling the next day.”

When I caught up with Betsy James, the new college counseling office manager, it was undoubtedly the calm before the senior storm. In about an hour, the seniors would be blowing into Lovett for their orientation, and all of them would need to figure out their futures over the next eight months.

To that end, James’s goal has been to “get everything ready so that when kids start applying it will go like clockwork.”

James was seated at her desk, guarding the inner sanctum where the counselors do their counseling. Her domain also includes the senior lounge, where she’ll have to keep an eye out for sneaky snackers, and the conference room, where teachers like me go to prep and grade because they’re too tempted to chat in their department centers. 

With so many needs to manage, she’ll likely have great use for the diffuser sitting on her desk, emitting a cool blue light and a hypnotic stream of white mist. 

“It’s supposed to be calming,” she said. “I’m trying.” 

Another personal item that will perhaps offer some calm and inspiration is a family calendar, which was opened to the August page depicting the bestower of the desk diffuser, her daughter Hannah (Lovett ‘12), as well as her baby grandchild from her son Kyle (Lovett ‘09).

In her work with the counselors, faculty, seniors, and families, James will be drawing on much more than essential oils for strength, having served as the Lovett athletic operations manager for six years. 

Apparently, the coaches also had a diversity of needs. 

“Coaches are all over the board,” she said. While it was clear that she was very fond of them, she said it was “like herding cats,” a comparison one imagines will be apt for her 146 strong senior constituency.

Her predecessor, Sue Copps, who retired from Lovett in June, gave her advice on things like “dealing with a panicked student.” She paused, then added, “Or getting teachers to write their teacher recs.” More cats to herd.

Fortunately, she knows how to stay organized. Whether at home or at work, she likes for things to have their places, “otherwise you can’t find them.” She prefers not to have to play catch up. “When I leave at night,” she said, “I like to leave things in a position where I’m not scrambling the next day.”

When I asked James if her own college search process was as involved as it is for Lovett students, she laughed. She told me she went to a public school where her guidance counselor doubled as her college counselor.  “They gave me brochures,” she said. She didn’t visit any schools, and she attended the University of Connecticut, in the state where she lived.   

Still, she said she enjoyed her time there. Her husband likes to joke that she packed four years into five. But it wasn’t because she was slacking. She changed majors from biology to chemistry. 

After graduating, she went into marketing, promoting chemicals that went into things like paint and cosmetics. I asked her if she ever popped into the chem labs for old time’s sake.  “No. No bunsen burners,” she said, a bit of nostalgia in her eyes. “No pipettes. Though I guess that’s biology.”

Before starting her new gig, James enjoyed the month of July off. She headed to the beach, and also traveled to Sedona, Arizona, near where her sister lives. “We didn’t do a whole lot of hiking because it was 105. But it was a beautiful place to relax.”

Back at home, she’s been watching Ted Lasso and Schmigadoon, antidotes to some of the darker shows she likes, including Ozark and A Handmaid’s Tale.

When I asked her what was next on her agenda for the day, she said doing the final prep for senior orientation. Evidence of that imminent event was on the tables in the senior lounge: bottles of sparkling apple juice in baskets. “Each advisory gets two,” she said. “They’ll share the bubbly.” 

In the meantime, a couple of cats needed herding. She pointed one senior to a chair to wait for his counselor and another one she sent on through.

The Lovett School is an independent, coeducational day school where children from Kindergarten through Grade 12 find the courage to explore and the drive to discover.

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