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Jackie Brown-Pinkney Named National School Social Worker of the Year
Dr. Jackie Brown-Pinkney
Dr. Jackie Brown-Pinkney’s office is always open to students at Effingham High School. She works with students with whatever they need to succeed. Alumni still keep in contact with her.

If it takes a village to raise a child, some of the most important members of that village are at the child’s school. In addition to teachers, principals, parents, there are social workers. These are the unsung heroes usually behind the scenes, but may be just as integral to a child’s development and academic success as the teachers and parents.

Every child is different. Every child needs a different solution. And the school social worker is the one who brings it all together.

Dr. Jackie Brown-Pinkney is the school social worker housed at Effingham County High School. She has been an employee with Effingham County schools for 30 years. She started with the district right after earning her bachelor’s degree in sociology with an emphasis in social work from Georgia Southern University, working as a family services coordinator and the resource coordinator at the Central Learning Center where she worked with families and pre-kindergarten students from Springfield and Guyton. During this time she went back to school and earned a master’s in social work from Savannah State University, a master’s in educational leadership in addition to an educational specialist (EDs) in educational leadership from Georgia Southern, as she was considering being a school principal. She continued learning and earned her Ed.D also from Georgia Southern in 2015..

In 2007 she was asked to take the school social worker position at Effingham High School. The position was totally new and had to be created from the ground up. She shadowed school social workers in surrounding districts and had the program ready to go when school started the next fall. She takes a holistic approach to the students and families she helps. For example, a student who may exhibit anger management issues, may have deeper family issues such as having utilities shut off, or close to being evicted. Pinkney-Brown calls local churches and organizations such as Effingham Family Promise and United Way to help the family obtain food, a place to stay, funds to keep the utilities from being shut off – whatever is needed. She also works with the student to make sure they attend class and complete classwork. If she learns about some students who need help in a certain area, such as anger management or help to prevent suicide attempts, she arranges groups to meet together that help each other.

To say that she has made and impact on lives and completely turned them around would be an understatement. Young adults whom she mentored more than 15 years ago are still in touch with her.

Joseph Coppola, who is now a lieutenant with the Guyton Police Department, recalls that when he was a student at Effingham High School (in the early 2000s), “Ms. Brown could call my bluff from a mile away. I was always in trouble.” He left school without graduating, but said, “I promised Ms. Brown I’d get my GED” which he did in 2010, the same year he would have graduated. He eventually decided he wanted to be a police officer and when he graduated from the police academy, “I didn't know Ms. Brown showed up to my police academy graduation with her mom and her family cheering me on and screaming in the crowd. When I walked across the stage, I had no idea that she was going to be there and that made my day.” Coppola has been with Guyton PD for almost six years.

And just to highlight what kind of impact Dr. Brown-Pinkney still has within the community, Coppola explained, “I reach out to her with juveniles and I find in town who I don't think need police charges, but maybe they need some help. She's helped me get kids out of the jail system and into reliable homes.” He also uses what he’s learned from her in his police work and teaches other officers in Guyton PD.

Sarah Fort is another former student whom Dr. Brown-Pinkney impacted at the high school. Fort also left school without graduating, but earned her GED to fulfill a promise to Dr. Brown-Pinkney. “Her office was always open. She was always there to listen, to encourage me, and I never felt judged in her presence. I felt safe,” Fort recalls. “I know a lot of my classmates felt the same.” Fort said she lost contact with Dr. Brown-Pinkney for a few years, but then, “I finally got sober in 2016, and I started college in 2019.” Fort added. “The kindness and compassion Dr. Brown-Pinkney showed me in school resonated with me so much that I decided I wanted to leave that same impact on others, so I am currently in school at Troy University for a bachelor's in social work. I am set to graduate in March, 2024. Brown added that after she emailed Dr. Brown-Pinkney last year, “She never forgot who I was or my story. We met for coffee shortly after, and she has been back in my life since then. She even came to my sixth sober anniversary celebration -- just one of the many things she has done to show she truly cares!”

Dr. Brown-Pinkney’s dedication to her profession and her students has not gone unnoticed. In 2020, she was named District School Social Worker of the Year, which includes all the school districts in Chatham, Bulloch, Bryan, Effingham, and Liberty counties. From there, her information was forwarded as a candidate for the State School Social Worker of the Year Award.  She submitted her application packet and was chosen by the School Social Workers Association of Georgia Awards Committee as the 2020 Georgia School Social Worker of the Year. But due to the pandemic, the state organization held over her award until 2022 because it couldn’t have in-person gatherings to give her the recognition. As the state representative, Dr. Brown-Pinkney was nominated for the National School Social Worker of the Year Award, where she submitted another packet of information detailing all her work in the school and community along with letters of recommendation. Winning the honor was a complete surprise to her. “I'm really a shy person,” she said. “I’m not a person who tries to get recognition, but I'm a hard worker and I love to learn.” She will be presented with the National School Social Worker award at the School Social Work Association of America national conference in Broomfield, Colorado, on March 31.

Among her many community activities, Dr. Brown-Pinkney serves on several boards. One of those boards is Effingham Family Connection. “With everything she has going on in her life, she has always had time to put Effingham Family Connection and our Effingham County children and families as one of her top priorities,” says Elaine Spencer, executive director of Effingham Family Connection. “Regardless of how small or big their problems might be she will be there for them. She is a blessing to everyone in our community.”