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My Turn: School psychologists are often an untapped resource

The challenges facing schools and children today call for increased resolve to engage our most effective approaches to promoting the success and well-being of all students. This includes addressing the myriad issues that children bring with them to the classroom that can affect achievement. Our goal is to help them be ready to learn.

Some of the thorniest problems involve poverty, homelessness, interpersonal violence, substance abuse, learning disabilities and mental health challenges. For example, 23 percent of children younger than 18 in New Hampshire are living in families where no adult is employed full-time, and 21 percent have one or more behavioral, emotional or mental health conditions. These issues intersect with advances in instruction and curriculum and the correct expectation that students’ individual learning needs will be met, creating a complex mandate for achieving educational excellence. Critical to our success are collaboration among all stakeholders and the effective use of resources and data.

One of 48 states to adopt the Common Core State Standards, New Hampshire shares a vision of excellence in which all children graduate from high school prepared for future success. These standards, based upon best practices in national and international arenas, remain state-driven and state-based. Continued collaboration between parents, school professionals and community stakeholders is important as new knowledge and research emerge. Together we will create policy and practice better than what is now considered to be best.

As a school psychologist, it is my privilege to work in partnership with parents, schools and community stakeholders to lower the barriers to learning. Sharing the problems and goals for the success and well-being of all children is the driving force in my profession. While many children complete high school ready for productive adulthood, others are in serious trouble. Dealing with some of the most complex problems begins with an honest dialogue.

As required by law, the state Board of Education is reviewing minimum school standards and collecting public comment regarding proposed revisions. I applaud this effort and appreciate all those who weigh in with their ideas.

While there has been good discussion regarding student needs, the best use of resources, and the effect of proposed changes, some clarification is warranted. It’s been said the state board’s proposed rules regarding minimum standards could allow school psychologists to unfairly gather data on students without parental involvement, violate privacy rights and weaken the traditional role of guidance counselors.

To the contrary, school psychologists safeguard consent, privacy and disclosure laws and very much value the perspectives of the child, the parents and school colleagues. The goal of the proposed changes in state rules is to encourage schools to better use their school psychologists’ skills and expertise. School psychologists are often an untapped, under-used resource in many schools.

School psychologists possess a unique blend of training, expertise and experience. This includes knowledge of human learning, cognitive and developmental processes; individual differences, abilities and disabilities; and biological, cultural and social influences on academic skills, behavior and mental health. They work with teachers to meet the diverse needs of individual students, with families to help support their child’s successful learning, and with school administrators to improve outcomes for all students. Effective and appropriate use of data is essential to helping all parties involved make the most effective decisions in terms of providing supports, adapting instruction, and monitoring students’ ongoing progress. It can help us address potential problems before they become more complex and entrenched.

Students’ ability to learn and teachers’ ability to teach are influenced by multiple factors. If we are to address the difficulties faced by individual children and large-scale challenges concerning our schools, we must draw the best from ourselves and capitalize upon the best offered by others. Together, we will help all children achieve their best in school and in life.

(Katharine O. Salvati is president of the New Hampshire Association of School Psychologists.)

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