Wednesday, May 22, 2013

But I Didn't Get to Say Goodbye

A few years ago, I wrote about W, who at the time was a kiddo in a social skills/anger management group I was running. Ever since that group, W has been one of my buds. If I needed a manly favor, he was there ready to carry Food Bank deliveries and unload holiday gifts donated by a local church for the primary students. When W was performing with our chorus in the community and didn't have transportation, Husband and I were there on the bright to pick him up from his house on one of the worst streets in the city so he could sing. W was always eager to tell me about something going on with his mom or sister, the book he was reading on the Civil War, his latest tracks laid down in his uncle's recording studio, how much he likes his teacher this year, and more. He gave me a run for my money every time we played Uno, and he was even more interested than some of my female co-workers to hear about my wedding! I loved having lunch with he and his classmates, and if it had been awhile, they made sure I knew with an excited, "Miss, can we eat with you today?" W appreciated that I let him "be him" and even curse in my presence when angry (gasp!), I appreciated him just being a kid when he would goof with his friends.

I probably won't get to see W again.

2013 has been a rough year for W. While his behavior in school this year was stellar (minus hiccups that can be expected of a student with an Emotional Disturbance), he became increasingly involved in street life and bad things outside of school. I was astounded and shocked to hear that he was running away from home, stealing from corner stores, and drinking alcohol. Certainly that wasn't my W? His mom, who is an incredible person and cares deeply about her kids, was at her wits end and sent W to live with another family member. Things continued downhill, family court became involved, and W hasn't been back to school since.

Flash forward to a few weeks ago when W's fate was being decided in court. We were worried that he was going to be put into a detention facility for adolescents, which has a reputation in the city for being kid jail (we're talking bars on the windows, here). A curious and kind student like W would've been crushed there, so my colleagues and I had our fingers crossed that the judge would rule differently. Thankfully, W was "sentenced" to a year in a residential treatment facility. He would go to school there, live there, receive mental health and behavioral services, and be virtually on lock-down at all times.

While W will be getting a different, "better" home for the next year, it means that he will not be back to my building before he begins high school. Next year would've been his 8th grade year, the last before he applied to high schools and graduated from us. I was so looking forward to seeing him get his 8th grade diploma, because I know how hard he has worked for it. I also half expected him to ask me to "pin" him at Moving Up Day.

Once W gets a permanent bed at a facility, I plan to write him a letter. I'm not sure what it's going to say yet, but I think it'll be something along the lines of, "You're a special kid. You're going to get through this. You're going to do great things someday."

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Monday, May 6, 2013

Guest Post! - Confessions from a Former School Psychologist

It's that time again... a guest post! This guest blogger gives unique insight into leaving the field for bigger pursuits--namely, school administration. Trained as as a school psychologist at Temple University, Dr. Ari Yares is currently the Upper School Principal at the Schechter School of Long Island. He has previously worked as Head of Middle School at Krieger Schechter Day School and as a school psychologist for the Anne Arundel County Public Schools. Visit his blog Not Reinventing the Wheel!

Confessions from a Former School Psychologist

It has been five years since I last touched a WISC or any other testing kit.

No, this is not my introduction to a school psychologists’ anonymous meeting, but rather a reflection on the biggest change that I have undergone since handing in my testing kits and becoming a school administrator.  Otherwise, so many of my skills and training as a school psychologist have transferred directly to my new role.

As a school psychologist, I was very fortunate. I worked in a school district with an excellent student to school psychologist ratio and our leadership in student services pushed us to support our students through more than just the refer-test-place process. I actively consulted with teachers, had ample time for counseling, and was heavily involved in the implementation of my schools’ Positive Behavior and Intervention Support (PBIS) programs. I helped develop student support teams in my schools while working to make sure that the more restrictive special education placements that I supported worked successfully. All of this existed in a collegial atmosphere of our psychological services office which encouraged us to grow and collaborate as practitioners.

Somehow, in the midst of this, I came to a conclusion that I was feeling limited by my role. As I worked to support PBIS and other programs, I was restricted, not because of anyone’s conscious desire, but because as a school psychologist, I often functioned parallel to the educational system that I supported. While I could consult, advise, and plan, I was unable to supervise or mandate and certainly did not have direct access to a budget to support my efforts. Perhaps most importantly, I wanted to have a different kind of impact on changing the school environment that I saw as a factor in my students’ difficulties.

It was at this point that I decided to pursue additional training as a school administrator. Since that initial certification as a school administrator, I have continuously marveled at the overlap between my two chosen fields. While I am now in a position to supervise teachers, I get my best results when I apply my skills as a teacher consultant. The line of students and teachers who just want a few moments to chat and get something off their chests has not changed-- I’m just in a different place to address them. Likewise, I still support our intervention teams as we work collaboratively to eliminate student problems.

There are differences, of course. As an administrator, I worry about the budget that I once longed for. Sometimes, what had been a supportive consultation with a teacher needs to move to being a directed conversation where my authority as the principal is used. Mundane issues, like the boiler or trash in the cafeteria, can fill my days and sometimes I feel a greater distance from the students that I went into both of my careers to help.

At the end of the day, though, I am grateful to have had the opportunity to have crossed the bridge between school psychologist and school administrator. Most of my colleagues in administration are former teachers. Very few share my background as a school psychologist. Yet, it is this background that I feel has made me a more effective instructional leader and helps me navigate the murky waters of school administration.

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