Message from the President
INVESTING IN YOURSELF THE PSWA WAY
The theme of the 2018 CASP Fall Convention in San Diego was “Investing in You equals Investing in Students”. For me this theme goes above and beyond just investing in your own individual personal and professional needs but also speaks to the need to invest in the profession in which we work every day. When I got my first job as a school psychologist (way back when), I was hired by a small district who had not hired a school psychologist in 10 years. As the new hire, I would now be one of five school psychologists in the district. When we get our first job the most important task we have is to actually learn the day to day job of a school psychologist: SSTs, IEPs, 504s, Manifestation Determinations, Behavior Intervention Plans, Initial Referrals, Triennials, RSP, Special Day Class, Non-Public Schools, Mediations, Specific Learning Disability, Autism, Emotional Disturbance, Intellectual Disability, 30 day Interims, Record Reviews, Teacher Consults, and Parent Consults, well you get the idea. The second main goal of a new school psychologist is to survive the first few years! At that time, I had very little time to even think about investing or advocating for our profession as I was barely surviving the day-to-day responsibilities. I knew I was part of the teacher union because I saw a nice bit of money taken out of my meager pay at the time, but outside of that, my focus was on learning my job. In my 9 years in that district, the only administrators I came into contact with were the principals at my school sites and the Director of my department. Never did I once meet with any cabinet level administrator much less a school board member. Although I liked working in that district, at around year 6 or 7, I began to realize that my salary was very low compared to larger districts in my area. That is really the only reason I came to work for Elk Grove Unified School District.
There were some immediate things that I noticed when I started my time in EGUSD. First, I realized that I was no longer being represented by the teachers union but was invited to join the Psychologist Social Worker Association (PSWA). I was also provided with my own laptop and I no longer had to share and borrow all my test kits and protocols with my colleagues. Not that sharing is bad, but I now had my own test budget and could order whatever tests or protocols I needed or wanted. Currently that budget is $3000 per year. The next thing I noticed is that I actually had some funds to attend professional development conferences! Currently that amount is $2000 per psychologist. In addition, I was shocked when I realized that I would be given a stipend for having my Licensed Educational Psychologist credential. Currently psychologists with an LEP, NCSP, MFT, and/or Ph.D. get a stipend of over $5000 a year. Finally, through PSWA, I began attending informal lunches with all the top administrators in the district. It was through these lunches that for the first time in my 9 years as a school psychologist, I actually had a face-to-face conversation with a district superintendent or a school board member. Ask yourself that question, “How many of you have ever had that experience?” In my opinion, if you have not put yourself in that situation then you are not fully investing in yourself or your profession. It is truly the only way we can truly tell our story to the “powers that be” in a school district.
Having informal lunches with cabinet level administrators is only one aspect of what PSWA does to help tell our story. Every year for School Psychology Awareness Week, we, as a group, come before the school board where a proclamation is read, we address the board, and in doing so demonstrate our visibility within the district and community. In addition, the PSWA leadership team, of which I am a member as the district lead psychologist, are part of the district Partners in Education (PIE) Committee, which is made up of every bargaining unit in the district along with the Superintendent, other district administrators and a school board member. This committee meets regularly throughout the school year to discuss target district initiatives or any items of importance relevant to the district. Our district Superintendent Chris Hoffman put it this way, “Meeting the needs of our students has never been more challenging. Key to our success is the trust and cooperation between the board and our bargaining units. I greatly value the collaborative, supportive relationship that permeates EGUSD. PSWA and the six other units that participate in our Partners in Education team model respect, commitment and responsibility for the well-being of our children, each other and the district as a whole. We see beyond our specific view of a situation and are open to the realities others. I am confident that our collective talents and commitment to each other will ensure that we meet the needs of every student we have the honor to serve.”
As an organization, PSWA is also involved in LCAP development at the district level. For the last three years, we have made presentations in front of other bargaining units and district management detailing what our department staff needs are and how addressing these needs could benefit our work with the students and families in the district. What I have learned through my experience in EGUSD is that what it really comes down to is building relationships. All the great items that are now in our contract are due to the fact that, through the years, we have been able to tell our story to the district. The district has come to realize that in order to provide the best quality services to the students, staff and families of the district, it is vital that the district school psychologists are provided adequate tools to do their jobs and are given the best continuing education possible. They also realize that in this era of increased competition over fewer available psychologists, it is important that the district be able to attract the best and brightest staff available. As a group we have been able to build relationships with the district to the point that the trust level in each other to do the right thing for all students is high. Mark Cerutti our Deputy Superintendent of Education Services and School states, “I think of the EGUSD/PSWA relationship, as a developmental journey. Like all relationships, if they are to be successful, there must be intentionality to ensuring they become and remain strong. We have been very intentional in our relationship building. Cornerstones of the relationship are trust, respect, open communication, valued divergent thinking, a commitment to continuously improving our professional practice, and a clear common goal of success for all students. Together we have developed comprehensive student and family Wellness Services, data tracking and analysis systems, short and long-range program and student outcome targets, and embedded these in the District’s LCAP. There is a direct correlation between the strength of the EGUSD/PSWA partnership and our ability to provide high quality School Psychology/Wellness services to our students and families. Given the strength of our collaborative partnership, our outlook is one of excitement and optimism.”
Looking at all this from afar I can see how one might conclude well that is EGUSD the fifth largest district in California with over 63,000 students and a staff of over 50 school psychologists! Of course you can do those things with that many psychologists in your district. If you think that then you would be wrong. The inception of PSWA and the way that the district psychologists build relationships and tell their story to district management started way before Elk Grove Unified was this large. In fact, PSWA was created over 30 years ago when there were just 4 to 5 psychologists working in the district. It was not the size of the district or numbers of psychologist that made a difference, rather it was the desire of the few psychologists at the time to fully invest in themselves and their profession. They started building relationships with the district by having informal lunches with the Superintendent in a way that both sides could benefit from it. I have been in EGUSD since 2000 and in that time we have had three different Superintendents. Each time a new Superintendent arrived we reached out to them and explained that this is the way we did things. This has also been the case with incoming new district level administrators and board members. It has been our experience that they all have embraced this culture and way of working together to form levels of understanding and relationship building. In the environment in which we live with the shortage of school psychologists causing districts to compete for the available staff, emphasis of mental health, PBIS/MTSS, and all the other factors affecting our schools it is incumbent on us to tell our story and show how we can support the needs of our particular district no matter what the size. Although here in EGUSD it was decided to form our own bargaining unit, I don’t think that is a necessity. Just working within whatever system you are in would be ok. You just have to band together as a group to see what is doable. As they say every journey begins with that first step, and for us it was taken by those few psychologists 30 years ago!
Armando Fernandez M.S., L.E.P.
Lead Psychologist EGUSD