** Click here to learn about and register for this year's Virtual Conversations with WSASP President Alex Franks-Thomas! **
Hello! I am honored to be the new President of our state association. I work in North Thurston Public Schools and just ended my sixth year of practice, all at the elementary level. I am also a second-generation school psychologist (Hi, Dad!). Since my election in the spring of 2019, there have been many new developments and changes surrounding our work. We have all made a drastic shift to working from home to support our students, staff, and families as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Mandatory dyslexia screenings are on the horizon at the elementary level, leaving us with questions about the potential ripple effect into the special education world, while changes in graduation requirements and pathways have rolled out at the secondary level. Multi-tiered system of supports (MTSS) is gaining steam at the state level from OSPI, and our procedures for establishing eligibility for specific learning disabilities (SLD) will be changing soon. As I am writing this letter, the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) has released the new and approved professional standards model for school psychologists, which will guide our profession for the next ten years. When I step back and think about all of these changes happening at the same time my head starts to spin a little, and showing up as a school psychologist practitioner feels very overwhelming. I am an eternal optimist, though, and I believe that this next year is our time to shine as school psychologists. We have a strong and diverse set of skills; like a Swiss Army Knife, we have a tool or skill set for nearly anything and everything that may come up during a school year in public education. This year, let’s think outside the test kit! I hope to lead our association in reestablishing and strengthening our foundational practices as school psychologists to take on the upcoming challenges in our field, focusing specifically on effective communication, integrating social justice practices, and collaboration with our school psychologist colleagues.
Effective communication is a crucial component of our daily work in supporting staff, students, and families. Given the increased stress and uncertainty in our new pandemic world, communicating with our teams will give them the knowledge and confidence to act in the best interest of students. We are seen as leaders in our buildings, and as such it will fall to us to keep prefrontal cortexes online and help team members to operate from a place of knowledge rather than emotion. We will need to effectively communicate our skill sets and knowledge to support building and district teams during implementation of dyslexia screenings and MTSS procedures. As school psychologists, we have been aware for years that early screening, quality intervention, and progress monitoring leads to improved outcomes for all students. The implementation of high-quality practices in our schools opens the door for school psychologists to engage in our expanded role and participate in a leadership role as change agents. Finally, with financial uncertainty on the horizon, we will need to be able to effectively communicate the exclusive skillset we bring to school teams to advocate for maintaining funding for school psychologist positions throughout the state.
Our state’s unexpected and dramatic shift to online instruction in mid-March laid bare the inequities in public education that we knew existed, but have not always directly named or addressed. These inequities are likely to become more stark, given the continued economic uncertainties for families, government, and businesses alike throughout the state. Now is the time for school psychologists to infuse social justice practices into our daily work to create more equitable education opportunities for all of our students and families. Social justice is both a goal and a process to remove barriers for all students, ensure that all children are valued, and protect their educational opportunities and rights in our communities and schools. The implementation of these new systems and processes across the state is the perfect time to step up and advocate that they be implemented equitably to result in positive outcomes for each and every child in Washington State, including our most marginalized and at-risk students.
Washington state is a geographically and culturally diverse state, which means that our goal of social justice as a school psychologist may look different depending on our community’s needs. For some of us, a social justice goal may look like ensuring adequate mental health access for students in rural communities. For others, a social justice goal may be advocating and implementing equitable discipline practices for students receiving special education services or students from a cultural minority group. For all of us, the social justice process involves understanding how different cultural identities have been marginalized and advocating to change our educational systems that marginalize these identities and groups. Finally, the social justice process in Washington state for school psychologists should include recognizing our own privileges and lifting up and empowering our own colleagues whose identities may be marginalized within our field. According to WSASP’s survey completed in the fall of 2019, our school psychologist population is 85% white and 80% female. These demographics are clearly nowhere near representative of our student population. While this is true of educators as a whole in our state, it is important that we are able to recognize the majority-culture biases we may have and listen to and lift up not only our non-majority families, students, and staff, but our school psychologist and educator colleagues as well.
And finally, collaboration with our school psychologist colleagues will be important moving forward. We are a comparatively small group of educators; according to a data request made to OSPI in the fall of 2019, there were only 1,169 current ESA certified school psychologists during the 2018-19 school year. Even though we all have the same job title, our work can look very different based on the student and family populations we serve, staff culture, building systems, district policies, and community resources. When we can come together to share experiences, strategies, and encouragement, we are all stronger, and our schools and communities are better for our collaboration. Throughout the year, I will host a monthly informal online conversation to discuss different topics. This will allow us to connect, share ideas, and learn from each other. I hope you will join me! I also encourage you to consider participating in our Association by joining a committee, submitting feedback or material for one of our publications, or submitting a presentation for a future WSASP professional development event. Our board meeting minutes are now published on our website in an effort to be more transparent with members, along with our bylaws. If you do not feel represented by WSASP, I encourage you to reach out, make your voice heard, and to join our efforts. Our Association is entirely volunteer-driven, and we are a stronger body when we have diverse representation of school psychologists from around the state.We have a challenging year ahead of us. I believe that when we reestablish and strengthen our foundational skills in communication, collaboration, and social justice in our day-to-day work, our profession can weather the upcoming changes, and come out stronger and more dynamic on the other side. You are always welcome to reach out to me throughout the upcoming year by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, or connecting via social media on Facebook or Twitter (@afranksthomas). I look forward to leading our association this year through active communication and collaboration, advocacy, and amplifying school psychologist voices from around the state.
Alexandra Franks-Thomas Ed.S., NCSP, WSASP President