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Illinois School Psychologists Association

Serving the educational and mental health interests of all children and youth for over 30 years.


Presidential Perspective 2016- 2017

Carrie Emrikson

I don't know about you, but I became a school psychologist by accident.
I had planned on becoming a high school social studies teacher and then a guidance counselor. An issue prior to student teaching led to a visit to the NIU career counselor who suggested I would really rather become a school psychologist instead of a guidance counselor. I don't remember that counselor at NIU, but he sure led me on the best path of my life. I may have come about this career unintentionally, but it's been the perfect move for me. School Psychology, to me, has the perfect blend of autonomy within a system that appeals to my Generation X upbringing. I like to make my own decisions, but I prefer to work in a group of people. From Paul Taylor and George Gao's 2014 article, retrieved fromwww.pewresearch.org, they describe Generation Xers: “From everything we know about them, they're savvy, skeptical and self-reliant; they're not into preening or pampering, and they just might not give much of a hoot what others think of them. Or whether others think of them at all.” I see this as a great example of many school psychologists, we are the workhorses of the school system. We have to do the jobs that aren't very popular or glamorous. We do what needs to be done, even at the expense of our personal time or money. Every day at school is different and I can say in 17 years, I've never been bored at work! I have become pretty passionate about who school psychologists are and how we benefit not only students but schools in general.
I am sure I'm not the only psychologist who has just as many adults visit her office as children! This past school year, my best friend, our school social worker, retired. I inherited her office couch and became the person many turned to when they were frustrated or upset by something at school. That couch sure has seen a lot of tears and laughs from adults and kids this year! I also luckily became full-time in one building. I can now see the difference a full-time psychologist makes for everyone in a school, not just being there for evaluations and IEP decisions. This is quite a stroke of luck to finally be within the NASP ratio of school psychologists, as I'm one to 750 students. This has been a long road of advocacy for school psychologists in my district. In 2000, there were just 4 of us for 13 schools and over 8000 students, with a ratio of 1:2000; now there are 12 and a half. It has taken a lot of work and a lot of staff turnover to have our district recognize the need for more mental health and data support. I feel we are a legacy to Kurt Wagner's (2015-2016 ISPA President's) theme of Compassion through Data. We were able to show administration the need for more psychologists and the direct student/staff benefit of increased staff. Our advocacy efforts paid off and now our students have increased access to their school psychologist.
As my career was happenstance, I've had to explain and defend School Psychology repeatedly. Many non-educators do not understand our role or why we are needed. Some people question the need for any student mental health support at all. We are still one of the most underrepresented educational careers, and shortages abound in all 50 states. NASP continues to recommend a ratio of 1 to 500-700 for comprehensive school psychologist services, but many of us, even in Illinois, are far above that. I recently read an article fromwww.districtadministration.com from February 2015, indicating North Carolina's Carrabus County schools had only five psychologists for 30,000 students in 2014. By later in 2015, they had grown to 13 psychologists for a 1 to 2,307 student ratio. While in Illinois, we don't have quite that concern, but in many areas of our state, the ratio issues are similar. Other articles have published data regarding the divide between retiring school psychologists and the lesser amount of incoming school psychology graduates to take their places. US News and World Reporthas listed School Psychology as the #2 ranked best social service job and #57 in the best 100 jobs. This is great news for us!  We are right in between Actuaries at #56 and MRI Technologist at #58.
As more people hear about school psychologists, I hope we can all continue to advocate for our career as well as we advocate for our students. One of my goals as ISPA President this year is to help our organization reach more legislators and administrators to understand how we can help students achieve. Being included in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) as a specialized instructional support personnel helps us to be acknowledged as important members of the school community for student success. ISPA will continue to keep members apprised of how ESSA impacts our student and school communities. Www.dictionary.com defines advocacy as the act of pleading for, supporting, or recommending active espousal. The website further indicated the origin of the word is dated from 1375 to 1425. I found this to be fascinating, over 600 years have passed since when this word was invented. It took another 300 hundred years for our Founding Fathers to push for freedom and advocacy to develop our country and constitution. I feel we continue to develop and expand the word advocacy. Right now, it is important that we continue to push children's needs in the spotlight. We need to continue to address systems that are not meeting public needs. We need to advocate to destigmatize mental health and increase children's access to services.
ISPA's efforts in advocacy have led to the successful unanimous passing of SB 2440 in both Illinois house and senate chambers to become Public Act 099-0623. This law now allows any licensed educator with at least four years of school experience to pursue the path to school administration. The efforts of our Governmental Affairs Committee and our professional lobbyist, Dick Lockhart, combined with leading Illinois legislators, have confirmed the value of school psychologists as administrators. Our success with this legislation must fuel our continued efforts to be advocates at multiple levels for children.
I am honored to be ISPA's President this year. These are exciting times! I feel confident the Presidential team with Kurt Wagner as Past President and Rosalinda Barragan as President-Elect continue to lead ISPA to not only advocate for our profession and children's rights but to continue ISPA's legacy as one of the best state associations for school psychologists in the country. I am proud to be on a team this dedicated to ISPA and its mission. I leave you with a quote I heard from ISPA Past President Don Sibley, currently Co-Chair of Governmental Affairs, “Be Involved, Before It's Done to You.” He said this is called BIBIDTY and I think it's a perfect mantra for us.
Sincerely yours,
Carrie Emrikson, Ed.D, NCSP
ISPA President 2016-2017