JULIE McINTOSH, DEAN of the University of Findlay College of Education, left, and Kara Parker are shown at the university. UF has created a doctor of education in school psychology degree aimed at addressing a nationwide shortage of school psychologists. (Photo by Sara Arthurs)

By SARA ARTHURS

Staff Writer

Kara Parker, who has worked as a school psychologist and will be teaching university students who want to do the same, described school psychologists as “change agents in school districts” who have a big impact on families.

The work involves providing counseling and mental health support as well as evaluating if a child requires an individualized education program, or IEP. And school psychologists are even sometimes involved in curriculum changes, said Parker, who is on the faculty as an assistant professor at the University of Findlay, which recently created a doctor of education in school psychology degree. Parker said the job looks different from one school district to the next and can be made to fit a district’s needs.

She said the majority of school psychologists have earned an undergraduate degree in psychology or education before pursuing a master’s or doctorate degree. But they could come from any background. She herself earned an undergraduate degree in music performance, and sang opera, before realizing this was what she wanted to do.

She said being good at this work involves being “adaptable and flexible,” and to be able to see the big picture while remaining detail-oriented.

“They have to have the heart for it,” added Julie McIntosh, dean of the College of Education.

McIntosh said UF’s new program addresses “a need that I’ve heard about for years” from school superintendents. There’s “a huge shortage” of school psychologists in Ohio, where last year, about 130 positions went unfilled, she said.

The UF program is online, “so our reach is the state of Ohio,” McIntosh said.

She said university officials think they can serve rural communities, whose residents can study online at UF while living elsewhere in the state. The students must come to Findlay for a few days each summer for some face-to-face instruction. They will complete parts of their dissertations, including defending their dissertation proposal and then later the dissertation itself, at these summer sessions.

McIntosh said the online study will also allow students to work at their own pace. Parker said she’s structured her classes so coursework is due every two weeks, and students can complete it whenever it works for them.

The UF program is a doctorate including three years of studies and a fourth of internship. The National Association of School Psychologists asks each school to find an area to focus on, and UF chose research.

The first cohort of 12 to 16 students will start classes on May 18.

Most rewarding in the work is “seeing the successes in the students,” and how some who previously struggled might improve both their grades and their behavior, Parker said. The challenge is, as with any role that involves working with children, “You see some heartbreaking things.”

The university intends for its program to be accredited with the National Association of School Psychologists, but cannot seek this recognition until they have their first class of graduates.

And since graduates will have a doctorate, they will be qualified to teach at another university offering a similar curriculum. There’s a shortage of these faculty, too, Parker said.

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