When working in education, no two days are ever the same.

Ashley McClurg knows that well. She works as a school psychologist at an elementary school and a middle school in Highline. She spends her days supporting students ages 5 through 14 in a variety of ways.

Within the last week, she received two referrals for students with suspected disabilities. That launched her process of consulting with the school team on placement decisions for special needs students, facilitating multidisciplinary team meetings as well as evaluation meetings.

“I also conducted a parent interview, with an interpreter, to gather data for a June re-evaluation, drank all the coffee, served as a district representative at Individualized Education Plan meetings, and consulted with other psychologists on how to survive,” says McClurg.

Successful school psychologists need several important skills, and a strong graduate program will help them further develop their repertoire, says Ashli Tyre, program director and professor at Seattle University.

These abilities include a strong awareness of diversity issues and how to promote equity for diverse youth and their families, Tyre says. School psychologists must communicate clearly, both orally and in written form. They are faced with conveying basic psychological concepts so teachers and family members can easily understand them. Last, but not least, robust leadership and interpersonal skills will enable them to effectively lead teams in making critical decisions about students, she says.

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Using the above skills, school psychologists work with and support teachers to help students succeed not only academically but also socially and emotionally, Tyre explains. They also reinforce safe, healthy and supportive school environments and foster connections between schools and families.

McClurg honed these skills and abilities in a three-year, 90-credit program at Seattle U. She also got her undergraduate degree in communication studies there. She thought she wanted to be a journalist or an editor, but that wasn’t to be.

“When I worked as a paraeducator in Highline, that job convinced me I wanted to work in public schools, but not as a teacher. My voice isn’t loud enough to talk over excited students,” McClurg says with a laugh.

(Seattle University)
(Seattle University)

Importance of an accredited school

Optimal graduate programs in school psychology are accredited by the National Association of School Psychologists, Tyre says. Accredited programs train future school psychologists according to a practice model grounded in equity, collaboration and evidence-based practices. The program at Seattle U is NASP-accredited, as are several programs at other institutions of higher learning in the state.

“Attending an accredited university was incredibly important to me,” says McClurg. “Each of the accredited universities in Washington state has their own unique strengths. For me, Seattle University was the only choice because of its activities surrounding social justice.”

The school psychologist program at Seattle U welcomes all candidates in terms of race, ethnicity, disability, sexual and gender identity, says Tyre. Students who speak a language in addition to English are especially welcomed into the program.

Thriving employment outlook

The demand for school psychologists is very high, Tyre says. Because the profession is fairly new, a shortage of practitioners has always existed in most parts of the United States. Many in this profession will reach retirement age in the next 10 years, creating an abundant need for new school psychologists.

To further shed a light on the critical shortage, NASP recommends one school psychologist per every 500 students. Currently statistics estimate the ratio as 1:1211 and in some states as high as 1:5000.

In 2019, US News and World Report ranked school psychologist as one of the 100 best jobs, one of the best social services jobs and one of the best science, technology engineering and mathematics jobs.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2020 Occupational Outlook Handbook reports the national average salary is $82,180. Actual earnings differ by location, years of experience, specialties and other factors.

“Applying for a job in my chosen career was nerve-wracking, but I felt prepared,” says McClurg. “I was very fortunate. I applied to two districts and received two job offers.”

Working as a paraeducator helped prepare McClurg for a career in education. Those looking for a midcareer shift, especially teachers, make good school psychologists, Tyre says.

“Teachers, both general and special education, understand the challenges of serving students with diverse needs,” says Tyre.

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