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President’s Message

Even a Little Comma Can Make a Big Difference

By Ralph E. “Gene” Cash

“School psychologists make a difference!”
“School psychologists, make a difference!”

The addition of a single punctuation mark—a seemingly insignificant comma—results in a profound difference in meaning! It is my fervent belief that all school psychologists can make a meaningful difference in the lives of those whom they serve, regardless of the degrees they hold, the philosophy of their training program, the service delivery model they employ, their racial/ethnic/linguistic/cultural/ social background, or their feelings about various types of assessments and instruments. The key is being willing to use the talent, knowledge, and skills one has to make the difference. And don’t be afraid to be a difference maker because you think your efforts will be too small. Consider the contribution of that seemingly insignificant comma.

One example of the difference just a few determined people can make occurred recently in the Miami-Dade Public School District. Because of the flagging Florida economy, budget cuts of approximately 10% were imposed on education throughout the state. In response, the administration of the Miami-Dade District chose to lay off over 15% of the school psychology staff and cut the remaining school psychologists from 12-month to 10-month contracts, resulting in a reduction of total school psychological services by nearly one third. The Dade Association of School Psychologists, with the help of NASP, the Florida Association of School Psychologists, and the school psychology training programs in the area, carefully formulated a plan to shoulder their fair share of the cuts; presented that plan to the Miami-Dade School Board at several meetings in a professional, collaborative manner; won the hearts and votes of several School Board members as well as other professional and parent groups; and were eventually able to get all of the school psychologists rehired. Small changes can make a big difference!

Another example of a few dedicated professionals making a difference occurred in the Washington State Association of School Psychologists. Five years ago, the WSASP membership was approximately 200, which is only 20% of the practicing school psychologists in the state. Currently the membership is over three times that number. Five years ago attendance at the state conference averaged 150; the current attendance is between 500 and 600.

WSASP now contracts with a state lobbyist who helps their Government and Professional Relations Committee stay more updated and active. Their Research Committee will now be offering up to 30 small incentive awards each year for school-based research projects undertaken by school psychologists. They also plan to offer one or two grants to stimulate collaborative research between university faculty and practitioners. The Assessment Review Committee, besides helping the state develop SLD guidelines, is entering into a partnership with test publishers where, in return for access to the latest tests, WSASP members are reviewing the measures and publishing their reviews in their quarterly newsletter. The 13 area representatives on the WSASP Executive Board have created address books containing contact information for every school psychologist in their region, facilitating instant communication regarding professional development, legislative issues, job vacancies, etc. Through the efforts of a small group of difference makers, the WSASP has been revitalized!

In this 40th anniversary year of NASP and 20th anniversary of the NCSP, school psychologists who are Difference Makers will be highlighted in Communiqué on a regular basis. In addition, NASP members will soon be able to download “Difference Maker” certificates from the NASP website (www.nasponline.org) to recognize those outside school psychology who make a difference. “Difference Makers” are those who have clearly impacted in a positive way the lives of student(s), families, and/or staff members based on effort over and above the call of duty by exhibiting:

  • extraordinary personal/professional commitment/advocacy on behalf of student(s), families,
    and/or staff, or
  • outstanding professional functioning, as evidenced, for example, by recognizing the individual needs of students; connecting personally with staff, students, and/or families; improving the understanding of others regarding the needs of children; knowing how to access resources to help and doing it; contributing positively to the organizational climate; serving as a role model for kindness, caring, and consideration; or
  • effective public policy advocacy or long-term dedication to child advocacy.

Honor a “Difference Maker” and work to improve things. “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing’s going to get better. It’s not!” (Dr. Seuss) If even a little comma can make changes, you can make a difference. You can be the difference!

Gene Cash, PhD, NCSP, is a Florida licensed psychologist and a faculty member at the Nova Southeastern University Center for Psychological Studies in Ft. Lauderdale, FL.