Parkview psychologist earns top state honor

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Gina Duwe
Tuesday, April 15, 2014

ORFORDVILLE--When school psychologist Jaime Harris talks with kids, she tells them she's “like the school problem-solver.”

The role of a school psychologist has shifted from the days of counseling students, supporting parents and identifying students with special education needs, she said. While those things are still part of her job, her duties have focused on identifying and making changes to create a better school environment, and much of her work is data driven.

“When you look at her performance, she's exemplary in terms of what she's doing to help us look at our data in terms of student performance,” said Karen Strandt-Conway, principal of Parkview Elementary and director of student services.

Harris' data-analysis abilities, leadership in starting programs to better educate students and sharing of her expertise with colleagues beyond her school district earned her the title of the Wisconsin School Psychologist Association's School Psychologist of the Year.

The group recently recognized Harris, 32, at its spring conference in Baraboo. Strandt-Conway and a group of her coworkers and a colleague from another district nominated her for the award.

Wisconsin has about 950 practicing school psychologists, she said.

The alphabet soup of SLO, RTI, PBIS and IEP has become common in the changing field of education, but Harris has been helping teachers understand it all. She's the only school psychologist in the Parkview School District, and she works with children from age 3 to 21.

Harris identifies students in need of additional services, develops individualized education plans and works with outside agencies such as Rock County Birth to 3. She also counsels students, though not as much as she'd like because other resources are available for them, while she's the only one in her position.

“A large part of my job is I provide a lot of collaboration with teachers to help them understand assessment data on children,” Harris said. “When we give all these tests that the state is requiring us to give, I sit down and I lead grade-level meetings to help them analyze and understand what it means, to better instruct their students.”

The district has seen dramatic increases in its standardized test scores in recent years. Harris pointed to elementary math scores on the state's WKCE exam, which jumped from 37.5 percent being advanced or proficient in 2010-11 to nearly 60 percent in 2013-14.

“We've had significant gains in all academic areas. It's really exciting to see that growth,” she said.

She attributes that to the teachers but also making sense out of the tests they're giving.

In an effort to analyze Parkview data, Harris and her computer-programming husband, Matt, created a web-based program that allows teachers to pull data out in multiple, easy-to-understand ways. The program, called eduCLIMBER, quickly attracted interest from other districts, and the couple are marketing their product.

“Her knowledge of how to implement a lot of these initiatives that are coming from the state is just an incredible asset to our district,” Strandt-Conway said.

Most people think school psychologists are for kids having difficulties, she said, but Harris has been the catalyst for starting Response to Intervention, which focuses on enriching learning for all students.

There's more need for school psychologists than there are people to fill the positions, Harris said, but it's not for a lack of interest. Universities limit the size of programs because the studies are rigorous, she said.

She's looking forward to supervising a practicum student--similar to a student teacher--next year at Parkview.

She decided her career path in high school after interactions with a supportive school psychologist.

“I'd never heard of a school psychologist before that. I just felt like that was exactly what I wanted to do,” she said. “I thought working with kids would be great. I was always the problem-solver. When people get in arguments, I was always the one to jump in and try to help. It's been a great fit for me."

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