Recruiting and retaining Black men as school psychologists

A student speaks with a school psychologist or counselor. Image source: Shutterstock.

When it comes to university programs offering degrees and credentials for improving mental health in schools, the UW’s School Psychology program provides something unique. “A lot of school psychology programs focus on assessment rather than mental health,” says UW College of Education Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Janine Jones, Ph.D. “Some are also situated in psychology departments rather than being in Colleges of Education like ours.”

At a time when the mental health of young people is top of mind across the nation, that means they are well-positioned to increase the number of practitioners providing mental health supports in schools.

“Our School Psychology Program offers excellent training in an expanded model that includes supporting the academic and mental well-being of children and adolescents,” says School Psychology Program Director Kristen Missall, Ph.D. “Our school psychology graduates have a 100 percent pass rate on the certification exam and a 100 percent employment rate.”

Our school psychology graduates have a 100 percent pass rate on the certification exam and a 100 percent employment rate.

Not only that, but the program has long worked to be culturally responsive and has intentionally worked in partnership with Seattle Public Schools (SPS). So, when Jones and Missall heard about a new grant opportunity from the U.S. Department of Education focused on increasing the number and diversity of high-quality, trained providers available to address a shortage of mental health service professionals in schools, they knew they had to apply.

Solving a widespread problem

They were awarded a $1.6 million grant last spring to support their project. A partnership between the UW School Psychology program and SPS, the effort focuses on recruiting and retaining Black men as part of the program’s larger cohort earning their postgraduate professional degrees as educational specialists in school psychology.

Over the five years of the grant, the UW School Psychology Program will train and graduate 12 Black male school psychologists into employment at SPS, which will increase their school psychology workforce to be 20% Black males. “The transformation is extraordinarily important and unique,” says Missall.

A 2022 article published by NPR, “Few Black Men Become School Psychologists, Here’s Why That Matters,” pinpoints the problem the project seeks to address. School psychologists provide a range of mental health and academic services in schools, including assessing a student for a disability. According to a National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) survey, the make-up of school psychologists doesn’t match student demographics. While 85 percent of school psychologists are white, more than 50 percent of students identify as a race other than white. Further, Black children, especially boys, have been disproportionately referred in schools for special education services, in addition to disproportionate disciplinary actions against them and involvement by the police.

“This program is disrupting traditional patterns and biases,” says Jones. “It will offer a tremendous value to children, schools and communities related to mental health and wellness.” The program also aligns with the SPS strategic plan focused on “disrupting the legacies of racism in our educational system.”

This program is disrupting traditional patterns and biases. It will offer a tremendous value to children, schools and communities related to mental health and wellness.

Sparking a national movement

While the number of Black school psychologists in U.S. public schools is still less than 1 percent (according to an estimate by NASP), Jones and Missall are excited that this project will dramatically increase that percentage at SPS. They are also seeing some promising momentum at the national level.

About a year ago, the Black School Psychologists Network formed, and in April of 2023, the organization held its inaugural conference. “I thought there would only be about 150 people there,” says Jones, describing how the field still has a long way to go but also how many more practitioners of color there are now than when she began practicing over 20 years ago. “About 500 people came, and there were so many people that I knew who were missing. It was an incredible event.”

The new network also supports their project. “We’re developing a list of mentors,” Jones says. “Cohort members can connect to people who share their identity and professional field, starting now and becoming part of their professional lives long-term.”

The first cohort of Black male students started in the fall of 2023. While the School Psychology program already focused on recruiting diverse candidates, this effort furthers that trend to everyone’s benefit. “Our school psychology graduate cohorts are about 47 percent racially diverse, on average, and it’s exciting to continue to increase diversity and to have meaningful conversations that reflect everyone’s lived experience,” says Missall.

While the Department of Education funding for this effort is time-limited, the momentum for this kind of change is not. “I’m dreaming that even after this funding ends, our program will be seen as a safe home and will continue to draw people that have not traditionally applied,” says Jones. That’s great, because the schools, students and their communities are ready and waiting.

 

Contact:

Charleen Wilcox, Director for Marketing & Communications, wilcoxc@uw.edu