District approves two intern positions to ease student load

In an effort to ease the burden on its school psychologists, the Del Norte County Unified School District Board of Trustees has approved a paid internship program for 2014andndash;15.

The district will advertise for two interns who will be employed for a year and be paid $25,000 with no benefits, according to psychologist Jennifer Eames. The interns will likely be students from Humboldt State University's psychology department who are working toward their Master's degrees and credentials, she said.

Eames and fellow school psychologists Susan Andrews and Marisa Lee made the proposal before the School Board on Thursday. The district hired Lee as an intern in the 2012andndash;13 school year and paid her $25,000 for her work, Eames said. Lee became a full-time psychologist with the district this school year, according to Eames.

According to the proposal, school psychologist interns are required to document their impact on students and districts to obtain their degree. The interns will also document the effect that increasing the number of school psychologists will have on overall student achievement, as well as the number of special education referrals.

"They're fresh out of school, they're ready to learn and they already have lots of fieldwork experience," Eames said, referring to the potential interns. "They've already been in schools doing lots of work. They can act as a school psychologist under supervision."

The district employs four psychologists, each serving roughly four schools, Eames said. One psychologist serves two large schools, Del Norte High School and Castle Rock Charter School. Another serves Crescent Elk Middle School and all county schools, she said.

The National Association of School Psychologists recommends a ratio of one psychologist to a maximum of 700 students. But in Del Norte County, there can be a single psychologist per 1,000 students, Eames said.

"We can't always be proactive," she said, referring to helping a student overcome behavioral issues before disciplinary action is needed. "There's a high need in this district. We're just spread too thin and we can't do what we should be able to do."

School Board members supported the psychologists' proposal, but Trustee Lori Cowan pointed out that roughly two years ago, the district used grant money to hire some new school counselors.

According to Eames, counselors deal with academic concerns, including some crisis counseling. Psychologists are able to go into more depth with students, including doing functional analyses. They also work with special education students, she said.

Eames said the Special Education Department's goal is to create a revolving program that brings interns to Del Norte County annually.

"Our department goal is to keep those going so we can become a teaching district," she said.

The district's Special Education Department serves roughly 600 students a year, according to the psychologists' proposal. They are currently serving 635 special education students

Reach Jessica Cejnar at jcejnar@triplicate.com.