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Lehighton hires school psychologist

School district administrators label child psychologists as one of the most difficult positions to fill, but arguably one of the most important.

After going over a year without a full compliment of school psychologists on staff, Lehighton Area School District is getting back on track. By a 7-2 vote Monday night, Lehighton’s school board hired Ryan Gallagher at a salary of $48,400 with a start date yet to be determined.

“We’re very fortunate to have found a great candidate and we feel confident the individual we hired will do a great job for us,” Superintendent Jonathan Cleaver said. “At one time we had three psychologists on staff and then we went to one. Since then, we’ve had a lot of trouble filling the position, as have districts and intermediate units across the state. They are in high demand and there aren’t a lot of them out there.”

Cleaver said the position requires a very specific certification and a lot of course work. Beyond Bachelors and Masters degrees, another 45 credits are required before becoming eligible for employment.

The majority of a psychologist’s time, Cleaver said, is spent testing students who may qualify for specially designed instruction, but the job description goes far beyond that.

“They are part of our intervention teams that meet with parents and teachers over any concerns that may come up,” he added. “They also do risk and threat assessments. One of the things that stood out for Ryan, who is coming to us from another district, is that he has gone above and beyond the training required for those assessments. We’re always trying to be proactive with students and identify concerns as early as we can. I think we can greatly benefit from his experience.”

School psychologists are also part of Lehighton’s student assistance teams on a K-12 level.

“I want to thank the administration for their diligence,” board President Larry Stern said. “We’ve been trying quite a while to find a school psychologist. In the long run, the continuity of this person being with students is going to provide measurable benefits for their development. It’s just awesome.”

Last month, Lehighton contracted with Pediatric Therapeutic Services through the end of the 2019-20 to try and bridge the gap, but the company had also been unable to find anyone for the district.

“You can look at the postings on the Pennsylvania School Board Association’s website and see the demand for psychologists,” Cleaver said. “Anytime we get together as superintendents and administrators, it’s a discussion that always comes up. We’re not only competing with other districts, but private firms as well.”

Director David Bradley, who voted against the hire along with Joy Beers, asked for the vote to be postponed. He argued that Gallagher was not properly vetted since the administration, and not anyone on the board, was involved in the interview and recommendation process.

“I’m not opposed to hiring someone, it’s the process by which they get hired that is important,” Bradley said. “We shouldn’t be in a rush.”

“I’m glad for the work of the administration,” Stern said in reply. “I don’t think I could interview a child psychologist.”

Asked by a resident if the district could afford the psychologist, Stern answered, “We can’t afford not to.”