ATLANTA -- The ranks of Georgia's school psychologists are filled largely by veteran mental health providers nearing retirement, and without new blood, officials fear the profession -- and the state's students -- could be in jeopardy.
Within the last six months, the Georgia Association of School Psychologists has noticed an alarming trend, officials said. Nearly half the state's school psychologists are retiring or nearing retirement, and the rate of incoming psychologists doesn't match the rate of those leaving.
"We've never had to replace people in this field before, because people who came in were added to the core of existing psychologists who were in their prime," said Frank Smith, a state Department of Education consultant for school psychological service. "Typically, just a few rural school systems have a hard time filling jobs. This year will be a different story."
According to the state Department of Education, only 85 new psychologists entered the field last year. There are now 30 positions for school psychologists needing to be filled.
Steve Corkery, lead psychologist with Bibb County schools, said he hasn't had any openings in his 40-school system until this year. Then he lost several qualified applicants for the position to school systems in Atlanta.
"I think we are on the fringe of it," he said. "As this field starts graying, we are really going to have to start recruiting different types of people into this field."
With 24,500 students in his system, Corkery said he'd like to have at least two more school psychologists on staff. Even though Bibb County can't afford to pay for that many positions, Corkery said he'd have a difficult time finding qualified people.
"We know this is going to hit us pretty strongly," said Robert Smith, president of the Georgia Association of School Psychologists. "There is no one else able to evaluate students for special programs or to provide crisis intervention when a teacher dies if we're not there."
The field of school psychology only recently began to blossom, according to Smith. As late as 1965, Georgia had only one school psychologist. The field has grown by about 500 people since the early 1980s, and the state hasn't seen much attrition since that time, either.
Despite the low turnover, the state lags behind others in the number of school psychologists on staff. In a time when school violence is common, there's one school psychologist to every 2,800 students in Georgia. The national average is one psychologist to every 1,500 students.
Lack of adequate funding has contributed to the low ratios, according to experts. …