Friday, February 5, 2021

Maine’s ‘School Psychologist of the Year’ hails from RSU 14

By Ed Pierce

For more than two decades, school psychologist Lisa Backman has devoted her career to improving the lives of RSU 14 students in Windham and Raymond. Earlier this month, all of Backman’s hard work and care paid off in a big way as the Maine Association of School Psychologists honored Backman as the Maine School Psychologist of the Year.

The award acknowledges a member of the Maine Association of School Psychologists who demonstrates excellence in school psychology practice, and leadership in the profession.

“Beyond the role of evaluators, school psychologists fill a crucial role in school communities providing consultation and collaboration in intervention systems and supporting school staff through professional development and technical assistance,” stated Erin Frazier, Maine Department of Education Director of Special Services. “These individuals are critical to SAUs efforts to provide a continuum of services to all children.”

RSU 14 school psychologist Lisa Backman,
who works with kindergarten through fifth-grade
students in Windham and Raymond, has been
honored as Maine's School Psychologist of 
the Year by the Maine Association of School
Psychologists. COURTESY PHOTO 

Backman has been providing psychological services to RSU 14 since 1999 and she also serves as an adjunct professor at Saint Joseph’s College.

Frazier said that Backman is a trusted professional within her school community among students, staff, and families.

“Maine Department of Education recognizes there is a critical shortage of school psychologists in the state that is long standing,” Frazier said. “These positions are critical to fulfill child find responsibilities and support effective programming for students.”

A nationally certified school psychologist, Backman is a native of Maine and has lived most of her life in the Sebago Lake Region. After attending high school, she earned a Bachelor of Science degree in communication from the University of Southern Maine and then went on to obtain a master’s degree in school psychology. She works with children in kindergarten through fifth grade in Windham and Raymond schools.

Backman said that her primary role for the district involves serving as part of the special education team at Windham Primary School and Manchester School and evaluating students in kindergarten through Grade 5 for special education eligibility.

“My daily work schedule is vast, which requires a lot of flexibility. Each day is different as I could be observing in the learning environments, consulting with special and regular education teachers, developing behavioral/social-emotional intervention plans, report writing, and attending Response to Intervention or IEP meetings,” Backman said. “Ultimately, the best part is meeting one-on-one with students through the evaluation process.”

She said the field of school psychology requires a combination of child-center and systems-based perspectives, regulations considerations, ethical standards, and vast expertise in social-emotional learning, behavioral functioning, and developmental and learning theory.  

“I feel flexibility and compassion are two very necessary and important attributes,” Backman said. “I feel lucky to have found a profession that requires a mix of empathy, collaboration, continuous learning, and critical thinking skills. I could not say what is the most important aspect of my work, but I am most satisfied and fulfilled when I can go home feeling like I have made a difference.”

Backman said her family is thrilled to see her honored with the award.

“It was very special to see them during the remote announcement while I was still at work. They are proud and loved the MASP plaque. My youngest felt it should be hung at our camp. When Windham/Raymond consolidated, I was lucky to have an opportunity to work in their schools for a few years,” she said. “While they may not be able to explain what I do every day, they could share stories like the many times I (and other school psych friends) used them to practice new tests. My fondest memory was a story a colleague/school psychologist shared with me. She was in my son’s middle-school classroom observing a student on her caseload. My son said hello to her, as she entered. The student that she was observing asked my son why she was in their classroom. He replied, ‘Oh that is my mom’s friend. She sends her in to check on me sometimes.’ We had a good laugh.”

Christopher Howell, RSU 14 Schools Superintendent, said that Backman is highly deserving of this honor.

“What’s special about the work Mrs. Backman does with students is her comprehensive approach to support,” Howell said. “She is an integral member of her school teams and can look at the whole child from the perspective of someone who really knows the evaluation data within a practical context to make recommendations to support children she works with.”

Howell said Backman exemplifies exactly what RSU 14 is striving to achieve.

“As an RSU we are, just as Mrs. Backman is, looking forward at the bigger picture,” he said. “We are looking at not only academics, but at social-emotional needs to support students who will grow up to be productive and engaged members of our community.”

According to Howell, Backman is a truly passionate professional, always growing and sharing what she learns.
“She is dedicated, efficient and committed. Lisa contributes broadly to the profession by leading student-centered teams within each of her schools, supporting best practices in Special Education for the Maine Department of Education, inspiring new teachers at the college level, and providing leadership within her professional organization of School Psychologists,” Howell said. We are very fortunate to have her level of knowledge and passion supporting the educators, families and professionals in RSU 14.”

Windham Primary School Principal Dr. Kyle Rhoads said the RSU is fortunate to have her calm demeanor, as well as her extensive knowledge of research-based practices and Special Education law to help make the IEP process one that aligns with their mission.

Rhoads said that as a school psychologist, Backman demonstrates the qualities, capabilities and knowledge of a successful nominee worthy of this award.

“Importantly, she approaches her work and her life wanting to better others,” he said. “Her creativity and commitment with her work reflects favorably what RSU 14 is trying to accomplish.” <

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