Massachusetts School Psychologists Association Bestows Top Honors on William James Community Members at Annual Conference

Man and woman holding awards and smiling

Dr. Jason Kaplan, Trainer of the Year with Dr. Wendy Price, School Psychologist of the Year

A pair of William James College community members were recognized for their significant and ongoing contributions to the field of school psychology by the Massachusetts School Psychologists Association (MSPA) at the organization’s annual conference in late October 2023. Top honors were bestowed upon School Psychology Department Chair Jason P. Kaplan PhD, NCSP, who was named Trainer of the Year and 2015 graduate of the School Psychology doctoral  program Wendy Price PsyD, who was named School Psychologist of the Year.* The honorees, classmates at UMASS-Boston while earning their respective Master’s degrees, were both taught by Joan Struzziero, PhD, NCSP, adjunct faculty member with William James’ MA/CAGS in School Psychology program—a fact supporting her claim that the world of school psychology is indeed tightly integrated.

“It's such a pleasure to have had the opportunity to teach and mentor [Kaplan and Price] who have now taught me more than I ever taught them — I just couldn't be more proud,” said Struzziero whose own career in school psychology spans more than four decades. In addition to serving on the MSPA board—and co-chairing the Ethics Committee with Kaplan—Struzziero was herself honored by the organization in 2008 when she was named School Psychologist of the Year and in 2019 when she received the Lifetime Achievement Award. Having witnessed Kaplan’s career develop over the past two decades, she has a unique perspective on his approach.

“Jason is committed to supporting students’ emotional growth, both as a practitioner and a professor, and treats everybody not only with respect but also compassion,” said Struzziero in a nod to Kaplan’s exemplary work ethic. Considering the ongoing mental health crisis in schools—one exacerbated by a profound shortage of school psychologists—the work being done by Kaplan and his colleagues is more timely than ever.

“Jason is a big-picture thinker who provides continuous mentorship; he has made heroic efforts not only to bring forth knowledge about the profession, but also to recruit, train, and place William James students in the field post-graduation,” said Struzziero, underscoring another of Kaplan’s crowning achievements: A commitment to providing ongoing support and supervision of early-career practitioners with the hopes of increasing retention. 

“I've always had a passion for teaching and working with individuals, so I find being a trainer allows me to meld those passions together,” said Kaplan in a nod to what keeps him invested in the work: Helping students enter the field confident in their abilities and launching strategies for being effective in a stressful environment. Amidst a long list of mentors in his own life (including, “several legends in school psychology who have unconditionally supported [him] for so many years”, chief among them Struzziero), Kaplan cites his mother as instrumental in supporting his difficult educational journey as a young person with an LD. “It  was my mother’s advocacy—and making sure I had the appropriate supports in place to be successful—[coupled with] my educational experiences which [have] inspired my passion for teaching,” he said upon accepting his award, acknowledging the depth and breadth of his many colleagues equally committed to training and mentoring young people.

Price, now in her 23rd year as school psychologist at Whitman-Hanson Regional High School, attributes her career path unfolding as it did thanks to a bit of serendipity. After earning her BA in developmental psychology from Mount Allison University (in New Brunswick) and raising her children full-time for nine years, it was a chance meeting with a school psychologist—at the elementary school where she was working as a paraprofessional supporting students with autism—that spurred her entering the field. 

“Really seeing that there was a need for people to understand the whole child, not just the test scores, but the social emotional part [and] the many things from family connectedness to community that impact how a kid behaves and is able to access curriculum at school,” caused Price to take the next step.

At the invitation of that early mentor, she enrolled in a class at UMASS-Boston which led to her enrollment in the School Psychology program. “And I loved it!” she said, as evidenced by the more than three years she spent working in the public schools by day and striving first toward her MEd and then her CAGS, both in school psychology, by night. 

“I fell in love with the notion of being a kid's best advocate,” said Price, who ultimately decided to pursue her PsyD from William James. Her short time there both informed and enhanced her practice working with adolescents. “I became a better clinician, [and] I became a better psychometrist in terms of the assessments that I was doing because I had been exposed to so many more measures and how to interpret them,” said Price underscoring the real takeaway: Kids and families directly benefited from the training she received from countless professionals, colleagues, and psychologists at William James. 

“For more than two decades, Wendy has been an extremely dedicated and conscientious school psychologist whose commitment to students in the field is remarkable,” said Kaplan, pointing to the fact that Price had been practicing for 15 years prior to pursuing her doctorate. 

“Wendy has achieved so much,” said Struzziero who oversaw Price in her internship seminar at UMASS-Boston. After 27 years in education, Price is quick to remark on the immense changes in the field of school psychology. 

“It is a completely different job than it was when I first got out of grad school, and the presenting needs of kids have become so much more complex,” she said citing both the frequency of mental health issues and the intensity of them having reached a crisis point—one that COVID certainly didn't help. “We had a huge group of students who were already dealing with anxiety, school refusal, and anxiety around being in a large group,” said Price, who finds working with students who are transitioning back to the classroom—after a prolonged, mental-health related absence— one of the most rewarding parts of her job. 

“[Today’s students] are under so much pressure and stress— from social media and academics to family stuff—and that's where I'm thankful again for my training at William James,” said Price, a veteran practitioner positioned not only to understand the severity of mental illnesses high school students are dealing with but also to help those presenting with really complex issues and diagnoses.

For students of any age considering entering the field of school psychology, Kaplan offers this encouragement: “Having a diverse workforce [in today’s public schools] is important for children and adolescents seeking help [as it increases the chance of finding] someone who can better relate to them and their lived experience than someone who might not have had the same lived experience.”

*On December 6, 2023, Price was named 2024 School Psychologist of the Year by the National Association of School Psychologists; a full article, detailing Price’s career and award, will be featured in a forthcoming story. 

NOTE: Each year, the MSPA Board of Directors presents various awards and certificates to honor individuals or groups who have engaged in efforts aligned with the nonprofit's mission: to promote appropriate mental health and educational services to meet the many and varied needs of children, families and their communities. The School Psychologist of the Year award recognizes an outstanding school psychologist in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts who exemplifies professional responsibility, growth and leadership; the Trainer of the Year award recognizes a university educator in a Massachusetts-based School Psychology Training program who exemplifies excellent mentorship, thought, and impactful instruction.