The Supportive Role of Pupil Personnel Workers

One of my favorite educators, Debbie Wooleyhand, is guest hosting #mdeschat this Thursday.  I interviewed her from the other end of our couch to find out more about the role of pupil personnel workers.

Tell us a little about yourself.

I am a wife and mother of two children, one in college @LukeWooleyhand and one a senior in high school (not into social media).  I have worked in the same school system for 32 years and graduated high school from that same school system.  I started as a kindergarten teacher and worked in various positions leading me to the position of coordinator of pupil personnel.  The one constant throughout my career has been my passion to support families to ensure student success, especially our youngest learners.

As coordinator for pupil personnel services in a large school district, what is your mission and vision related to supporting schools?

The vision of the department of pupil personnel is to promote safety, equity, and academic achievement by building bridges between the home, the school and the community.

Our mission is to motivate, prepare and empower all students to become successful, contributing citizens.

What are the key skills pupil personnel workers need today?

Pupil personnel workers (PPW) serve a unique role. They are social workers and truant officers.Given the challenges many families face, PPWs must be able to collaborate with school leaders, agencies, institutions and parents because student needs must be met by the home, school and community.  Key abilities of PPWs include effective interpersonal communication skills, as well as knowledge of federal, state, and local policies and procedures.  PPWs must conscientiously fulfill professional commitments made to students, parents, school staff, and other colleagues and exhibit values that support the achievement of all students.

How do pupil personnel workers address students and families with attendance concerns?

PPWs serve as members of a school-based team that discusses various student issues including attendance.  While schools take a proactive approach to attendance concerns, the PPW becomes involved when the school has exhausted options.  PPWs typically conference with the student and parent to identify causes of excessive absences.  We can refer cases to the State’s Attorney’s Office and/or the Department of Juvenile Services.  We work with school staff to identify the root causes of excessive absences and put a plan in place to encourage daily attendance.  Ultimately, the PPW can file criminal charges against parents for failure to send their child(ren) to school.

What are some of the responsibilities that fall under your office?

The Office of Pupil Personnel processes special enrollments involving custody issues such as kinship or hardship, which is when a child is living with someone other than a parent or legal guardian.  We also address attendance concerns, handle residency investigations, enroll students experiencing homelessness, facilitate section 504 services, and process out-of-area transfer requests.

How do you see the role of pupil personnel worker changing in the future?

Currently, PPWs are assigned to specific schools. Given the increasing complexity of student enrollment and mobility of families, we are moving toward a team approach in which PPWs are assigned to a group of schools instead of specific schools.  For example, a cluster of schools made up of a high school, 2 middle schools and 6-8 elementary schools would be able to access a team of PPWs to assist with residency, custody, attendance and homeless enrollment. By working as a team, schools will have access to a group of individuals with a set of skills and knowledge of the families.  This should greatly increase their ability to step in and provide assistance.

Thanks, Debbie, your vision for pupil personnel services should mean great things for our schools!

2 Comments
  1. When creating an entry plan for a new PPW … what do you see as most important for a smooth transiton from an exiting PPW to one who hasn’t filled such a position? What do you suggest the new PPW do to estblish trusting relationships with the new schools and communities

  2. Great question Lynn. For a smooth transition, PPWs meet and share case notes. Often the exiting PPW will take the new PPW on a tour of the school to introduce him/her to school staff, especially the student services team members. A tour of the community is also important. A PPW should be familiar with the school’s catchment area.
    To build a trusting relationship takes time but sitting down with the school principal to hear about the school culture and community is a great start. It’s important to listen to the story of each school because each one will be unique. Find out about events the school will hold and try to participate in one or two. During the transition meeting with the former PPW, identify students who will be on your case load. Call each parent to introduce yourself, give them your contact information and let them know you are there to help.

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