Psychologist retires after 12 years with county schools

Her home is in Anthony-about 120 miles southwest of Marion. But for the past 12 years, Mary Ann Jones worked as a full-time school psychologist for the Marion County Special Education Cooperative.

During the school year, she lived in a recreational vehicle in Marion through the week. On the weekends, she would make the two-hour journey home to be with husband Fred.

In May, she closed that chapter of her life and officially retired at age 65.

“I feel like I’ve lived a dream come true-being able to go to school, doing the work I dearly love and having a wonderful, understanding family,” Jones said with tears in her eyes.

“I’ll miss it, I really will miss it.”

As a tomboy growing up on a farm, she didn’t think much about a future career as she greased combines and worked on tractors.

After getting married, the thought of going to college seemed financially prohibitive, until her mid-30s, when a friend persuaded her it wasn’t too expensive to follow her dreams.

By 1986, she would earn degrees in learning disabilities, mental retardation, school psychology and school administration.

Her educational history begins as a mother and homemaker living in Anthony.

She enrolled in Cowley County Community College in Arkansas City in 1971 and earned her associate degree two years later at that junior college.

While working toward her bachelor’s degree at Wichita State University, she practiced administering special-education tests on her own children.

“It was suggested that we give the testing so we could get a feel for it,” Jones said. “Well, while doing so, I discovered that one of my own children had a severe reading problem. So, I guess that’s what made me go on into the program.”

Prior to that fateful testing, Jones remembers being frustrated at parent-teacher conferences because teachers stepped gently around the issue of her child’s problem, and she would leave confused.

She vowed to be forthright with parents when she was on the other side of the table.

“My approach is to very directly state what my findings are, and hopefully I do that with empathy and tenderness,” Jones said. “But, in doing so, I want to make sure there’s no doubt that people understand what it is I mean to say. To me, that’s very important.”

Jones earned her master’s in learning disabilities from WSU in 1976.

While working for two years with the special education cooperative in Anthony, she continued taking courses at WSU. She became certified in mental retardation and school psychology by 1978.

The next eight years of her life were with the Kiowa Comanche County Special Education Cooperative in Coldwater. During that time, she earned degrees in all levels of administration.

From 1986 to 1989, she was director of special education in Liberal.

“But there were changes taking place in special education, and I felt like I wasn’t able to keep on top of it,” Jones said. “And besides, I missed working with kids.”

Getting back into the more personal arena of education-working directly with children-she accepted a job as school psychologist in Ulysses in 1989. The following year, she worked in the same position at the Sedgwick County Special Education Cooperative in Goddard.

In 1991, a school-psychology position became available at MCSEC located in Florence.

“Having been raised on a farm and growing up in small communities such as this, it really appealed to me,” Jones said.

MCSEC serves five districts-Centre, Peabody-Burns, Marion-Florence, Hillsboro-Lehigh- Durham and Goessel.

She’s worked for all the schools during the past 12 years at MCSEC. At the time of her retirement, she was involved with children, staff and parents in the Centre and Goessel districts and also helped when needed in Hillsboro.

Her office at Hillsboro Elementary School shared space with Judy Picard, school psychologist and social worker.

A school psychologist’s job includes consulting with teachers, parents and administrators concerning educational and psychological concerns; directly observing classroom behaviors and environment; coordinating evaluations and tests; offering individual and group counseling; formulating individual education plans; monitoring student progress; and evaluating the effectiveness of the program.

“We are primarily here to test and identify children for special-education needs,” Jones said. “And the other aspect of the job is that we’re here for the mental health of all parties involved in the school.”

A general misconception that prevails is school psychologists are able to administer a test to a child and obtain a quick solution in about 30 minutes, Jones said.

“It usually takes a minimum of four hours working individually with a child,” she said. “And then, there are a lot of test protocols we pass out to staff and parents to help us better understand the youngster as well.”

But her job didn’t always stop when the school bell sounded at the end of the day.

“Sometimes, Judy and I have been up in the wee hours of the morning working to figure out the answers,” Jones said. “It bothers you, and you take those things home with you.”

Two retirement parties were held in May to honor Jones’ contributions to the field of special education throughout her life.

One was a luncheon hosted by Marilyn Riemer, who handled secretarial duties for Jones and Picard throughout the school year.

“I really found that to be overwhelming, that she would go to those lengths to do that for me,” Jones said. “It was absolutely fabulous.”

The second party was held after school at the elementary building.

“There were some gifts, but the major thing was the people who came and the cards,” Jones said. “I really enjoyed that.”

After taking care of end-of-the-year paperwork, Jones plans to move her camper off the lot she owns in Marion.

After all, a fifth-wheel RV can come in handy on camping trips for a retired school psychologist and her family.

Her list of things to do during retirement begins with cleaning three gallons of gooseberries, painting her house, making Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls for friends, and starting a wedding quilt for her oldest granddaughter, who will be married in November.

As she looks back over the years, Jones said she would do it all over again if given the chance.

“It’s been very fulfilling to know that you have found what the problem is,” Jones said. “And from there comes understanding, and we can start working to solve the problem.”

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