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2017 F. Peter Gross Best Practices Award Winner - Keith Mesmer

Remarks from OSPA Awards Committee Co-Chair Melissa Bestgen

We are here today to honor Keith Mesmer, who is receiving the 2017 F. Peter Gross Best Practices Award.

Keith Mesmer graduated from John Carroll University in 2004. He was hired into Nordonia Hills City Schools, where he has  become an integral member of his school and professional community. He is being recognized today for his exemplary professional practice in implementing an effective Response to Intervention program within Nordonia Hills schools. 

Keith has provided professional development in regulations regarding RTI, the purpose of and evidence for RTI, using intervention resources, interpreting Aimsweb data, and interventions for behaviorally challenging students. In addition to staffwide training, Keith provides team and individual teacher assistance in developing and monitoring interventions for students.

He also supports school staff as a member of the district’s emergency management team and curriculum advisory council, elementary building leadership team, and district all-day kindergarten task force. He also supports school staff as a member of the district’s emergency management team and curriculum advisory council, elementary building leadership team, and district all-day kindergarten task force.

Remarks from Keith Mesmer

It was about three weeks ago, when I found myself in the principal’s office with a student who had been presenting with some behavioral challenges. At the same time, I was also supposed to be at the first of many meetings that day. It was spring after all, and everything was an emergency. The day was just shaping up to be a disaster; and at the crescendo of all of this commotion, I received a text. It was from my Pupil Service Director. The message was that she needed to see me at central office tomorrow morning. And as I looked at that text, completely overwhelmed, and pulled in so many different directions, I thought to myself, “Well, this isn’t this nice?” There were a few things that went through my mind: “Did I drop the ball on a procedural issue? Did someone file due process?” In a word, I was catastrophizing.

Now, a few weeks prior to my summons to central office, due the kindness of a wonderful colleague and friend, I knew that I was nominated for the Pete Gross Best Practice Award. The timing of this summons to central office and the decision timeline about the award being made possibly revealed to me, did match up. But, you see some of you who know me a little, know that my home town is Buffalo, NY. Buffalo is not generally considered to be east coast elite city. But, some of the nicest, most humble people come from Buffalo.

 So, looking through the lens of where I’ve come from, the thought that I could be recognized by OSPA was not something that won over my thought process as I was being summonsed. The next fateful morning, it was indeed the big reveal. Carrie, the psych staff, Superintendent, plus Holly, my wife, had gathered to congratulate me. It was such a nice gesture, and it was a perfect example of the kind of people that are Nordonia.

It was also nice timing, because, like most of you in this room my role and function is consultative or collaborative. And sometimes, in between all of the PR-01s, shuffling from meeting to meeting, and putting out fires; I’ve asked question: am I making a difference? I’m sure that we can all remember a special teacher, family member, friend, maybe even a coach. In our role and function as a school psychologists, we might not have as many opportunities to have those intense relationships, but we can have influence.

To have an impact, to do the good work that Pete Gross recognized, we work in groups. What we can do is lead and guide groups to support kids in a way that puts them on the path to becoming a competent reader, and improve their learning. Business consultant Simon Sinek said that “A leader’s job is not to do the work for others, it’s to help others figure out how to do it themselves, to get things done, and to succeed beyond what they thought possible.” Often school psychologists are the team members that have most knowledge about evidence based practices. We are often the ones that interpret assessment data and point teams to the best fit intervention. Sometimes we are the ones who lead teams not to take an action, and insist on gathering more data. And, sometimes it gets lonely because were the ones who stand up for something; and that can mean standing alone.

There is not much we have direct control of in our role and function as school psychologists. However, we are often the ones that calm the hysteria and bring the team back to problem solving. We are the part of a team that upholds the battle cries: all kids can learn. Control the controllables. Progress is the most important variable. All decisions are based on data.

So, with all of this talk of influence, it’s time for me to express some gratitude to those who have provided me with: encouragement, support, and friendship. First, to my mom who is definitely beaming with pride and boring everyone in heaven about how her son was honored by OSPA. To my sister who was such a good sport about whatever assessment I was studying in grad school.

For Dr. Jeanne Jenkins who has always been so encouraging, and who placed me in Mentor for internship. Cohort members and friends Molly Edwards and Stefania Cika. For Becky Dingeldein and Donna Valtmann, the gold standard of intern supervisors; and for showing me the best way to do things right from the start as an intern. For wonderful Pupil Service Directors: Sue Chute and her hiring decision; Dr. Margo Costello for her kind words in her recommendation letter; and Carrie Hutchinson for her lightning fast answers to my questions, and who continues to support the PD of our psych staff. For great principals -- especially Dr. Karen Muffley.

The great minds of the psych staff at Nordonia: Emma Sacha, Lauren Miller, Gina Worsdall, Laura Bovert, Roy Zeman, and particularly Dr. Lynn Ciccantelli for her efforts in nominating me. For Joyce Endrek who makes Pupil Service run smoothly. To Jen Wilhelm, my kindred spirit. For the interns that I have had the good fortune of supervising: David Tomasik, Allen Glassmire, and Ashley Graham, who have endured my daily pontifications while on internship, but also reminding me that learning is a two-way street.

For the two most important people in my life. To that first year teacher who I met on while internship, who makes me a better person every day, and is a great mom. I love you babe! And to Nolan, who brings me endless joy,  amazement; never stops teaching me about kids, and who overpowers me in negotiations on a daily basis.

In the epilogue of his book, Big Russ and Me, Native Buffalonian, and John Carroll Alum., Tim Russert, penned a letter to his son Luke as he was about to go off to college… In that letter, he talked about being dependable; that he needed to influence others, and never to forget where he came from. He also reminded Luke of something that he heard at commencement address, those words were, “The best exercise of the human heart, is reaching down and picking someone else up.” While spring time is the worst time of the year for us, please do not lose sight of the bigger picture. Deadlines are looming. Reports are being typed at this conference. Insanity begins with next request for an initial evaluation – and violence is acceptable if you get a prescription from a doctor for an MFE.

Please don’t forget that what we do as school psychologists influences lives for the better, and that we do pick others up. 

Pete Gross recognized the work that we do and the contributions that we make. Sometimes, our influence even gets noticed. I am flattered and honored that the awards committee and executive board thought that I should be in the same company as the previous recipients. Thank you for your recognition.