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School psychologist heads toward retirement after more than 35 years

When Dr. Virginia Francis leaves the Grandview School District for retirement this spring, she will leave behind a legacy of compassion, devotion and care that has driven her career for more than 35 years.

Francis began that career path in college. While in school she says her mother wanted her to study journalism, but Francis says she was drawn to psychology.

"I think it's my fascination with people," she said, then added, "And I've always liked children and I relate well with children."

Her connection with children helped push Francis toward school psychology and eventually early childhood special education.

Francis studied at Indiana State University and later went to the University of Idaho to earn her doctorate degree, but it has been her work with children that has meant the most to her.

She started in 1975, just as a new federal law mandated all schools must serve students with special needs.

"I've seen it all from the very beginning," she said, and that was no exaggeration.

Francis has held a variety of careers, from private practice to college professor. She estimated that she has served 15,000 students throughout her career, but one of the biggest changes she has had to deal with is the paperwork related to the special education field.

When Francis started, she estimated she spent maybe 5 percent of her time on paperwork. Today, she says between 60 to 70 percent of her day is completing paperwork.

This paperwork is mandated by state and federal regulations, but Francis says it truly impedes upon the special education programs.

"It's hard on special education teachers because it's more demand on them. It takes time away from teaching and it takes time away from me being a psychologist."

But Francis' career has been more than paperwork. While she is happy to leave that part behind, she carries with her plenty of stories that tell how she managed to touch lives.

One story involved a young man who was suicidal following the death of his uncle. Francis has special training to deal with people who are suicidal, so the young man was referred to her.

Francis was able to get the student and his family the help they needed and she said that he would always greet her in the school halls.

"High school students are very self-conscious," she said. "They don't want people knowing they went to see the school psychologist, but every time I'd see him in the halls, he'd say, 'Hello Dr. Francis! Have a good day.' And he'd have this big grin on his face and everyone would turn around and look at him...it made my day."

It is stories like that Francis says have really made her career great. While she works on a case-to-case basis and does not always get to see the end result of her work, she says that little things like finding the correct diagnosis or watching a student graduate from the special education program have been rewarding enough.

Special education continues to be an important aspect on Francis' career and she is concerned about the state it is in.

"Even though there is less funding for special education, the demand continues to increase."

In fact, Francis works with pre-school special education students and emphasizes the importance of intervening with these students as early as possible.

"If children get early intervention, they need less special education or no special education when they enter the first grade."

When spring rolls around and Francis can officially call herself a retiree, she will be returning to Indiana, where she has family. However retirement is not an end to Francis' career. She says she is already looking at part time job opportunities.

But Francis is in no hurry to make any permanent job commitments. She jokes, "I'll probably spend the first six months sitting on my porch and staring off into space."

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