By Dot Kontak
Shortly after Edwardsville, a Steering Committee of 8 people was established to oversee 4 task forces: i.e., Structure and Membership, Services, Funding, and the Relationship between NASW & SSWAA.4 Steering Committee members included Randy Fisher (IL), Chair; Lorraine Davis (WI); Renee Levine (PA & Northeast area); Frederick Streeck (WA & National Coalition of SSW), Corrine Anderson-Ketchmark (WA & Western Alliance); Doug Riley, (GA & Southern Council); Nina Neupert (WI & Midwest Council); & Daisy Westra (NY).5 In addition to the Steering Committee, several of us volunteered to assist on the task forces to address many of the details and issues that had been raised previously. The Committee initially met in Milwaukee on September 25, 1994.
In October of 1994, the Midwest SSW Council (Midwest Council) met and conversations continued regarding the role of Midwest Council relative to SSWAA. Concerns were expressed regarding conferences. Should the Midwest Council continue to have annual conferences? Should there be both national as well as regional conferences? Should these conferences be at different times of the year?6 By January of 1995, SSWAA had its own email at SSWAA@aol.com and the Steering Committee and task forces met in Chicago to establish the dues’ structure, develop the Constitution, initiate a job network and make plans to assist the Northeast Region to organize. On March 18, 1995, New Jersey hosted 5 states that were interested in establishing the Northeast Council of School Social Workers which would provide regional representation and networking as in the other regions of the U.S., at that time.
The Midwest Council met in March of 1995 and heard presentations from both the NASW Section and SSWAA. Midwest Council acknowledged that it was “too early to formalize” relationships with NASW or with SSWAA noting concerns about “duplication and competition” between the groups as well as for members, and that Midwest Council would “continue doing what it does well.“7 While Midwest Council felt strongly about maintaining their regional conference, plans were already begun for a national conference hosted by Midwest Council and the Kentucky Association of School Social Workers (KASSW) and, after some debate, “in collaboration” with SSWAA and the NASW SSW Section.8
1st Annual Meeting in Minneapolis—60 Attend
In July of 1995, SSWAA held its first Annual Meeting in Minneapolis with financial support from Midwest Council. Sixty (60) people from 26 states and all 4 Regions assembled to work further on SSWAA’s organizational structure. The excitement and energy of everyone as we officially formalized our national organization was quite invigorating. At that meeting the Constitution and Bylaws were adopted, a slate of officers was nominated, membership was defined and the membership dues’ structure was agreed upon. Anyone who joined in 1995 would be considered a ”Charter Member”. SSWAA already had 300 members from 29 states! SSWAA Committees were also established including Membership, Publications & Publicity, Professional Development, Finance, Standards and Practice, Legislative as well as Assistance to States and Regions. Membership Services would include: Resource Directory; SSW Journal; Membership Database that would include data on people’s areas of expertise, SSW ratios, titles, etc.; availability of Insurance and at least 2 Newsletters annually. Last but not least, SSWAA’s logo was officially unveiled!
The Work Continues….
In October of 1995, SSWAA held its first election. Randy Fisher (IL), who had been serving as chair of the Steering Committee, was elected as SSWAA’s first President; Renee Levine (PA), Vice President; Vaughn Morrison (IL), Secretary; and Frederick Streeck (WA), Treasurer. By December, SSWAA had 450 members. Soon after that, SSWAA hired its first Governmental Relations person, Judith Brotman, to represent us in Washington D.C.
2nd Annual Meeting in DC
In July of 1996, SSWAA held its 2nd Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C. SSWAA’s Federal Legislative Agenda was established as well as position papers on “Caseload Size” and “Contractual Arrangements in the Public Schools”. Brochures on “Home Visits” as well as “SSW as a Career” had been developed. While in DC, one night from our hotel we were excited to see the flag waving over the Senate building noting that the Senate was still in session. I vividly remember sitting in the Senate chambers late that night for a very long time watching Senator Ted Kennedy and others debate. What a thrilling experience which will never be repeated especially given ever increasing security measures over the years. This incident led to my attending numerous SSWAA Summer Leadership and Legislative Summits in DC where we visit our Senators and Representatives and have “Breakfast on the Hill” with a Congressional staffer providing legislative updates. I encourage everyone to attend and experience these events.
First National School Social Work Conference
In September of 1996, the Midwest Council & the Kentucky Association of School Social Workers (KASSW) hosted the first “National SSW Conference” in Louisville, KY where 593 SSWs attended from 34 states. Many thanks go to the hard work of Lyn Lewis, KASSW and Joan Fedota, Illinois Association of School Social Workers (IASSW) who co-chaired the event. SSWAA held its first Leadership Breakfast for state representatives from 20 states that set the groundwork for state collaborations (and later the Delegate Assembly) as well as a luncheon for 196 people who were interested in SSWAA membership (in 1997 to be named for SSW pioneer, I. Lorraine Davis (WI).
SSWAA & NASW Collaboration Agreement
In 1996 and early 1997, I helped facilitate a “Collaborative Agreement” between Randy Fisher, SSWAA President and Jim Clark, NASW’s SSW Section which was signed on February 23, 1997 when the SSWAA Board met with NASW’s SSW Section Committee. At that time, it was agreed: “…The SSWAA and the NASW SSW Section recognize and appreciate that there may be situations where member focus and attention may result in the need for either organization to take independent positions. To this end (SSWAA and NASW) agree to recognize and value our common mission and purpose and work collaboratively to enhance the school social work specialty.” ]9
School Social Workers Get Written into Federal Regulations!!
In June of 1997, SSWAA held its 3rd Annual Meeting in DC. At this meeting, SSWAA met with Larry Ringer who then brought his boss, JoLeta Reynolds from the USDOE Office of Special Education Programs to meet with us. These two people were responsible for writing the regulations for the newly authorized Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (I.D.E.A). Up to this point, neither of them were even aware that School Social Workers existed! As a result of SSWAA’s meeting with them, for the very first time “School Social Workers” were specifically written into federal regulations for the provision of Functional Behavioral Assessments as well as Positive Behavioral Interventions along with the school psychologists. And you ask: “What has SSWAA done for me?“ This was only the beginning. Stay tuned for a future blog on SSWAA’s legislative advocacy on your behalf!
It has been a thrill to be “In the Room Where It Happened” for many years since then as well. One person can make a difference. The work of several passionate people with a shared vision can make even more incredible things happen. I am privileged to be a part of the creation and development of the School Social Work Association of America and encourage you to “be at the table” and “in the rooms where it is happening” NOW. Join SSWAA and your state associations. Get involved. It is up to you to help shape the future of our profession.
4 Besides my recollection unless otherwise noted, much of the information comes from Kontak, D. 2004. SSWAA’s 10th Anniversary PowerPoint that I created from photos and documents at the time.
5 Fisher, R. August, 1, 1994. “National Group of School Social Workers Formed”.
6 Kontak, D. January, 1995, SSWAM Newsletter.
7 March, 1995. Midwest Council Minutes. p. 6.
8 March, 1995. Midwest Council Minutes. p. 9.
9 May, 1997, SSWAA Ebell, Vol 2, Issue 1. p. 2.
Dot Kontak, LCSW, SSWS - SSWAA Founding Member
Dorothy “Dot” Kontak graduated from Valparaiso University with a BSW and received her MSW from Washington University. She was a K-12 School Social Worker for over 27 years and has served numerous leadership positions at the state (Missouri), regional and national levels as well as served as an adjunct professor at Washington University for 13 years. In 2008, she received the Lifetime Career Achievement Award from the Midwest School Social Work Council. Dot is a Founding Member of SSWAA, former SSWAA board member, past Conference Director as well as past Director of Communications. In 2015, she received SSWAA’s Randy A. Fischer Lifetime Achievement Award. She currently serves as the Director of Communications for the New York State School Social Workers’ Association.