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[00:00:00] Dr. Sharp: Hello, everyone. Welcome to The Testing Psychologist podcast, the podcast where we talk all about the business and practice of psychological and neuropsychological assessment. I’m your host, Dr. Jeremy Sharp, licensed psychologist, group practice owner, and private practice coach.

This podcast is brought to you by PAR.

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[00:01:00] Hello everyone and welcome back. Today is another episode in the Out-There Assessment Series. If you’ve been tuning into the podcast over the last few months, you know that the series is all about talking to folks who have slightly unorthodox applications of their assessment skills. So, if you haven’t checked out previous episodes, go back and take a look. There are some fascinating conversations with folks with fairly unique work environments.

My guest today is Meghan Tibo. Meghan serves as the founder and managing director of The Tallest Trees, an educational consulting firm dedicated to collaborating with Texas School Districts. The firm specializes in providing high-quality special education evaluations, staff training, consultation services, and comprehensive support tailored to special education needs.

Meghan has over 15 years of experience as a school psychologist and has provided assessment and consultation [00:02:00] services in schools across the state of Texas. Throughout her career, Meghan has conducted assessments for more than 1500 kids.

Our conversation today is about Meghan’s fairly unique model of working solely as a contractor as a school psychologist, and her journey to build a business that revolves around contracting with different school districts rather than being employed by a single school district. So if you’re a school psychologist or simply interested in this contractor model, stay tuned.

If you’re a private practice owner and would like some support in your practice, I have a few spots open for individual coaching starting in April 2024. If you’re looking for some support one-on-one, you can go to thetestingpsychologist.com/consulting and book a pre-consult call to see if it’s a good fit.

All right. Let’s get to my conversation [00:03:00] with Meghan Tibo.

Meghan. Hey, welcome to the podcast.

Meghan: Hi. Thanks for having me.

Dr. Sharp: Yes. Thanks for being here. I am excited to chat with you about your work here in this Out-There Assessment Series. So let’s dive right into it. Start wherever you’d like to start. Just tell me what your work looks like.

Meghan: Sure. I am a school psychologist, but I guess the unique thing about what I do is I’m a contracting school psychologist. I’m not an employee of a district. I have my own company and I contract with various districts across Texas.

Dr. Sharp: That is interesting. Let’s clarify right off the bat. I’m not a school psychologist. [00:04:00] I could guess maybe the distinction that you’re making here, but maybe some folks don’t know. So tell me exactly what you mean when you say this is unique in the world of school psychologists.

Meghan: Sure. Most school psychologists are employed by school districts. For example, they are employed by a school district and they provide a variety of services within that school district. For me, what I do is I work with a lot of different school districts. I’m not an employee of any school district, but I have an individual contract with them and then I will provide whatever services they need. Typically for me, I’m providing a lot of evaluation services for them.

Dr. Sharp: My immediate question is, how did you decide to go that route if it’s more traditional to be an employee of a school or two schools? I think that’s pretty normal around here. Did you [00:05:00] start in that arrangement and then go to the contracting or did you start as a contractor? And if so, why take the non-traditional path?

Meghan: Right. Yeah, it’s definitely non-traditional for sure. I would say that it’s becoming more commonplace now, but I started contracting a long time ago, probably 12+ years ago. Back then, it was almost taboo to be a contract school psychologist. But I didn’t start out contracting. I did the traditional route and did my internship in a school district, and then worked at that school district for two years then went to another school district work there for about a year.

At the time, my kids were super young and I needed a little bit more flexibility. And so, I decided to look into contracting. Back then, my experience in school districts was they didn’t offer a lot of part-time opportunities. And so I needed a little bit more [00:06:00] part-time work with having two younger kids. So that’s what prompted me looking into contracting.

But I will tell you, when I first started looking into that, like I said, it was a little taboo. No one had heard about it or very few people had heard about it. So I was taking a big risk to go the contracting route, but  I am so glad that I did. And like I said, I’ve been doing it for, I think, over 12 years now. It’s worked well for my family. Now, I work full-time in a contracting role. But it’s been great.

Dr. Sharp: I would imagine it gives you a lot more flexibility.

Meghan:  Absolutely.

Dr. Sharp: That is here from school psychologists has just been kind of locked into the schedule.

Meghan: Exactly. It’s a lot more flexibility. I think me personally, I’m the type of person that, I don’t know why, but having to be somewhere from [00:07:00] 8:00 to 16:00 doesn’t work well for me. So I love the fact that I can make my own schedule. I’m busy and I choose to be busy so it’s not that I’m not busy, but there’s something about for me, if I have to be somewhere at 8:00 am, I’m more than willing to do that, but if I have to do that every single morning, that is where I have the issue.

Dr. Sharp: I’m right with you. I think that’s pretty important in the research too, in terms of job satisfaction. It’s just agency, right? So choosing to be there at 8:00 am is different than having to be there at 8:00 am.

Meghan: Yes, exactly.

Dr. Sharp: I hear you. Let’s talk about the ins and outs of this. Maybe it’s a function of you working in Texas, but I immediately assume that you’re doing a lot of driving or flying if you’re contracting with different schools. Is that correct or not?

Meghan: Yes, that [00:08:00] is correct. You can get, and I subcontract with people, so I do have providers who are like, I only want to stay in this area and that’s fine. For me, though, I do drive a lot and I typically drive…

I provide a lot of services to our rural communities here in Texas, which is something that I enjoy doing. So there is a driving component for me. I don’t have an issue with driving at all. I will put on a podcast and I’m fine. But for some people that’s a drawback. They don’t want to have to drive everywhere. If that is your situation, you can be a little restricted on how much work you’re going to get because you have to make sure that you’re finding work in those specific districts that you want to drive to or are willing to drive to.

Dr. Sharp: Yeah, that makes sense. When you’re looking… I have so many questions about the business model, I suppose, but maybe I’ll just [00:09:00] go down this path of how you find the schools or do you find that schools are mostly receptive to this? Are you pitching them a lot? How do these contracts happen?

Meghan: Well, it honestly depends on the district. Gosh, that’s a great question. And it’s a multi-layered question. Let’s start with first, yes, districts are very receptive to it because nationally, there’s a shortage of school psychologists, and particularly in Texas, there’s a huge shortage. So districts are more than willing to have a contractor. I would say, in general, most districts are willing to have school psychologists come in because they don’t have enough school psychologists to cover all the work. I don’t get negative feedback about my reaching out to districts.

Now, like I said, each district is a little bit different in the process of getting a contract. Some [00:10:00] of your larger districts do you have the Request For Proposal (RFP) so you have to complete an RFP with them and submit it to them, and then it’ll go to the school board, and then they will select companies that they want to work with. Once you are approved, you’re considered an approved vendor, you still don’t have a contract. So then you have to start reaching out and trying to get a contract with school districts.

That was something that was very new to me because as a school psychologist, I had no business acumen. I had to learn the RFP process and it can take a long time to finally get a contract. Now, in rural school districts, a lot of them don’t have an RFP process, so it’s you make contact with the Special ED director or they reach out to you, they’re needing help and they do a contract that way.

Dr. Sharp: I got you. You [00:11:00] brought up the business component. I would imagine that that was a learning curve. I think it is for all of us as we move into practice, especially on the school psych side. Can you tell me about that journey- how you undertook the business side of things as you got started?

Meghan: I was a little fortunate because before I opened my own business, I worked for a contracting agency. I worked for them for 9.5 years and in the last several years of working for them, I worked in the office. So a lot of what I’m doing now as a business owner, I was doing for them. I came into owning my own business with a lot of that knowledge, not all of it. I still had to learn some things. But I was very fortunate that I had already done all of that stuff with the other company. So I had a good step forward, if you will, to have some of that knowledge. 

I also talk regularly with, I have [00:12:00] several friends who are in business and finance, and so, I’m frequently using them as soundboards to bounce ideas off of them about different ways of getting contracts or even payment schedules with contractors and things like that, how to work that. And that’s been super helpful.

Dr. Sharp: Nice. That group of peers is crucial, I think, for helping us develop our businesses.

Meghan: For sure.

Dr. Sharp: This is super cool. Let me see. What are some of the things that you love most about this whole work setup?

Meghan: Well, I love a lot of it. I could probably go on and on about how much I love about it. But I would say the few top things.

Number one, of course, and you already touched on it, was the flexibility and having ownership over my schedule. That is fabulous. I love that. I think it would be very difficult for me to go back to a school [00:13:00] district because I’ve had that now for a while. So that’s a big part of what I love.

I also have a lot of or I love the fact that I have a lot of control over my caseload, what that looks like, and what districts I work for. I haven’t had it recently, but sometimes you can come across difficult people, and if they’re really difficult to work with, you can decide to not work for them. And that’s very nice to have that ability to say yes and no on the kind of work you take.

I think the other thing that I enjoy is, because I’m working with so many school districts, I get to run into or work with a variety of staff and a variety of kids with a variety of disabilities. When you’re in one school district or one school within that district, you’re limited in the amount of experiences that you get. So I really [00:14:00] enjoyed that.

I do work with a lot of rural school districts, so I enjoy being able to go out and provide them services that otherwise they have pretty… In general, mental health services in rural communities oftentimes are limited. So I enjoy being able to provide school psychological services that otherwise they probably wouldn’t have access to.

There’s probably other things. Well, the only other thing I could think of is it’s really nice to own your own company and be able to watch it grow. That’s something that I find a lot of pleasure in watching my company grow. So I do love that aspect as well.

Dr. Sharp: Yeah. I can identify with that. It is a really nice experience.

Meghan: Yeah.

Dr. Sharp: Tell me about that. You said that you have subcontractors, which tells me that you have other folks that are working with you or for you. So, what’s that look like?

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All right, let’s get back to the podcast.

Meghan: I have other school psychologists that reach out to me and educational diagnosticians. Do you guys have educational diagnosticians where you’re at?

Dr. Sharp: We don’t have them, [00:17:00] but I know in other states they do so, but maybe explain for anybody who may not know what that is.

Meghan: Sure. They work in school districts as well. They typically focus on doing cognitive and achievement testing. A lot of times their focus is on specific learning disability or intellectual disabilities.

I do have some of them that work for me as well. They’ll reach out to me and say, I’d like to pick up some extra work or I have some people who, like me, started out with young kids and they need some work to keep them busy, but don’t need a full plate. And so, basically, what that looks like is I will contract with the school district directly, and then the cases that they send me, I will pick and choose which ones to assign to our subcontractors. And then I send them the information and at that point, it is their case and they take it from there.

Dr. Sharp: You mentioned [00:18:00] earlier the capability to pick and choose a little bit, which is great. Do you have a process or maybe we don’t have to even make it that formal, but I’m curious about your system. Have you recognized different characteristics of districts over the years where you can say pretty early on, this is not a good fit or I may not want to work with this district. I’m asking a general question about the choosing process.

Meghan: Right. I will be totally honest. This is my second year of owning my company. That first year, I was doing whatever came through the door.

Dr. Sharp: As we do.

Meghan: You got to pay the bills. But in that year, there have been not, not a ton, I’m very fortunate that I have really good clients, but I would say the things that I have noticed in the past two years and that would have [00:19:00] made me question continuing a contract, let’s say, with a school district.

So anything unethical. Unfortunately, I have been in certain school districts that I feel like they may be doing some things that are unethical that make me feel uncomfortable. Now, at the end of the day, I’m only responsible for what I’m doing, but sometimes I am sitting in meetings and it becomes a very sticky situation that I don’t necessarily want my name attached to. And so that’s one thing that has made me question continuing a contract.

And then the other big thing is payment. Most of my clients pay on time. I don’t have an issue with that, but sometimes you do run into, I have heard this from other school psychologists who contract as well, it doesn’t happen frequently, but every once in a while you will get a district who you’re pulling teeth to get them to pay, [00:20:00] and that can be very frustrating.

Dr. Sharp: Of course. How are these contracts set up? Speaking of payment, is it typically a per evaluation or student or a retainer situation like a per month or year? How do you set these up?

Meghan: Most of mine are per assessment or hour depending. Now, I would say for assessments, it’s typically, I can’t think of one district off my hand we’ve done per hour on assessment. It’s usually a flat rate for the assessment. I do have written into my contracts that sometimes there are additional components that we have to talk about that I bill on an hourly rate, but in general, it’s a flat rate for the assessment. I do a lot of consulting with districts as well, and that’s on an hourly rate.

Dr. Sharp: So we talked about the things that you really enjoyed about it. Are there aspects that you are not so fond of in this work environment?

Meghan: I’m laughing because [00:21:00] it took me a minute to actually think about what are some things that I don’t love about this working environment and contracting. I would say, in general, I love pretty much everything that goes along with being a contract school psychologist. I get to do what I’m very passionate about and what I love, but I get to do it on my terms.

But I would say the one thing, and I don’t even want to say it’s a negative or a drawback, but when you are a business owner, you are responsible for everything. If something goes wrong, you’re the one that’s responsible for that. So for me being a very Type A person, when something goes wrong, that is just out of my wheelhouse. I get a little stressed about that. So that is one thing. It’s not a bad thing, but it’s extra responsibility. And it’s another layer of stress.

The other thing for [00:22:00] me that I have found that has been a learning curve for me is I do have employees and contractors that work for me, like I said, and it’s very important to me that they are happy and they are getting what they need and they’re feeling successful. And so, that again is another little layer of stress on me to make sure that everybody is doing what they need to be doing and they’re happy while they’re doing it.

And then I would say the only other thing is, and this is, I think, probably for anyone who starts a company when you first start out, you’re lean for a while. You’re not having a ton of income come in. So, learning how to manage your income, and managing your cash flow. As a contracting school psychologist, you also have to remember you are self-employed. So you you are not getting paid like you would if you were an employee of a school district. So that every two-week paycheck [00:23:00] or whatever you get through as an employee when you’re contracting, you don’t necessarily get that. So learning how to manage that cash flow.

Dr. Sharp: Yeah. All those things that you mentioned are things I can identify with pretty heavily as a business owner. Were there any resources that helped you in that process, especially with the financial aspects, the cashflow aspects, or was it just a personal growth where you had to say […]?

Meghan: Honestly, I think it was trial and error. Again, talking to my friends that have been business owners was also helpful. I will say when I first started contracting like I mentioned earlier, there weren’t a lot of resources at all out there. There weren’t anybody I could actually talk to who had been contracting before. Now, that has changed and I feel like [00:24:00] more and more people are contracting. So, anyone who is thinking about contracting, I would definitely recommend talking to other school psychologists who have contracted before.

I also did start a Facebook group, Contracting School Psychs. It’s a large group. I think we’re over 4000 members right now, but we’re a group of Contracting School Psychs who have either been doing it or interested in doing it. And there’s a lot of great information that’s shared in that forum.

I also do a lot of training on there where I’ve had financial advisors come in and talk to us about when you’re a business owner, you have to worry about, like, self-employment taxes and taxes in general. I’ve had a tax attorney on there. So it’s a great area to get more information about all the different things that you have to consider when contracting

Dr. Sharp: I love that. I’ll make sure and put the [00:25:00] Facebook group in the show notes so that some folks can access that.

Meghan: Awesome.

Dr. Sharp: Speaking of that kind of thing, for folks who are interested in maybe going down this path, I have 2 questions.

1. What resources or recommendations would you have?

2. Is this a model that’s feasible in most states do you think? Or is this somehow Texas-specific or specific to a certain group of states or is it widely available for folks?

Meghan: I think that’s a good question. Full disclosure. I haven’t looked at every specific state about what’s going on with them in terms of contracting. But I would say in my Facebook group, there are people from all over the U.S. So, I don’t necessarily think it’s just Texas or just Colorado or just California. It’s becoming more [00:26:00] and more popular throughout the U.S.

Actually, it’s interesting. You do see a lot of national staffing agencies that have been focused more on Nursing or Medical Services, all of a sudden jumping into contracting with or I think they actually hire them as employee school psychologists or even special education teachers because there’s such a need. So I do feel like it’s becoming more and more popular. I would not say it’s localized in a few states.

Dr. Sharp: Great. Other resources that you might recommend for folks who are looking to go down this path?

Meghan: Well, they can definitely check out my website. It’s www.tallesttreesllc.com. I tell people all the time, I’m always happy to [00:27:00] talk with other people who are interested in contracting. That’s what I love- just jabbing with people about because I’ve been doing it for so long and I’ve definitely seen the change in the contracting world and it’s becoming a lot more I guess normalized for you to be doing that. So I’m always happy to talk to people about it.

Dr. Sharp: That sounds great. Before we start to wrap up, I wanted to talk with you too, I think this business that you’ve created, it provides a lot of flexibility, like you mentioned. I know during our first call, we had talked a little bit about traveling and I know traveling is super important to you. Can you talk about that just a little bit?

Meghan: Yeah, traveling is definitely super important to me. I absolutely love it. I’ve been traveling since I was a little bitty. My parents moved all over the world, so I’ve had a lot of experiences. But now I feel like, and this is [00:28:00] probably for everyone who works and has careers, we always want to make sure that we have a work-life balance.

One of the ways that I try to achieve that is getting out there and traveling. Sometimes it’s traveling an hour away from my house. Sometimes it’s going to the other side of the world. It depends on what’s going on. But that is one of the things that I like about contracting is the flexibility it does afford for me to be able to take a week off and go to Croatia if I feel like I want to do that. So that is something that I love.

I love being able to experience the different cultures that I get to see when I go visit different countries. So, I think it’s really important for you to either have a hobby or something you can do in order to achieve that work-life balance as much as we possibly can in today’s age.

Dr. Sharp: Of course. Do you have a favorite spot that you’ve traveled to?

[00:29:00] Meghan: Oh, that is a good question. Well, I will say that, not necessarily a specific spot, but I do really like going to countries that are non-westernized just because I feel like it’s such a great experience to learn about the different cultures that we just… I mean, going to Europe is great, but it’s very westernized. So, it’s similar to here. But being able to go to Croatia or South America or Africa, somewhere where the culture is very different from ours, I think is a great learning experience.

Dr. Sharp: Yeah. I know there’s a lot that we could say about traveling and the benefits there. I’m also a fan. So I’m glad to hear that you’ve, well, it sounds like you’ve grown up with it, but you continue to integrate it into your life even as a busy professional. 

Meghan: Absolutely.

[00:30:00] Dr. Sharp: Yeah, this has been fantastic. I’m finding, if I ever do this kind of series again, I’m going to schedule these interviews for like two hours because the half hour is not enough to talk about everyone’s work situation, especially when they’re a little more unorthodox. I have so many more questions, but I think this was great just to touch on and give folks a little window into your life as a contracting school psychologist. So thanks for being here.

Meghan: Yeah. Thanks for having me. It was great talking to you.

Dr. Sharp: All right y’all. Thank you so much for tuning into this episode. Always grateful to have you here. I hope that you take away some information that you can implement in your practice and in your life. Any resources that we mentioned during the episode will be listed in the show notes, so make sure to check those out.

If you like what you hear on the podcast, I would be so grateful if you left a review on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever you listen to your podcast.

And if you’re a practice owner or [00:31:00] aspiring practice owner, I’d invite you to check out The Testing Psychologist Mastermind Groups. I have mastermind groups at every stage of practice development, beginner, intermediate, and advanced.

We have homework. We have accountability. We have support. We have resources. These groups are amazing. We do a lot of work and a lot of connecting. If that sounds interesting to you, you can check out the details at thetestingpsychologist.com/consulting. You can sign up for a pre-group phone call and we will chat and figure out if a group could be a good fit for you. Thanks so much.

The information contained in this podcast and on The Testing Psychologist website are intended [00:32:00] for informational and educational purposes only. Nothing in this podcast or on the website is intended to be a substitute for professional psychological, psychiatric, or medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

Please note that no doctor-patient relationship is formed here, and similarly, no supervisory consultative relationship is formed between the host or guests of this podcast and listeners of this podcast. If you need the qualified advice of any mental health practitioner or medical provider, please seek one in your area. Similarly, if you need supervision on clinical matters, please find a supervisor with expertise that fits your needs.

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