University of South Florida

College of Education

Tampa | St. Petersburg | Sarasota-Manatee


Dale Cusumano

After earning two degrees from the University of South Florida's School Psychology program, Dr. Cusumano went on to serve at the National Implementation Research Network and the State Implementation and Scaling-up of Evidence-based Practices (SISEP) Center.

Alumni Profile: Dale Cusumano, Ph.D.

Dale Cusumano, PhD, has worked at the early childhood, school, district, university and state levels as a researcher, nationally certified school psychologist, program coordinator, and evaluator. After earning an educational specialist degree in 2000 and a doctoral degree in 2005 from the University of South Florida's School Psychology program, Dr. Cusumano has advanced her career and currently serves as a Senior Implementation Specialist at the National Implementation Research Network (NIRN) and as Co-Director of the State Implementation and Scaling-up of Evidence-based Practices (SISEP) Center at the University of North Carolina — Chapel Hill.

As a Senior Implementation Specialist, Dr. Cusumano provides technical assistance to state departments of education focused on building the knowledge and skills that facilitate development of evidence-based infrastructures in service of delivering full and effective use of evidence-based instruction practices to students. She has served as co-author on several briefs and technical manuals such as the District Capacity Assessment and other capacity assessment briefs. Dr. Cusumano has also served as the Project Director for the IES funded Team-Initiated Problem Solving (TIPS) grant and as a Project Evaluator of a federally-funded Early Learning Opportunities grant, which examined the effect of coaching to facilitate implementation of an early literacy.

At the district level, Dr. Cusumano has assisted in the design and delivery of professional development modules that refined implementation of RtI/MTSS at the school level. Her research and evaluation efforts have been published in numerous journals, one of which was selected as an honorable mention for outstanding article that contributed to the field of early childhood education.

What does a typical day look like in your role?

This is an interesting question! I am not sure I have a typical day, but some general themes do exist. First, as an implementation specialist at the National Implementation Research Network, my work spans several contexts or disciplines. Many days, I am coaching education leaders at state and regional agencies and districts as they build their capacity and infrastructure to adopt and sustain the use of evidence-based practices with fidelity. Other days, I am working with leaders of child welfare agencies to develop a system to supports use of practices leading to optimal outcomes for children, youth, and families.

The greatest variation for a typical day, however, can be found in the location of where these supports are delivered. Many days I am on-site in a state facilitating meetings, coaching leaders of the work, and using data to continually examine the impact of the systemic change that is often needed to meet this goal. When I am not on-site, I am often sitting in front of my laptop participating in virtual meetings and calls, developing resources and tools, or reviewing data that is used to guide next steps and improve our own work. I also spend a great deal of time in airports! So…no real typical days!

What do you enjoy most about your work?

Tough question! I enjoy so many things about my work! I love living in the messy work of systems change, thinking about how to move a system forward and then lifting learning from all of this to do it again but even better! There is never a day without some professional and personal learning. On top of all that, it is aimed at improving kids, parents’, and educators’ lives.

Did you always want to pursue a career in school psychology? What motivated you to pursue this line of work?

At the National Implementation Research Network (NIRN), we talk a lot about focusing on function rather than form. I think my decision to pursue a career in school psychology was driven by that — I wanted to do something that helped kids (i.e., function). Given that kids spend more than six hours a day in school, school psychology was a perfect match!

What was it that attracted you to pursuing a degree at the University of South Florida?

I loved big picture systems thinking. I also loved data, research and challenging status quo. When I discovered that the school psychology program at USF was known for its cutting edge thinking about how we educate kids, it was an easy decision.

How did your time at USF prepare you for your career?

My years at USF in the school psychology program armed me with skills to function as a research-practitioner and highly capable school psychologist. More importantly, however, my training empowered me to challenge current practices that did not result in student success, hypothesize reasons for these outcomes, and put actions in place to make not only small changes for individual students but also systemic changes so that all children would benefit today and tomorrow. As a result, we would never be comfortable settling for practices or processes that did not build success in each and every student. Looking back, I see that we were trained to be school psychologists but more importantly leaders of system reform efforts.

What is your favorite memory of your time at USF?

FAO 200! The memory itself is not about the room but about all the thinking and collaborative learning as we were pushed to not just learn about the current education system but also to think about where it should be to positively impact learning for students. That is, we were groomed to do our best thinking and work in dissonance, ambiguity and data-driven optimism.

My favorite out of class memory is of eating lunch outside under a large cluster of trees with my grad school colleagues. We would eat, talk, challenge each other’s thinking, and laugh – lots of laughter – as we became not only future school psychologist colleagues, but friends! We all still keep in touch for personal and professional discussions not unlike what we used to have under that tree!

Why is the implementation of evidence-based practices and strategies so critical in education?

Students need us to create the conditions in which each and every one of them can acquire knowledge and skills they need to live positive and productive lives. Evidence-based practices and strategies hold the greatest promise of making this happen. What we also know is that students cannot benefit from evidence-based practices that they do not receive. Evidence-based practices are necessary but insufficient.

We also need to address “how” we put these practices in place so that the system supports our educators' use of these practices rather than drain the power they hold in changing the trajectory of learning for our students. My work in implementation science builds the bridge between the research to practice gap by focusing on developing the roles, structures, and functions needed for education systems to adopt, sustain, and scale use of these evidence-based practices with fidelity.

What advice do you have for individuals aspiring to pursue a career in school psychology?

Explore. Remain open-minded. Seek to understand from a teacher’s viewpoint, an administrators’ eye, a parent’s love and a student’s heart. There are so many directions you can go as a school psychologist but always keep kids’ futures in the forefront of your work.

The University of South Florida's School Psychology Program prepares graduates to play integral roles in creating and sustaining educational and related systems in which children, youth, and their families have access to the academic, behavioral, social-emotional, and physical health services that promote lifelong success and well-being. We invite you to learn more about our programs.

Learn More

Return to article listing

About the USF College of Education:

As the home for more than 2,200 students and 130 faculty members across three campuses, the University of South Florida College of Education offers state-of-the-art teacher training and collegial graduate studies designed to empower educational leaders. Our college is nationally accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP), and our educator preparation programs are fully approved by the Florida Department of Education.