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Finding Teachers in Our Own Back Yard

One agency’s solution to the teacher shortage crisis in Washington state

Washington’s demand for teachers increased by 250 percent between 2010 and 2015, according to Washington state’s Professional Educator Standards Board (PESB) (WA Office of PI, April 2018). 

School district human resources directors attested to the need in a fall 2016 survey by the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI): 97 percent indicated they were in “crisis” or “struggling” to hire qualified certificated teachers (WA PESB, April 2018).

With this teacher shortage critically impacting the 30 school districts in Southwest Washington state, Educational Service District 112 (ESD 112) began seeking a solution. Collaborating with the districts and PESB, the agency established ESD-University, a fast-track, economical pathway and the state’s first non-university or -college program offering teacher certification. It was approved by the PESB in July 2017.

“ESD-U is positioned to make a significant difference in schools region-wide,” said Mike Esping, ESD 112 director of educator effectiveness and early career development, and now director of ESD-U. “Not only will the program provide a much-needed new group of teachers, but those teachers are already familiar with our students, reflect our region’s demographics, and are deeply invested in the local area.”

ESD-U invites three types of candidates, all of whom must already have completed their bachelor’s degree: those employed as classified staff in an area school district; those employed on a conditional or emergency substitute certificate in an area school district; and those who are familiar with the area and are interested in changing their career to teaching.

One of ESD-U’s goals is to increase the number of teachers in areas of greatest need. Year one will focus on special education and English Language Learners with the opportunity for candidates to add a reading endorsement. Year two will include a focus on elementary education and other needs identified by district partners.

Response to the program, which begins in July 2018, has been overwhelmingly positive. By January, 127 would-be teachers had already expressed interest in 40 available spots. Of those applicants, 51 were para educators working in schools in the region.

Created in partnership and with the encouragement and support of ESD 112’s 30 member districts, ESD-U models an approach that other traditional university systems are beginning to consider: working to ensure a successful teaching career for candidates while also supporting the best possible success for students.

Eliminating barriers

ESD-U appeals to future educators  in part because it minimizes two of the biggest barriers to teacher certification: time and money. The one-year ESD-U program costs $8,000 per participant—compared with $14,000 for many college and university programs—and it enables students to continue working while they study.

Classes will be taught by a team of professionals recruited by the ESD 112 Teaching and Learning staff to guide curriculum development and create a program that will produce skilled and knowledgeable educators. Known as the Professional Educator Advisory Board (PEAB), this team includes experienced public and private education teachers, teaching fellows, principals and occupational therapists.

“Our program is being designed and taught by practitioners with extensive real-world education experience,” said Esping. “This makes our program much more relevant and robust, because the instructors have been in the classroom, they know the challenges, and they understand what it takes to be a successful teacher.”

And because districts are so deeply invested, they refer their strongest instructional coaches and teacher leaders to teach in the ESD-U program. Districts also are showing their support by seeking various funding means to support candidates with their coursework.

Doing the legwork

An initial partnership that began with City University in 2016 was the driving force behind the development of ESD-U. City University is a private nonprofit university that offers classes in various cities and online, and it provided an alternative route certification program in partnership with ESD 112 and local districts. Two cohorts of candidates will have completed that program by June 2018.
While this partnership was a great introduction to alternative routes, districts wished to have a more responsive and robust learning experience with a high level of engagement and support for the candidates. So began ESD 112’s journey to build and shape a program that specifically addressed our district requests.

ESD 112 teaching and learning professionals collaborated with the Washington Student Achievement Council to draft initial policy to help ESD-U receive funding from state conditional scholarships. With their support, ESD staff created a payback policy, satisfactory progress policy, and financial assistance selection criteria.

They also convened the PEAB to guide program efforts—on everything from reviewing district support agreements to drafting tuition agreements that provide paid scholarship support for candidate mentoring and field supervision support.

The state’s Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction has acknowledged ESD-U as a viable teacher recruitment and retention program.

Support beyond certification

When these new teachers graduate from ESD-U’s program and move into their own classrooms, they will remain connected through a retention program that will provide extended support and mentoring for the first three years of their career—typically the most challenging time of an educator’s career.

“We’re here to support our future teachers and our school districts, so they can provide the best education possible for our region’s students,” said Tim Merlino, superintendent of ESD 112. “ESD-U was born in response to the growing needs of the districts we serve—and we were able to really deliver for them.”

Measuring our success

After two years, ESD-U leaders will have collected enough data to demonstrate the success of the program. The intent is to share this information, so ESD-U can be replicated by other ESDs throughout the state.

“If successful, our goal would then be to assist other ESDs in our state to design their own programs,” said Merlino. “We will closely track numbers of candidates applying for the program, feedback from building principals and teachers, and collect data on teacher retention.

Reaching out to the Legislature

In an effort to open the opportunity to a broader population of potential teachers, ESD 112 has approached state legislators with a proposal to provide emergency funding for the tuition of this first cadre of new teachers. Districts also are considering various funds that would enable them to help support candidate coursework.

Learn more about ESD-U by visiting

Submitted by: Tim Merlino, Superintendent, Educational Service District 112 (ESD 112)

Lori Oberheide, Assistant Superintendent for Communications and Public Engagement, ESD 112

Sarah Coomber, Communications Manager, ESD 112

They can be reached at 360-750-7500 or by email at


Educational Service District 112, “ESD-U Candidate Handbook 2017-18,”, accessed 4 April 2018.

ESD 112, “ESD 112 Becomes Certification Provider to Help Alleviate Teacher Shortage,” Association of Educational Service Districts, 31 Oct 2017,, accessed 4 April 2018.

Washington Professional Educator Standards Board (PESB), “Addressing the Recurring Problem of Teacher Shortages,” Washington State Legislature, 23 Sept 2015,, accessed 4 April 2018.

Washington PESB, “Educator Retooling Conditional Scholarship Program,, accessed 4 April 2018.

Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, “The Teacher Shortage in Washington: Current Status and Actions to Address It,” 24 Jan 2017,, accessed 4 April 2018

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