Alternative Routes program helps alleviate teacher shortage

Kyle Sharpe gets ready to start the 2017-18 school year teaching a structured learning class (SLC) at Chinook Elementary School.

ESD 112 becomes certification provider

Finding teachers is becoming especially difficult. It’s a challenging job, and with the demand for teachers in general increasing by 250% in Washington over past five years, the pool of applicants can be pretty shallow. ESD 112 is working to alleviate the shortage by helping people already working for schools get their teaching certificates through a program called Alternative Routes to Certification. The program removes some common barriers (time and money) to certification by allowing people to keep working while getting certified.

ESD 112, in partnership with the Battle Ground, Kelso, Vancouver and Washougal School Districts and City University, applied for, and received, a two-year grant to fund certification for future teachers in shortage areas, like Special Ed and English Language Learners (ELL). Seventeen people went through the program during the 2016-17 school year, and at the same time, were invaluable educators working in schools in eight school districts across SW Washington.

Kyle Sharpe and Kaylie Hurley, both originally paraeducators, are two of those 17. Like the others, they attended classes on weekends through City University and got on-the-job training in different classrooms with students at varying levels of ability and needs.

“The hands-on approach really sets us, and the district, up for success,” Sharpe said.

Kaylie Hurley was named “Teacher of the Year” by the Wahkiakum High School student body while getting her certification.

Hurley, while getting on-the-job training with the ESD 112 special education program in the Wahkiakum School District, was elected teacher of the year by the high school student body.

According to the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), the highest rate of attrition for teachers (22.4%) is in the first four years of their teaching career. By accepting people already working in the system and giving them more experiences in their training year, the likelihood of these newly certified teachers leaving the profession in the first few years drops considerably.

“These folks don’t have any misconceptions about what it means to be in a special education class,” said Marian Young, Director of Human Resources for Washougal School District. Additionally, every Alternative Routes student is paired with an in-district mentor who can give them the guidance they need.

The Washougal School District’s primary motivation for trying the Alternative Routes program with ESD 112 is that they needed more Special Ed teachers. “Our shortage is largely in Special Education,” Young said. “Math and science are also challenging at the secondary level, but we’ve been able to fill those positions.”

ESD 112 was just approved by the Professional Educator Standards Board (PESB) to certify teachers in the state of Washington. The first entity that’s not a college or university to be approved to certify teachers, ESD 112’s application came as a result of their partnership with school districts in response to the growing need.

“We’re all in this together, to provide quality teachers for our classrooms,” said Mike Nerland, Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning at ESD 112.

The Professional Education Advisory Board, guiding ESD 112 through the process and curriculum development, is made up of public and private education teachers, teaching fellows, principals, and occupational therapists.

“Our program is being designed and taught by practitioners with real world public education teaching experience,” said Mike Esping, Coordinator of Educational Initiatives and Professional Learning for ESD 112. Esping will be managing the certification process for the new ESD 112 Alternative Routes program, called ESD U. Applications for ESD U will be accepted this winter, with the hopes of putting more promising teachers like Kyle Sharpe and Kaylie Hurley in the front of the classroom.

Sharpe already has his new assignment. He’ll be in a structured learning class (SLC) at Chinook Elementary School. “I want to be there for these kids,” he affirmed. “And I know I’m going to do a good job.”