According to the Washington State Professional Educator Standards Board (PESB), educator shortages impact the education system in Washington in almost every aspect. Established in 2018, the alternative route to teacher certification program known as ESD-U has been training current and new educators in Southwest Washington in the areas of special education, English language learning, reading, and elementary education to help close this gap. The program has been operating under conditional approval from PESB, the board responsible for the policy and oversight of Washington’s educator preparation, certification, assignment and development (RCW).

When a teacher certification program begins, PESB has a list of standards that must be met in order to be formally recognized as an official Teacher Preparation Program. When PESB granted conditional approval for the program to begin, it was on the condition that the standards would eventually be met. Over the course of four years, the ESD-U team has worked tirelessly to ensure that the program meets all standards. Diversity, equity and inclusion was the final standard to be met, and the ESD-U program worked to reflect CCDEI standards, building a more diverse faculty and focusing on integrating equity into the curriculum. In November 2022, ESD-U was granted full approval as a Teacher Preparation Program.

This one-year program has been instrumental in training paraeducators, career changers, emergency substitutes and conditionally certified teachers to become fully certified educators in the district they already work. Participation in the program includes attending online classes, completing field experience hours in a classroom environment setting and passing a state-required assessment. The program is designed so individuals working within a school system can use their regular position to fulfill most of the field experience requirements, as long as the position matches the endorsement pathway. For example, a special education paraeducator’s work in a classroom can be applied towards a special education endorsement.

“Kelso School District relies on the local, cost-effective development and certification services offered through ESD-U,” said Mary Beth Tack superintendent of Kelso School District. “With ESD-U, our staff can participate in accelerated, affordable career development which helps us to fill hard-to-fill positions within our district. It’s a win-win for everyone.”

Since the program’s inception in 2018, 160 participants have completed the program, and 97% of participants have either successfully completed or are currently enrolled. Of those program participants who have completed the ESD-U certification program, more than 91% have found employment as educators in Washington state.

ESD-U currently offers Route 2, 3, and 4, and a “retooling” route for currently certified teachers seeking to add an endorsement. Four endorsements, including English Language Learners, Special Education, Reading, and Elementary Education are currently offered, with additional certificates to be rolled out over the next few years.

In 2023-2024, ESD-U will be working on partnerships with other ESDs to bring the program to districts across the state of Washington. As with many states around the country, teachers are in high demand. According to data analyzed by the Calder Center, in the past school year, more teachers left the classroom than at any point in the previous three decades. With this full approval, the goal is to fill as many of these open positions across the state from a diverse candidate pool representative of their communities.

“I’m really grateful for the foresight and excellent work of the creators of ESD-U – the team that came before me did an awesome job to make this an efficient, dynamic and scalable program for teacher education,” said Lori Jass, ESD-U Coordinator. “It’s extremely important and gratifying work the program is doing, to help with finding solutions to the statewide teacher shortage, to contribute to greater diversity and representation in the teacher work force, and by partnering with schools to ‘grow their own’ talent.”

2023-2024 Applications Available!

The program is currently recruiting for the next cohort of ESD-U educators and has two different applications depending on certification status:

Interested in learning more about ESD-U?

Informational sessions are being held in April over Zoom and last 1-2 hours. Once registered, the Zoom links and materials will be shared 1-2 days before the session.

Learn more and signup >