Zach Claypool, a paraeducator at Lexington Elementary School in the Kelso School District, has been recognized as the 2024 Regional Classified School Employee of the Year. This prestigious award is a testament to his unwavering dedication and commitment to his students over his 16-year career.

Claypool is now one of eight regional finalists for the Washington State Classified School Employee of the Year Award, determined by the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI). The state winner and all regional finalists will have the opportunity to participate in a year-long leadership development program and be honored at several annual recognition events.

“It’s an honor to be recognized by ESD 112 for the work I do,” said Claypool. “I love my job and I feel privileged to work at Lexington Elementary School. I am being honored individually, but I feel this award is a testament to the work and dedication that all the other educators in all the SLC programs in the Kelso School District provide every day.”

Claypool, who has served as a paraeducator for 16 years, has spent the last three years at the Structured Learning Center (SLC) at Lexington Elementary, supporting over 25 students with challenging behaviors. His commitment to inclusion and his profound dedication to the unique greatness of SLC students have made him an indispensable asset to the special education team.

“Zach Claypool embodies the rare blend of calmness, resilience, and dedication that defines true excellence in this challenging environment,” said Superintendent Mary Beth Tack. “His unwavering commitment to embracing and overcoming the significant challenges presented by our SLC students has set a benchmark for professionalism and compassion.”

Claypool’s colleague, Sadie Engebretson, praised his exceptional ability to manage intense situations with students. “Zach is extremely patient with our students in escalated situations,” she noted. “He gets down on their level, shows empathy, and maintains appropriate boundaries. He is always calm, collected, and supportive to both students and staff.”

Tim Yore, Principal of Lexington Elementary, echoed these sentiments, emphasizing Claypool’s remarkable qualities.

“Zach’s talent in working with students exhibiting intense behaviors is truly remarkable,” Yore said. “He creates a supportive and inclusive environment where all students feel valued and respected. His ability to remain calm and composed in high-pressure situations is unmatched.”

Superintendent Tack highlighted Claypool’s dedication to professional growth and personal excellence in her nomination letter.

“Zach’s constant pursuit of knowledge to better serve students is inspirational,” she wrote. “He makes the SLC a place where the most challenging students find understanding, support, and the opportunity to thrive.”

To learn more about the Classified School Employee of the Year award, visit OSPI’s website. More information about the state award will be released soon.

For additional details or to request an interview, please get in touch with Michele Nerland at