A Letter to the Community

Tim Merlino
Tim Merlino

As ESD 112 and school districts across our six-county region emerge from the most challenging times of the pandemic, we have become stronger and more unified than ever before. With the challenge of COVID, has come unity and the opportunity to develop innovative solutions to our most complex problems. While there have been numerous collaborations of note over the past year, a few have stood out as exemplary.

Mental health supports: With increasing awareness about the need for youth mental health supports, ESD 112 hired and placed eleven mental health therapists in schools, primarily in our rural school districts that would not have had access to these crucial services, otherwise. This work was made possible, in part, because of federal COVID relief funds administered by OSPI. Our ESD 112 Behavioral Health team has begun building youth crisis support systems for our Klickitat County schools, working to fill gaps and better meet the mental health needs of the region’s youth.

Student re-engagement: The pandemic has had an impact on student attendance and engagement, with a decrease in school enrollment and higher absence rates. Utilizing federal funding distributed through OSPI, our ESD 112 Attendance and Reengagement program increased outreach efforts to locate youth not attending school, build student relationships, identify and address barriers to attendance, and create a bridge for students to reengage in their education.

COVID testing support and distribution: With the goal of providing a safe and consistent learning environment for students and staff across the region, ESD 112 supported all 32 public and 19 private schools to engage in the Learn to Return COVID testing program. In partnership with the Washington State Department of Health (DOH), the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), and the Health Commons Project, education and public health united to provide and distribute COVID testing supplies, share testing technology, ensure alignment with state requirements, and create healthier school environments. During the Omicron surge, when most test supply chains became overwhelmed, the ESD 112 team stepped up to establish a distribution model that ensured all schools had access to critical testing supplies. Since January, the ESD 112 has delivered approximately 312,000 tests to districts and private schools.

Regionalized communication collaboration & resources: Our communications leads from across the region remained closely connected throughout the pandemic. This partnership ensured that districts were able to discuss and partner together to share information on many complex communications. Our ESD 112 Communications & Public Engagement team led the creation of consistent materials for schools across the region. The team developed and coordinated things like talking points, notification letter templates, graphic design templates, and regional media relations efforts on many important topics including school equity efforts, federal ESSER fund distribution, social justice in schools, kindergarten enrollment, and COVID notification templates and resources. This collaboration created teamwork, shared knowledge, connectedness, and equity for those districts with both plentiful and scarce resources. The collaboration that was created out of necessity during the pandemic will continue far into the future.

These are just a few examples of our work to support schools and education in our region over the past year. For more than 50 years, and when navigating both smooth and stormy seas, school districts have counted on ESD 112 and our 300+ programs and services because we are always stronger together.


Tim Merlino
Superintendent, ESD 112