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Washougal School District finds creative way to fill staffing gaps

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Like many school districts in southwest Washington, the Washougal School District is scrambling to find qualified replacements to replace staff members who have tested positive for COVID-19.

The challenge is not new to the district, which a few years ago identified teacher shortages in several of its departments and acted quickly to address them.

Washougal’s ESD-U Teacher Certification Program, a partnership between Educational Services District 112 and the Washougal School District, provides alternative options to teacher certification for classified staff members and a “retooling” pathway for certified teachers looking to add endorsement.

“It allows us to identify staff that we know have been in the classrooms before and are looking for (a new career path),” Washougal School District Deputy Superintendent Renae McMurray said. . “Maybe a paraeducator wants to become a teacher, or maybe a teacher wants to change majors – instead of working as a grade-level teacher, for example, they want to be a special educator.”

McMurray said four Washougal School District employees have earned this type of alternative certification through the program in the past four years.

The Washougal School District used the program to fill staffing shortages in its special education and English language learning departments.

To earn their certifications, ESD-U students must complete coursework, complete hours of classroom field experience, and pass a state-required assessment. Students can often use their current classroom positions to meet most field experience requirements.

The program also offers certified teachers a pathway to certification in another education specialty.

Veronica Paredes, a former para-educator English language learner turned bilingual teacher at Hathaway Elementary School, attended ESD-U to earn a certificate in English Language Learning and Elementary Education.

Parades said the program suited him better than more traditional teacher certification programs because the program’s flexibility allowed him to take the coursework and field experience required for his current job.

“Their class schedules are accessible when you have a full-time job. All instructors and staff are very experienced. They teach you and guide you,” Paredes said.