Growing Our Own: Diversifying the Teacher Workforce in North Central Washington

Published On: January 30th, 2023|Categories: News|
Growing Our Own: Diversifying the Teacher Workforce in North Central Washington

Since 2017, 55 people in North Central Washington have become credentialed teachers through Eastern Washington University’s Transition to Teaching program. The program has provided school districts with an equitable strategy to recruit, hire and retain qualified teachers who are representative of their communities.

“In a community like Quincy with a high population of Spanish-only speaking students and families, it’s important for us to hire teachers who are bilingual, biliterate, and have the same lived experiences of our students and families,” said Nik Bergman, Superintendent of Quincy School District. “That can make a big difference in the classroom, and this program has helped us develop a more representative workforce in our district.”

The development of the program began in 2016, when EWU approached school districts to see how the university could support the response to ongoing teacher shortages. With a PESB grant to assist with diversifying the workforce, EWU began working with Quincy School District and Moses Lake School District to build a hybrid experience that would meet the needs of rural districts in North Central Washington.

In 2017, as the first cohort was being identified, the North Central Educational Service District partnered with EWU to expand the footprint to the 29 schools districts in Grant, Chelan, Douglas, and Okanogan counties.

District leaders from across North Central Washington attended a meeting with EWU in January 2023 to discuss the history of the program and its future.

One of the challenges rural communities face is access to a college that is within driving distance, explained Anna Griffith, Early Career/TPEP Specialist at Moses Lake School District.

“This program removes the barriers that a lot of our paraeducators have with not being able to afford to take time off of work to go to school and complete their practicum,” she added. “The program and all the partners come alongside and support the candidates in whatever individual needs they have.”

During the event, district were able to discuss their current needs in regards to hiring teachers, supporting school staff to advance their careers, and how the Transition to Teaching program has supported them in these areas.

Working in partnership with the school districts, the EWU program allows individuals to earn a K-8 Teaching Certificate. The innovative program is a flexible, alternative route where the candidate earns their degree while working in a local school district. The program is designed to serve a variety of individuals including instructional employees (e.g. paraeducators), classified staff, and district teachers who are employed on conditional or emergency substitute certificates.

“From the start, EWU has been flexible to create a program that meets the needs of rural districts and teachers,” said Lance Potter, Associate Professor in the School of Education at EWU. “A statewide priority is to increase the diversity of our teachers, and we need to help our candidates be successful in their path to becoming teachers.”

The flipped model means that candidates spend more time in the school classroom teaching. While candidates are expected to complete 40-50 hours per week of academics and practicum experience, only two days per month are required in person (with options in Spokane, Moses Lake, and Wenatchee areas) and the rest of the coursework is completed online.

Since the first cohort in 2017, the program has supported candidates across all four counties NCESD serves. A breakdown of student teachers placed in the four counties includes 18% of candidates located in Chelan County, 15% in Douglas County, 42% in Grant County, and 25% in Okanogan County. In addition to the 55 candidates who have completed the program, 13 candidates are currently in progress.

The districts also provide a lot of support for the candidates throughout the program, including placement in a classroom, mentorship, and support with various expenses through grant funding, Bergman said.

“The biggest thing we provide, especially for our paraeducators, is covering substitute costs so that the candidate doesn’t have to take a cut in pay while they are doing their student teaching experience,” he added.

Bergman further compared student teaching to internships in other professions. Education is one of the only professions where it isn’t a paid internship and candidates are often told not to work, he said.

“The grant allows our paraeducators and current employees to not lose income and still support their family and advance their career,” Bergman added.

As the regional Educational Service District, North Central ESD partners with EWU and the 29 school districts in support of the Transition to Teaching program by assisting with the facilitation of the grant and providing candidate support and supervision.

EWU Professors Lance Potter, Tara Haskins, and Suzie Henning were integral in starting the program and keeping it going. In addition, the program is led by Lori Falcon and Heather Shelley.

“The Transition to Teaching pathway is important to our region because it encourages and empowers local and highly-skilled paraeducators and school employees who are committed to serving students in our rural communities,” said Dr. Michelle Price, Superintendent of NCESD. “The program allows them the opportunity to pursue their teaching degree while continuing to live and work in their community.”

Another unique aspect of the program is that the majority of candidates already have jobs within a local school district.

“It’s job-embedded,” said Bergman. “A lot of the candidates already have a lot of school experience, and some have had years of working in our district as a paraeducator.”

Griffith further explained that Moses Lake School District has encouraged and supported strong paraeducators in their district to participate in the program.

“Moses Lake teachers and employees are super dedicated and invested in the success of each and every student,” she added. “We know these are lifelong community members and we have been able to place them in the classroom as teachers to continue serving our kids.”

To learn more about the EWU Transition to Teaching program, visit their website at, email, or call 509-290-7311.

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Growing Our Own: Diversifying the Teacher Workforce in North Central Washington