Several districts across Washington state are beginning to lay off Educational Support Professionals (ESPs) who provide safety and support for students, including health clerks, paraeducators, nutrition service employees, bus drivers, custodians, and maintenance staff. These school district and school board decisions are short-sighted in a time when districts should be recognizing the value of every school staff member.
ESPs: A foundation for our students
Great public schools require a combined effort by many dedicated people. Our Education Support Professionals (ESPs) are committed, caring WEA members who prepare students for success every day. They are our secretaries and office clerks, bus drivers, paraeducators, food service workers, custodians and maintenance staff, security, healthcare providers, skilled trades and technical staff.
Paraeducators are using our unity and strength to advocate for what our students and our families need, and now we have an additional powerful voice for our professions statewide. Gov. Inslee has appointed WEA Board Director, NEA Board Director and Rochester ESP member Pamella Johnson to serve on the nine-member Paraeducator Board. A social emotional behavioral interventionist at Rochester High School, Johnson is a passionate advocate for paraeducators and our students.
"I need people to understand our role is critical to all that goes on in schools," Johnson says. "From custodians to office staff to nutrition services to classroom supports, we run the school from unlocking in the morning to locking up at night."
Johnson first became involved in advocacy by attending an Education Support Professional conference where she met now WEA Vice President Janie White and Seattle EA member and ESP activist Vallerie Fisher, who encouraged her to use her voice to elevate ESP needs.
"Knowing their enthusiasm and their vision, I knew I had to be more involved," Johnson remembers. “There's just so much paras do behind the scenes that isn’t appreciated or compensated, and we are so important to our students."
As a member of the Paraeducator Board, Johnson will help set policy around paraeducator training, certification and standards. The Board, created in 2017 as a result of successful WEA member advocacy, is currently reviewing the state’s new standards for cultural competency, diversity, equity and inclusion (CCDEI) training.
"CCDEI standards should guide every single thing we do in schools," Johnson notes. "As our schools serve more and more students of color, we need to make sure we’re fully serving our BIPOC students."
Johnson also intends to use her seat to speak out for paraeducator appreciation and pay.
"We need to stand together as certificated and classified and demand that we value our paraeducators more. Too many of us are quitting and there’s not enough people coming into the field to hire."
Johnson's term began in March and continues through August 2023.
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Meet WEA's 2021 ESP of Year
Congratulations to Keri Roberts from Central Kitsap ESP. WEA ESP ACT Chair Rochelle Greenwell surprised Roberts at her Bremerton home on March 31 to inform Roberts of her selection as the 2021 WEA ESP of the Year in an event Greenwell shared live in a Zoom call from her phone with other WEA leaders. She presented Roberts with flowers, an award plaque and balloons. WEA officers Larry Delaney, Janie White and other leaders also joined in the Zoom call. In mid April, Roberts was honored at WEA's virtual Representative Assembly.
Education support professionals play a key role in ensuring student success, and their impact is even stronger when there are clear expectations, when they are valued, and when they have opportunities for professional learning and supports throughout their careers.View trainings
Find your ACT contact
The WEA/ESP Action Coordinating Team is a statewide group made up of leaders from each UniServ Council who are dedicated to advocating for and advising local ESP units. The team works to promote member satisfaction, strengthen local bargaining units and empower education support professionals through increased skills.
WAC 179-09-040: Paraeducators hired before the 2018-19 school year must receive a certificate of completion for 28 FCS clock hours by Sept. 1, 2021.
The Professional Educator Standards Board has released new guidance for the state’s Paraeducator Certificate program, as a result of the pandemic. All school districts now have until the end of 2020-21 school year to provide all four days of training on the Fundamental Course of Study (FCS).
Need help with registering your training hours?
Review the presentation from the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, step-by-step on how to create an EDS Account, explainer on how-to log your clock hours, and the available paraeducator certificates and profesional certification.
Working for a living wage
Every worker deserves a living wage. A living wage means earning enough to pay for basic necessities: rent, food, utilities, childcare, healthcare and transportation. People who work full time should not have to live below the poverty line.
Several ESP units in Washington, with assistance from WEA and NEA, have initiated grassroots organizing efforts for living wages in their communities.