In her 18th year of teaching, Shirlee Jellum is applying for certification by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards -- a certification process that only a little more than a 100 of the 53,000 K-12 teachers in Washington have successfully completed.
Jellum, an English and Spanish teacher at Columbia High School in White Salmon, is enrolled in a new program established by Washington State University that will help her get there.
She said she decided to undertake the two-part certification process for a variety of reasons, "but mostly because I wanted the challenge."
She added: "And I think my students are benefitting a lot from this because it's made me more aware of what I'm doing in the classroom."
Jellum currently is the only teacher in the Columbia Gorge region pursuing national certification, which entails compilation of a portfolio and completion of a six-part written exam, which she plans to take this spring.
She said she will find out next November whether she has met the national certification board's standards.
The WSU-administered program was created to support teachers seeking certification at seven sites statewide as part of a $500,000 grant from the Gates, Washington Mutual and Stuart foundations.
It consists of a network of teachers going through the certification process, under the direction of a WSU faculty member and a board-certified teacher. Kay Stern is the local facilitator for southwest Washington and Tacoma.
"The idea of a support group for certification is not new," Stern said. "However, in this program we have districts and the university working together in the field which is unusual. It's also possible for students enrolled in this support program to earn six graduate semester credits."
Nationwide, only half the teachers who apply and submit portfolios are certified. The goal of the program is to increase the percentage of enrolled teachers who are certified and improve student learning in Washington, said Debra Pastore, program director.
A total of 267 teachers applied for the 50 slots available this year, Pastore said. Each teacher who is accepted for the support program receives help developing and analyzing their portfolio. In addition, the teacher's $2,300 application fee to the national board is paid through the support grant.
National Board Certification is considered teaching's highest honor, Pastore said. Certified teachers in Washington receive a $3,500 annual stipend for three years following their certification.
The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization created in 1987, with funding of $1 million from the Carnegie Foundation. Initial funding for the WSU program ends in 2004.
The seven support program sites statewide are in Pullman, Spokane, Tri-Cities, Moses Lake, Mt. Vernon, Tacoma and Vancouver.