News

School district shares pride in SPU award

Elizabeth Celms
Mercer Island Reporter

The Seattle Pacific University (SPU) School of Education has won the 2008 Models of Excellence Award for its outstanding teacher education partnership program, which includes a branch on Mercer Island. Little known to many, Mercer Island is home to an SPU teacher professional certification class.

Two years ago, interim Superintendent Gary Plano pioneered the 15-credit program, allowing teachers to earn SPU certification without leaving the Island. Today, the program is run by Island Park teacher Melissa Oliver, who works as an adjunct SPU faculty member. Out of her 26 students, 22 are Island educators, while four teachers work in other districts.

SPU is the only university nationwide to receive the Model of Excellence Award, bestowed by the Association of Independent Liberal Arts Colleges for Teacher Education. And according to Oliver, it is little surprise.

“What makes SPU stand out is that it allows teachers to personalize their classes and take those subjects that will make them better teachers,” she said. “Unlike other colleges that offer certification, SPU gives teachers the freedom to truly become their craft, not just jump through hoops to satisfy state requirements.”

At present, Mercer Island has 90 teachers with residency certification. This allows them to teach for five years, with a two-year extension period. Then, by law, they must earn a professional certificate to continue teaching. Many of these educators, Oliver expects, will choose to earn their certification through the Island’s SPU program.

Upon learning of the school’s 2008 award, Plano said he was not surprised.

“I initiated the partnership a year ago because SPU is an excellent institution that provides outstanding teacher prep programs,” said Plano, adding that the joint program is cheaper than what other colleges offer.

The Mercer Island School District is home not only to SPU professional certification holders, but graduates as well. In the past five years, four Island teachers have earned either a master’s or bachelor’s degree from the university. In total, MISD boasts 15 faculty members with degrees from SPU, including Island Park third-grade teacher Beth Dudycha.

“The education program at SPU is superior. I was extremely well prepared, more so than a lot of the student teachers I worked with,” the 2000 graduate said, reflecting on her formative years in Seattle classrooms.

“I still keep in contact with my professors,” she added. “They helped me in my first years of teaching. I’d e-mail them with questions, and they’d always answer.”

Today, Dudycha works among some of the best teachers in the state, several of whom share her SPU background — including a former dorm mate.

“Kara Millsap, who works at Lakeridge, and I actually roomed together at SPU,” she said. “Kara called me up when she got the job and realized we’d both be working in the same district.”

Founded in 1891, Seattle Pacific University’s academic program serves more than 3,800 undergraduate and graduate students. The School of Education has earned a statewide reputation, with graduates employed in school districts throughout the Northwest and beyond. What’s more, SPU has more than 30 affiliate schools, from Vision Appalachia in West Virginia to America Latina School in Guatemala. And its now award-winning partnership program is still blooming.

As of next year, Mercer Island will launch a brand-new SPU program, becoming the first district in Washington to assist teachers in earning their national board certification. Oliver has already begun the pilot program and has 23 Island teachers interested in beginning next year.

“We’ve had such success with SPU that we’re jumping off into this new partnership,” the teacher said.

In pursuing their National Board Certification, many teachers seek financial grants — an intensive process requiring portfolios and assessments that carries with it prestige and an annual $3,500 bonus. But in order to receive one, the individual must be enrolled in a collegial “National Board Certification support group.”

Until now, the University of Washington, Washington State University and Western Washington University were the only schools that offered a certification support group.

“In the past, so many students had to drive to the UW to satisfy their [monthly] grant requirements,” Oliver said. “Now our national board candidates can come here.”

Both Oliver and Plano expect the SPU partnership program to bloom over the years. In addition to the Island’s professional certification and national board curricula, MISD offers a number of science and technology training programs through SPU. Indeed, the private Seattle university has left its mark on Island educators.

“I’m really proud to be part of their program,” Oliver said. “This award casts a very bright light on SPU, which is wonderful.”

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