ESP Certification at the State Level
"What makes the creation of our Center so special is that ESPs have worked gradually to gain respect for years. Now that respect is being formalized. It's a statement that we are professionals and have a right to become even better."
-Carol Brannan, Board of Directors for the Michigan ESP Center for Professional Learning, and library aide at Central Michigan University
It's no secret that a key employment issue facing today's Education Support Professionals across the country is the lack of training and professional development they need to perform their jobs well and advance in their careers.
But thanks to several state programs-- in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania -- ESPs are quickly gaining the skills and respect they need to make a difference.
"Time and time again, we hear our support staff members tell us their jobs are vastly different than they were 20 years ago, or even 10 years ago," says David Crim, director of the Michigan ESP Center for Professional Learning, which was founded by the Michigan Education Association (MEA). "Until now, our ESP members have often been overlooked -- there's been little professional development to speak of. That's all changing."
Michigan's ESP Center for Professional Learning was officially opened in 2002 after six years of planning and development. In researching an effective professional education program for ESPs, MEA looked in part to neighboring Wisconsin. There, the Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC) created the Professional Development Academy in 1992, and launched an ESP Certificate Program in 1994.
Both state programs are very similar, requiring 40 hours of instruction in core and elective categories for a Level One Certificate. Certificate seekers take classes and workshops at approved education institutions, including in their own districts and at universities and community colleges. Once the total hours have been achieved, program participants receive an official state "certification," which can include financial or merit recognition depending on the district.
"I've seen the need for ESP professional education since the start of my career," says 30-year ESP veteran Carol Brannan, who works in library monographic services at Central Michigan University and also sits on the Center's board of directors. "What makes the creation of our center so special is that ESPs have worked gradually to gain respect for years. Now that respect is being formalized. It's a statement that we are professionals and have a right to become even better."
Joyce Jones, a school secretary in Onalaska, Wisconsin, agrees. In 1994, she spearheaded a program in her home school district to address the important and growing training needs of support staff. Eventually, this program would tie in with the creation of Wisconsin's statewide ESP Certificate.
"I felt very strongly that support personnel in our schools needed training in their fields, whether they drove a bus, worked with children as teacher assistants, cooked and served meals, kept the buildings safe and clean, or worked directly with the public in the offices," she says. "We are called on to handle all kinds of situations -- tend to sick and injured children, calm irate parents, administer medications, defuse tense situations, make judgment calls in emergency situations, and be a 'jack of all trades' and master of all."
Go to the next section: "3 Myths About State Certification"