TREC program ready to connect forthcoming college grads with careers

Washington state school districts struggling to fill jobs in critical shortage areas may soon be getting the qualified staff and teachers they need, thanks to Educational Service District 112’s newly formed Take Root Employment Cooperative (TREC). The TREC program works with dozens of colleges and universities in the Pacific Northwest to recruit and place highly-sought education professionals in its member districts throughout the state.

TREC is a reboot of the Special Education Employment Konsortium (SEEK) —a highly successful recruiting program the ESD ran several years ago before funding dried up. Where SEEK was originally targeted at Special Education professionals, TREC’s scope is broader and includes a wide array of education-related jobs. Marlene Gonzalez, who coordinated the SEEK program, was tapped to head-up the new TREC program based on her experience and strong relationships with the higher education community.

“I loved running the SEEK program, so I’m glad to get this opportunity to lead TREC,” says Gonzalez. “It took me many years to build relationships with the colleges, and, thankfully, many of those people are still there.”
School districts become members of the cooperative by paying a flat fee and making a commitment for three years to cover minimal program costs. The ESD provides money for the education awards, which TREC offers to college students seeking degrees in the critical shortage areas. The education award is paid to the college directly while the student is still in school. In exchange, the student signs a contract to work in their agreed upon district for one year after graduation for each year they received an award. The award acts like a conditional loan that the student repays with interest if the contract is broken.

ESD 112 Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning Mike Nerland knows first-hand how beneficial the program will be for districts seeking to recruit in high-demand fields, since before joining ESD 112 he was the Superintendent of the Camas School District. “The shortage of qualified education professionals that are needed in schools throughout the United States is a growing epidemic facing public education,” he says. “This proactive approach has a proven record of success in building a pool of candidates for special education and related fields.”

The program is a win-win for school districts and students entering the education workforce. The school districts save money on time-consuming recruiting efforts, which often include costly travel. The students receive money to complete their educations and the peace of mind knowing that a good job with benefits is waiting for them. TREC also removes private recruiters from the equation —a growing, profitable industry that many desperate districts have resorted to using in recent years.

One of the biggest benefits of TREC to districts, however, is the flexibility the program offers. Districts can choose how involved they want to be in the selection and hiring process. They can also choose whether to hire candidates as district employees from the start or to have them be ESD employees. For small, remote districts this is especially ideal. Often a district isn’t large enough to support a full-time Occupational Therapist or School Psychologist. Through TREC, ESD 112 can find a candidate who is open to serving multiple districts. For positions like this, the ESD can even sweeten the deal with the flexibility to offer mileage reimbursements and drive time within work hours —benefits that rural districts may be unable to offer.

Gonzalez saw a very high retention rate when she ran the SEEK program —over 90% —and she is expecting that same success with TREC. One thing that has surprised Gonzalez this time around is just how stellar the applicants for the education awards are. She explains, “The candidates we’re getting for TREC are straight-A students. It makes me feel good knowing we have quality people to send to our districts.”

Nerland adds, “At the end of the day the real beneficiaries are the students. In every classroom, every day all students deserve to have an outstanding, qualified and passionate educator and the TREC program assists in making that possible.”

For more information contact:
Marlene Gonzalez
TREC Program Coordinator
360.952.3421 (office)