Tuesday was the first day of school for students in the Ridgefield School District (RSD). But for teachers new to the district, their first day came two weeks earlier. On Monday, August 15, district officials welcomed nearly 30 new teachers and administrators as the district kicked-off its four-day New Employee Induction program--developed to offer additional support to new teachers and administrators.

The program, now in its second year, provides certificated employees new to Ridgefield, the opportunity to become familiar with the district’s instructional framework, teacher supports, and learning culture. Washington state, like most states in the nation, is experiencing a serious teacher shortage that is making it more difficult to find new teachers as teachers retire. In rapidly growing communities like Ridgefield, that challenge is compounded by the need to also fill many new classrooms just to accommodate student growth.

“Teaching is an intellectually demanding profession that has gotten significantly more complex over the past 15 years. In addition to being content specialists, teachers are expected to be data analysts, possess strong counseling skills, and individualize learning to an increasingly diverse student population. This reality demands that we provide well-conceived supports to retain teachers and enable them to flourish professionally,” said Dr. Nathan McCann, Ridgefield’s superintendent.

This summer, the district hired two staff development specialists to further enhance the induction program by providing instructional coaching and mentoring supports for Ridgefield educators. Nathan Lee, who has worked at South Ridge Elementary for eight years and, Elisa Smith, a veteran educator with 15 years of middle and secondary-level experience, most recently in the Evergreen Public Schools, are leading this effort.

Lee saw this opportunity as the ideal next step in his career. “I’m looking forward to being in position to create more efficient systems to better support teachers as their responsibilities grow,” said Lee. “And It’s exciting to know that by supporting teachers, I will still be serving students.”

When Smith saw the position, she was immediately interested. “I’m going to get to learn so much. The opportunity to get to work with, watch, and support other teachers on a daily basis and then be able to extend that learning to the rest of our staff is really exciting,” she said.

Even before the job was official, Lee and Smith began working collaboratively to ensure that the district’s induction program would meet the needs of teachers.

“New teachers want to know how to start on day one. Providing our new staff with the time to get prepared, learn about the district, and offering reassurance that they have our support is critical to getting the year started on the right foot. We wanted to make sure our program focused on doing those things and doing them well,” said Nathan Lee.

The program has received strong praise from teachers. Kerin Montsinger, a veteran middle school teacher who moved to Ridgefield this summer from a suburban Chicago school district was particularly impressed with the welcoming environment that Ridgefield provided to new teachers.

“The people welcoming has been wonderful. Staff go out of their way to introduce themselves. It really feels like they want me, not as a person for the position,” said Montsinger.

Tom Zimmer, a high school physical education, health, and leadership teacher who previously spent time teaching in Vancouver Public Schools and overseas in Seoul, South Korea, valued the benefits from having time to really learn about the district before students arrived.

“I appreciate that everyone has the same message and communicates the expectations clearly. It makes it very comforting,” noted Zimmer.