PULLMAN, Wash. — After seven years in the classroom, Linda Zemler is studying to become a National Board Certified Teacher – a process that only a little more than a 100 of the 53,000 K-12 teachers in Washington have successfully completed.

But Zemler is not working alone. The first grade teacher at Bernice Vossbeck Elementary School at Lynden is one of 54 teachers statewide enrolled in a new support program established by Washington State University.

She describes the year-long process as “a wonderful experience in sharpening my sword – taking what I do and making it better. The rigorous high standards of the program are focusing me on how to better impact my students.”

The 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.

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 his or her 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.