New state funding helps Arizona Teachers Academy ease teacher shortage - AZEdNews
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New state funding helps Arizona Teachers Academy ease teacher shortage

Western Sky Middle School Sixth Grade Teacher Tracy Renbarger And Her Students. Photo Courtesy Of Litchfield Elementary School District

Eighth in a series on teachers:  About $15 million in new state funding approved by the Arizona Legislature and Gov. Doug Ducey last session will help Arizona Teachers Academy develop new educators and help ease the teacher shortage.

The new funding will help the Arizona Teachers Academy support 3,000 prospective teachers this year – about six and a half times the 450 students the state universities-developed program served with just their own internal resources in previous years, said John Arnold, executive director of the Arizona Board of Regents.

“It’s a huge jump in the number of participants in the program,” Arnold said. “It also allows us to expand this program past the universities to the community colleges where they do post-baccalaureate teaching programs, which allows people to come back, get certified and into the teaching profession. I think it’s just a game changer to have those state resources to support the program.”

New state funding helps Arizona Teachers Academy ease teacher shortage Elide-Gutierrez-1-480
Elidé Gutierrez is working toward her certifications in special education and elementary education through Northern Arizona University’s Arizona Teachers Academy program in Yuma. Photo courtesy of Elidé Gutierrez

That increased financial support is good news for college students like Elidé Gutierrez, who is working toward her certifications in special education and elementary education through Northern Arizona University’s Arizona Teachers Academy program in Yuma.

“The Arizona Teachers Academy has helped me launch my teaching career by giving me that extra financial support I needed by covering part of my tuition, and this has proven very helpful since I came from a large family with a low income,” Gutierrez said.

“Currently, it is allowing me to complete my degree program here in Yuma in two years instead of the longer program that is offered in Flagstaff,” Gutierrez said. “During the summer, it allowed me to take additional courses, which will help me meet my two-year goal for graduating.”

Since its inception in 2017, the Arizona Teachers Academy has provided financial assistance and mentoring to 685 aspiring educators as they earn their college degrees, according to the Arizona Teachers Academy 2019 annual report.

Of those 685 students in the Arizona Teachers Academy, 273 have started teaching in classrooms around the state like Tracy Renbarger.

“This scholarship has been a true blessing,” said Renbarger, a sixth-grade teacher at Western Sky Middle School’s Traditional Academy in Litchfield Elementary School District, who will earn her master’s degree through Arizona State University’s Arizona Teachers Academy in May 2020.

“When people ask me about it, I tell them this is a win-win for Arizona because we need educators,” Renbarger said. “This is a win-win for our kiddos who deserve the best teachers around. And it’s a win-win for yourself, because you can get your undergraduate or master’s degree in education fully paid for and when you graduate, you’re debt-free.”

Arizona Board of Regents video of Tracy Renbarger, who is in the Arizona Teachers Academy

The Arizona Teachers Academy was developed in response to Arizona public school’s difficulty in recruiting and retaining quality teachers.

 “We love, need, honor and support our teachers. We want to make sure that they understand that,” Arnold said. “We need good teachers, and we’re going to do everything we can to find them and help them get through school.”

What the Arizona Teachers Academy is

The Arizona Teachers Academy is a partnership between the state, the universities and the community colleges that provides financial incentives and mentoring for people to complete an education degree and teach in Arizona public school classrooms.

“We know that there are issues in our K-12 schools recruiting and retaining good teachers, so this is a way to drive interest in teaching as a profession for our young people coming out of high school or for professions who are looking for a change of career,” Arnold said.

Each of Arizona’s three state universities offers different options as part of the Arizona Teachers Academy – bachelor’s, master’s degrees or non-degree certification programs – and focus areas such as – elementary, secondary, early childhood, arts, physical or special education.

To help address the shortage of teachers in Arizona’s rural areas, there are  specific Arizona Teachers Academy efforts, such as NAU’s Grow Your Own program, that find, cultivate and train students in their own communities so that they can stay there and become a teacher there, Arnold said.

After a student applies and is accepted into the Arizona Teachers Academy, they apply for financial aid and “whatever the difference is between their tuition and fees and the other financial aid awards they receive is covered by the Arizona Teachers Academy scholarship,” Arnold said.

“For each year that a student receives a scholarship, they’re required to teach in Arizona for one year,” Arnold said. “The Arizona Board of Regents tracks that, and the teacher has to submit some form of evidence – a teaching contract, a pay stub – we’re going to make it as simple as possible to provide evidence that they’re working in an Arizona school.”

The state funding also includes money for induction programs to help transition students from the university into their first year of teaching, Arnold said.

The future of the Arizona Teachers Academy

Continued growth of the Arizona Teachers Academy relies on investments from the state, and “Gov. Ducey has been very forthright that he sees this as an ongoing formula program with dollars attached to it,” Arnold said.

“We’re very hopeful that not only will it continue to be supported at this level, but that we can grow the program in future years,” Arnold said.

AZEdNews Teacher Series:
Part 1: Small changes can create a safer, more inclusive, trauma sensitive school
Part 2: Film: Challenges of raising a family on a teacher’s salary continue
Part 3: Teacher training: Ways to help students
Part 4: How yoga helps students relax, focus, deal with stress
Part 5: School’s not out for teachers leading student learning activities
Part 6: What classroom supplies teachers buy and what they’d like for students
Part 7: Schools welcome back staff with rallies, learning opportunities
Part 8: New state funding helps Arizona Teachers Academy ease teacher shortage
Part 9: Possible changes ahead in what happens when a teacher leaves mid-year
Part 10: School leaders say better pay would attract more teachers
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AZEdNews ongoing teacher series

The Arizona Teachers Academy also helps raise the profile of teaching, by sending “the message that our state leadership values teachers, that teachers are important to Arizonans, that we want to support teaching as a profession, and teachers as individuals,” Arnold said.

The Arizona Teachers Academy understands the need for teachers in Arizona, and it provides incentives for those who want to pursue this career, said Gutierrez.

“In my financial situation, I will not be hurting by trying to become a teacher,” Gutierrez said. “In the future, I would like to see textbooks covered as well, since they are very expensive, and it can be challenging for someone on a limited budget. It adds up very quickly.”

The Arizona Teachers Academy helped Renbarger, a military spouse, realize her life-long dream of becoming a teacher by easing some of her concerns.

“That initial excitement really turned to fear and uncertainty about how was I going to do this,” Renbarger said. “I’ve been a stay at home mom for numerous years, my degree is in business management, and the financial aspect of going back to school to pursue this dream was just … I couldn’t wrap my head around it.”

New state funding helps Arizona Teachers Academy ease teacher shortage Ms-Tracy-Renbarger-and-her-students-HP
Western Sky Middle School sixth grade teacher Tracy Renbarger and her students. Photo courtesy of Litchfield Elementary School District

Then she learned about the Arizona Teachers Academy through a Google search, applied, was accepted and that made all the difference, said Renbarger, who is a full-time teacher and a student in Arizona State University’s Induction, Masters and Arizona Certification program.

When Renbarger leaves school at the end of the day on Tuesday, she heads to ASU downtown for five hours of education classes.

“When you are in this program you just don’t receive the funding, there’s the endless support, professional development, peer collaboration, mentoring sessions,” Renbarger said.

Litchfield Elementary School District paired Renbarger with a mentor Western Sky Middle School sixth grade math teacher and gifted coordinator Amy Alek, who has more than 15 years experience in the classroom.

“She and all the teachers have rallied around me and they ask me ‘What do you need? How can we help you?’” Renbarger said.

Renbarger said teaching has been so rewarding.

“These kiddos they need us. They need caring, loving adults to be there to help support so they can be the next best generation for our country,” Renbarger said. “If you want to be a teacher, please apply for this program.”

Gutierrez said the Arizona Teachers Academy is good for Arizona because it is helping future teachers and students, “in the end it’s all about bettering Arizona, and that’s what is highlighted by the Arizona Teachers Academy.”

The Arizona Teachers Academy is working on developing flexible pathways into the teaching profession that would allow students that major in other subject areas to earn a teaching certificate, Arnold said.

“Both ASU and NAU have programs to that effect that we’re trying to expand,” Arnold said.

The Arizona Teachers Academy shows how the universities are working with the state to address some of Arizona’s most pressing challenges, Arnold said.

“We hope this is a pattern we can use to work with the state on other issues as well,” Arnold said.