Education experts offer insiders’ look at needs, concerns, values

Tempe Union Superintendent Dr. Kevin Mendivil addressed the Chandler Chamber of Commerce where he spoke about the core values and mission of Tempe high schools. — Wrangler News photo by Noah Kutz

Approximately 20 percent of the positions now open in Arizona’s school districts remain unfilled, many of them associated with higher-level math and science departments and special education.

That was the somewhat worrisome report from Kathy Hoffman, state superintendent of public instruction, when she spoke to members of the Chandler Chamber of Commerce.

“For example,” said Hoffman, “Arizona only has about 150 physics teachers for the whole state.” Teacher shortages within each school district also apply to non- teaching positions; Mesa schools alone have announced a need for 80 bus drivers.

Policy plans and updates for Arizona schools were the focus of Hoffman’s comments, with additional remarks by the superintendents of Tempe Union and Chandler Unified school districts.

As seen in the Red for Ed movement, it was noted, teachers’ salaries have become a hot topic for discussion all across Arizona. Related to this discussion, Hoffman highlighted the severe job shortages in schools as one of the key issues her office is working to solve.

Additionally, with the growing need for school safety positions (jobs related to the physical and mental security of the students, such as school counselors, social workers and SROs), $20 million has been allocated to addressing that issue.

Each school participating in the state office’s project sent an application for a grant that would support jobs in student security. Citing the approximately 900 schools that applied for grants totaling $97 million, Hoffman said, “$20 million is clearly not enough.”

According to her office’s study, Arizona has the worst student-to-counselor ratio in the entire country, with about one counselor for every 900 students.

Dr. Camille Casteel of the Chandler unified schools said her district submitted 23 applications for grants to its hiring needs alone, primarily for school resource officers and social workers. The growing number of deaths by suicide among teenagers, as well as security concerns on school campuses, have given this project top priority for policy makers, she noted.

Another major topic for discussion involved the ongoing development
of teachers in Tempe and Chandler schools to ensure that their students receive the best support and education.

Tempe Union Superintendent Dr. Kevin Mendivil directed the audience toward a list of the core values and mission statements for Tempe high schools.

Written under a strategic plan for 2018-2023, the vision statement says: “All students will graduate with skills necessary for success in college, career and life.”

One of the core factors of a teacher’s job, advised Mendivil, is to differentiate instruction for their students, a challenge he called more and more difficult.

“It’s not that our teachers don’t want to do the absolute best,” he said; “they want to be able to impact, in a positive way, student achievement outcomes—student outcomes in general—and we need to do better at that, quite frankly.”

He added that part of this need is not based on any lack of willingness or desire among teachers to impact their students, but rather a lack of certain skills of differentiating instruction in some classrooms to make sure each student receives the best possible learning outcome.

By continuing to cultivate excellence in each teacher through training and mentorship programs, he said, the district hopes to build a platform for students to succeed in all areas of life when they leave high school.

Mendivil added that integrity is also something educators strive to uphold every day, and the district will continue to ensure there is accountability for this core value in every employee.

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