Local school officials meet with state's chief educator

School board members, administrators and teachers from throughout Mohave County offered their views and shared concerns Wednesday night about school accountability with the state's chief educator.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jaime Molera visited Kingman High School North during his continuing series of "roundtable" discussions with educators about LEARNS, or the Leading Education through the Accountability and Results Notification System.

The program was passed by the state Legislature and signed into law earlier this year by Gov.

Jane Hull.

Earlier in the day, the state Department of Education announced that it has been given federal funding of $17.7 million this fiscal year and $116 million for the next six years for Arizona READS, Molera's new program to ensure all children can read English by the end of the third grade.

One of the questions asked was how the money will be used.

"Usually, such grants don't allow for professional development," Molera said.

"But this one allows 25 percent of the funds for professional development of teachers.

"I want to work with superintendents to identify master teachers, as they have a wealth of experience and can help train new teachers.

I want to pay them a stipend to be our soldiers and get 50-100 master teachers in our districts."

Another question asked was the direction the AIMS (Arizona's Instrument to Measure Standards) test is headed.

Molera said AIMS is going to stay in place because it is part of the department's ability to assess how schools are doing.

The night began with Molera offering his appraisal of public education and what the new accountability legislation will mean.

He emphasized reading skills in grades kindergarten through three.

"If you have children willing to struggle to have the skills they're going to need, we have to look at them beginning in kindergarten," he said.

"What kind of accountability system should be in place? It should measure how the standards are being taught, but also a measure of progress made by our students."

The state Board of Education is in the process of determining criteria for what constitutes an under-performing school and measures for that school to bring its students up to state standards, he said.

Proposition 301, the voter-approved sales tax increase to help fund education, was cited as significant but it is not the "end game," Molera said.

Two other initiatives will be on the ballot in November of considerable importance.

They are Proposition 300, which is the state trust lands for education fund, and Proposition 202, which is the gaming proposition.

Indian tribes are pushing the gaming proposition to ensure they will be able to keep casinos on reservations.

The initiative, if approved, would raise about $60 million the first year with revenue for education escalating in future years, Molera said.

"Proceeds from the sale of trust lands will go into education under Proposition 300," Molera said.

"That comes to $1 billion now and about $60 million to $70 million per year in the future.

"That fund grew by $1 billion between 1912 and 2002.

Between 2000 and 2009 it will grow by another $1 billion."

Roughly 75 people attended Wednesday's session.

Molera said it was one of the better turnouts for a roundtable discussion.

He has held similar discussions this year in Tucson, Prescott, Yuma and Nogales and hopes to do so in Flagstaff.