Kingman Unified works to meet new federal goal on teacher equality

Superintendent Roger Jacks

Superintendent Roger Jacks

KINGMAN - The impact of teacher inequity can make a big difference in how well students achieve success in their classrooms.

That message came across loud and clear to Kingman Unified School District Superintendent Roger Jacks recently during a U.S. Dept. of Education seminar in San Diego about the importance of all states providing the same quality of teachers for all students, especially poor and minority children. The seminar was provided by the Center on Great Teachers and Leaders in Washington, D.C.

The problem of teacher inequity has grown so much nationwide that on July 7, 2014, the U.S. Dept. of Education announced the Excellent Educators for All initiative to help states and school districts support great educators for the students who need them most. As part of the initiative, each state is required to submit a state plan by June to ensure equitable access to excellent educators.

The plan will describe how the state education agency will ensure that students from low-income families and students of color are not taught at higher rates than other students by inexperienced or unqualified teachers. Jacks, a member of the Arizona State Board of Education, attended the seminar to learn more about the initiative's progress.

"It's very complicated, and it all plays into the challenge of the academic achievement of students," said Jacks. "In Arizona, we feel we already have a jump on this because the data has been collected about teacher hiring and retention. We definitely see the need for attracting and keeping teachers, and it is getting a lot of attention here."

According to the seminar, inequities in teaching can come from the difficulties of hiring teachers in rural areas, hiring more new teachers than usual, hiring teachers at the last minute or after the school year begins, being forced to use long-term substitutes for classes that have no teachers, and high turnover rates among teachers. The inequities are magnified in districts with high poverty rates and an influx of minorities.

According to the Federal Education Budget Project, a non-partisan agency that produces independent research and analysis of federal education finance, the student census poverty rate in KUSD in 2012 was 26.2 percent of 7,089 students. A total of 63.2 percent of students were enrolled in free and reduced price lunches that year.

As of January, that number has grown, with 69.45 percent of the current 6,900 student population recipients of free or reduced lunches. A total of 4,269 get their food for free and 512 pay reduced prices for their meals.

In 2012, the district was composed of 2.8 percent English language learners and 14.6 percent in special education. The racial makeup of the district at that time was 74.2 percent white students, 0.9 percent African American students, 18.3 Hispanic students, 1.4 percent Asian students and 2.3 percent American Indian students in 2012.

The Arizona Board of Education released a detailed report on the statewide problem in January by its Educator Recruitment and Retention Task Force. It was written in response to rising concerns about the shortage of effective teachers and the high turnover rates of educators in Arizona schools and districts.

Teacher openings

According to the report, there were 60,588 teachers in Arizona schools in the 2013-14 school year. A total of 62 percent of the school districts responding to a statewide survey had more than 700 teacher openings in October 2014. That amount decreased to 42 percent by the middle of the school year.

During the same time, 938 open teaching positions were filled by substitute teachers, for a 29 percent increase in long-term substitutes from the previous school year. That number will grow, as 24 percent of the state's education workforce is eligible to retire in the next four years.

"Arizona students deserve highly effective teachers and leaders," the report noted. "Without immediate attention to ensure that all Arizona classrooms are guided by effective teachers, who are properly prepared, compensated and respected, our students will not meet their full potential."

According to the report, factors negatively impacting teacher hiring and retention in Arizona are low pay, lack of professional support, inadequate teaching materials, little community support and respect, and negative school climate. The report noted that 24 percent of first-year and 20 percent of second-year teachers left the profession in Arizona.

New teachers need ongoing, job-embedded professional development and mentoring support, according to the state board's report. And they need school climates that are encouraging, nurturing and supportive, not only from the students attending classes, but also from the administration and other teachers.

In Kingman, the problem of drawing and keeping qualified teachers is real and ongoing, said Jacks. Not only has the teacher pool shrunk, the number of students entering teacher colleges decreased and the applications to KUSD dwindled, but those who do come here from other states stay for a few years and then return home to their families.

Home grown

Jacks said he was told at the federal seminar that the district's best bet is to cultivate teachers from the area who will want to stay here. The district is planning to recruit locally this year - within a day's drive - by visiting colleges in Colorado and other neighboring states.

Chris Nutt, director of human resources for KUSD, said the district has worked diligently to provide professional, financial and emotional support to the 375 teachers employed there, as well as attract more qualified teachers. They are being wooed with a variety of incentives, including relocation assistance, airport pickups and mentoring partnerships with experienced teachers.

The district also pursues federal and state grants designated for professional development that allow teachers to receive recertification credits. And while money isn't everything, it gives raises as often as possible to sweeten the deal.

The KUSD Governing Board agreed in April to give a 1 percent increase worth $350,000 to staff. They have received annual stipends since about 2008, and were given a tiered raise last year. Those with longevity received a 2.5 to 3 percent raise, while short-timers got a 1 percent raise.

"We do try to recognize the critical need areas, and we need to continue that push," said Nutt. "We've never sat down to see what the correlation is between the quality of teachers and student achievement, but it makes perfect sense that it would be important."

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