Trusted local news leader for Kingman, Arizona & Mohave County
Sun, Feb. 23

Arizona faces teacher shortage as growth, retirements collide

PHOENIX (AP) ­ School districts in Arizona face what amounts to a perfect storm: the collision between growth and high retirement rates mean they're up against a looming teacher shortage.

As a result, some districts are scrambling to recruit new graduates, inking them to long-term contracts before they even receive their college diplomas.

Many are recruiting from out of state, or even outside the U.S. And administrators still don't think it will be enough.

"We worry about it. We need to do more than worry about it," said Janice Ramirez, superintendent for human resources with Mesa Public Schools, the largest district in the state.

"In a couple of years, it's going to be a crisis."

Universities are trying to step up the number of education graduates. Arizona State University, for example, expects to graduate 1,500 teachers next June, up from 1,000 in 2002.

But with a national turnover rate among new teachers of about 50 percent in the first few years of teaching, those 1,500 new teachers will be whittled down to about 750 career instructors if Arizona follows the trend.

And that's just not enough to meet the state's need, education experts warn.

"I think we've got to increase by another 50 percent, quite honestly," said Eugene Garcia, dean of the ASU College of Education.

"It's not just about producing more. They've got to be in places where they're going to increase academic achievement and you've got to keep them there. If we just produce more and they just leave, that won't work."

An Arizona Republic survey of the five largest districts in the Phoenix region showed they would need more than 5,700 teachers over the next five years to replace those that retire or resign. Those districts ­ Mesa, Deer Valley, Gilbert, Paradise Valley and Peoria ­ teach just 20 percent of the state's 1 million public school students.

Another large batch of new teachers are going to be needed in the fast-growing parts of the metropolitan Phoenix and Tucson areas, where some districts are building two new schools a year. Pinal County administrators told ASU's Garcia earlier this year they'd need about 600 new teachers over the next few years. "I think that's actually a little low," Garcia said.

Rural districts are facing the same problems, with a harder recruiting job in front of them.

James Mosley, the superintendent in Gila Bend, said recruiting two new science teachers this year was extremely difficult. Located an hour southwest of Phoenix, it's not unusual for Mosley to hire teachers from across the country. This year, he hired a teacher from South America.

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