Jun 262013

By Nick Worth
Science teachers in Navajo and Apache counties are going to be getting some help this fall.
On June 7, the Science Foundation Arizona (SFAz) unveiled the results of a study conducted among educators in Arizona’s 13 rural counties, which, according to the foundation, yielded “alarming” results.
According to the foundation’s press release, “The study exposes a desperate situation that requires attention to ensure an educated workforce pipeline is built. Arizona’s prosperity and competitiveness depends on its future generation.”
As a result of the study, SFAz announced it would donate $15 million to schools in Arizona’s 13 rural counties, including Navajo and Apache counties, over the next three years.
The foundation identified “short term, stopgap actions to provide teachers the tools they need to improve academic achievement and develop the skills to implement Arizona’s Common Core Standards and Next Generation Science Standards,” including:
* Basic supplies and equipment to teachers and classrooms.
* Professional development for teachers to further enhance their hands-on and interactive classroom skills.
* Common planning time allowing teachers to share their curriculums and coordinate lessons.
* After-school programs with a focus on science, mathematics and robotics.
Thirty-one percent of superintendents, teachers and principals in the 13 targeted counties answered the foundation survey. The initial focus of the funding will be Navajo and Apache counties, but all the counties in the study will get some funding.
“Educators are desperate for tools necessary to improve academic outcomes,” SFAz Chief Operation Officer Margaret Mullen said. “While external funding cannot be a sustainable solution, it will give teachers necessary supplies and equipment while Arizona recovers from the economic downturn.”
In addition to providing some much-needed funding, SFAz will also hire a full-time field staff representative to assist educators in teaching science and math in Apache and Navajo counties.
SFAz also plans to give every full-time K-12 teacher in Navajo and Apache counties a gift card for school supplies.
The gift cards come with a stipulation, however. According to the press release, they are available “provided school superintendents and principals set aside weekly planning time focusing on science and math to prepare for the state-adopted Common Core Standards.”
SFAz will also accept proposals from schools in all 13 of the rural counties for needed equipment, teacher professional development, and after-school science, math and robotic clubs.
Foundation officials hope that this grant will serve as a call to action, and that more corporations, trusts, foundations and philanthropists will make donations to education in the science, math and robotics areas.
Navajo County Superintendent of Schools Linda Morrow said she first learned of the funding through an article in The Arizona Republic. She has not yet been approached by SFAz and has no idea how much funding will be available to Navajo County schools in the project.
Morrow said when she called SFAz to find out more about the funding, she was unable to get any details. She said she was told there would be a meeting in Navajo County this fall with all the school superintendents.
“However, it does appear that this is more STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) oriented than Common Core,” Morrow said. “STEM is a huge nationwide push at this time, as we have so many jobs in these areas that go unfilled each year, or are filled by job applicants from other countries who have better qualifications than our own young people.”
Morrow also said increased awareness in these areas of education is important to everyone, as is increased funding through grants and scholarships.
“Our rural area schools have a very difficult time filling classroom job openings with highly qualified math and science teachers,” Morrow said. “Anything we can do to provide support to schools in these areas is a boon.”