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ASU steps up to improve public schools

July 21, 2006

Convinced that ASU had to take a stronger role in improving Arizona's public schools, ASU President Michael Crow stepped up to the plate three years ago. He created the office of University-School Partnerships, to bring the full weight of ASU's resources into schools where the need is greatest.

Eugene Garcia, then the dean of the College of Education, became his designated hitter. As Crow's appointed vice president for university-school partnerships, Garcia took his expertise on the road, meeting with public and private-sector partners throughout the state to offer them ASU's full support in enhancing students' academic achievement.

Garcia drew on the deep-bench talent of ASU faculty, leveraging already-existing research centers and outreach programs to make the greatest impact. He met with community leaders, schoolteachers and administrators, urging them to join the university's efforts. Early results show the endeavor is making a difference.

Here are some examples:

• In January 2004, ASU launched the ALPHA partnership, which includes 26 schools in eight high-need districts. Since then, 13 of the schools improved their status from “Performing” in 2003-04 to “Performing Plus” in 2004-05. Four schools that were “Underperforming” in 2002-03 improved to “Performing” in 2003-04 and “Performing Plus” in 2004-05. Two more partnerships with other districts are under way, with a goal of 10 in the next five years.

• ASU has increased the number of student teachers in ALPHA districts more than 100 percent, by awarding scholarships and asking the districts to provide mentors. Numbers climbed from about 55 in 2002-03 to 125 in 2005-06. Most of the student teachers have been hired by these underserved districts, and are eligible to receive additional funding from Americorps.

• In the ALPHA districts, 20 teachers will complete work in December on their master's degrees in educational administration with a principal's certificate. Also, master's and doctoral programs for teachers and principals on the Navajo reservation are producing a group of leaders who can take charge of their schools.

• An “Early Learner” program for children ages 4 to 7 is under way in nine schools in the Phoenix Elementary, Murphy and Cartwright districts, in which students meet daily with teachers to overcome learning gaps and increase their ability to read by third grade. Their SAT9 math and reading scores have improved significantly. In the “Leaps and Bounds” program in the Isaac Elementary District, parents of children ages 3-5 are discovering learning activities they can use at home to prepare children for school.

• This summer, for the first time, ASU is providing $18,000 in scholarships to 78 middle-school students from the Fowler District to attend campus summer enrichment programs. They are taking everything from physics and algebra to art, piano, guitar and drums. Several will live at Barrett Honors College and take classes for three weeks in the Barrett Summer Scholars program.

In addition, ASU has increased the number of teachers it graduates by 50 percent, from roughly 1,000 per year in 2002 to almost 1,500 in 2005. Garcia coordinated the efforts of all of ASU's colleges to increase the number of science and engineering graduates who are getting teaching certification.

“Helping enhance the state's public schools is one of the most important social responsibilities of the university, and producing more and better teachers is a universitywide responsibility,” Crow says. “The entire university must be part of the solutions that ensure success for the state's public education system. I am convinced that ASU must take a much stronger, more visible role in the critically important agenda of making the system as strong as possible.”

The university aims to improve pre-K-12 students' academic performance by supporting early childhood education, helping teachers to ensure that high-quality teaching is the norm, preparing and supporting education leaders, and shoring up students and their families.

To further these goals, ASU held a Principals' Leadership Institute June 26-29 at the Downtown Phoenix campus. Also in June, the university held a three-day training on best practices in teaching English Language Learners for 25 teachers in Isaac District.

In addition, ASU co-sponsors a mentoring program in six Phoenix elementary schools to train coaches for novice teachers who have high numbers of English Language Learners.

On July 1, Eugene Garcia relinquished his dual role as education dean to devote his full time to the position of vice president for education partnerships, the next step in the evolution of ASU's efforts to boost public education. The pace is expected to quicken, with the university offering more direct involvement in schools throughout the state.