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Athena award spotlights Teachers College's director

Andrea Stouder Pursley
November 07, 2011

The director of an Arizona State University initiative designed to attract, prepare and retain outstanding individuals in the teaching profession has been selected as a 2011 Athena Businesswoman of the Year award recipient. Andrea Stouder Pursley was recognized by the Phoenix Chamber of Commerce, which chose her for the Athena Young Professional Award.

Since May 2010, Pursley has served as executive director of the Sanford Education Project in ASU’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. Funded by an $18.85 million investment from entrepreneur and philanthropist T. Denny Sanford, the project is working to combine the best qualities of the teacher preparation program in Teachers College with best practices from Teach For America.

Pursley began her career as an educator through Teach For America at Roosevelt Elementary School District in Phoenix, where she taught sixth grade for three years and also served as sixth grade department chair and district policy representative. She then held three positions with Teach For America, taking on greater responsibilities with each move. Before coming to ASU, Pursley was a TFA vice president of regional operations.

“Leadership, I think, is less about abilities and more about focused determination,” Pursley told the 800 attendees at the 24th annual Athena Awards luncheon, Oct. 25, at the Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix. “For me, that determination is to play a role in building an Arizona education system in which every single child is given the opportunity to maximize his or her potential. I believe that this is possible not abstractly, but within our lifetimes, if we can muster the political will and fortitude to make our choices on behalf of the next generation of young people – regardless of their ZIP codes, the color of their skin, or the level of education attained by their parents.”

Under Pursley’s leadership the Sanford Education Project designed, in collaboration with ASU faculty, a senior-year course delivered at the school site where teacher candidates are participating in their student teaching. The course integrates the ‘Teaching As Leadership’ framework for effective teaching, which is built on both research from the broader field of education and specific studies over 20 years focusing on TFA’s most successful teachers.

This newly redesigned student teaching course is integrated into Teachers College’s new iTeachAZ model, a radical redesign of the teacher preparation program. Teacher candidates devote more time to learning academic content prior to their student teaching experience, which has expanded from the traditional one-semester model to a full year featuring significant teamwork with fellow students, mentor teachers and ASU supervisors.

“Teacher candidates in iTeachAZ learn how to set a vision and goals for student learning, help students feel invested in these goals, and work relentlessly to achieve those goals,” Pursley said. “By the time they graduate, teacher candidates will have already positively impacted student learning, and they will have practiced the long-term and short-term planning and execution skills necessary to achieve big goals.”

“ASU is fortunate to have attracted someone with Andrea’s skill set, energy and determination to lead the Sanford Education Project,” said Mari Koerner, dean of Teachers College. “Research has repeatedly shown that having an effective teacher in the classroom is the single most important factor impacting student achievement. We are determined to prepare outstanding teachers for classrooms across Arizona, and the work of Andrea and the Sanford Education Project is crucial to this ongoing effort.”

More information about the Sanford Education Project may be found at