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College earns second straight 'Best of the West' award

October 31, 2008

For the second straight year, Arizona State University’s College of Teacher Education and Leadership has won “Best of the West” honors from the Western Maricopa Coalition (WESTMARC).  The college was recognized for its Project ASPIRE, a program aimed at recent college graduates and second-career professionals that provides a pathway to become a special education teacher.

The award was presented at the 16th annual WESTMARC Best of the West Awards Ceremony October 30 at the Renaissance Glendale Hotel and Spa and was accepted by Mari Koerner, dean of the West campus teacher education college.

“This is such a wonderful honor, because it recognizes the importance of education and working with our most precious asset, our children,” says Koerner, whose college took Best of the West honors last year for its master’s program that features Teach For America students earning hands-on, in-classroom experience in Valley schools.  “This recognition goes to our outstanding students who have embedded themselves in classrooms across the community and have reached out to our many partner schools districts to teach and learn as they pursue a career in education.”

The program and its partnership with the Avondale Elementary School District was recognized by WESTMARC for “helping to match teachers with hard-to-fill special education positions,” adding, “Ultimately, the group that benefits the most are the special-needs kids who receive quality, caring instruction for highly skilled, dedicated teachers.”

Project ASPIRE is a five-year, $3.19-million grant awarded by the U.S. Department of Education to train highly qualified teachers for high-need subject areas in high-need student populations.  In addition to the Avondale district, ASPIRE works in partnership with a Phoenix urban school district and four rural Arizona districts.

“Providing a high-quality teacher for a child with special needs can make the difference between a lifetime of independence and a lifetime of dependency,” says Kathleen Puckett, associate professor of special education, who authored the original program grant request.  “Teacher training programs by themselves cannot provide special education teachers with the necessary preparation and support.  Effective special education training must include partnerships with school districts that embrace professional development of the beginner, the novice, and the seasoned professional educator.

“Our partnership with the Avondale Elementary School District is a wonderful example of how our students are making such a difference in the lives of their students.”

Justan Rice, an ASPIRE student teacher in the Avondale district, says the program and the college are deserving of even greater recognition.

“This is a truly unique and impactful program that should serve as a standard throughout teacher education and teacher preparation coursework,” says the Surprise student.

“Project ASPIRE offers its participants the unique opportunity to experience special education in a full immersion setting.  It’s like learning a foreign language – when a learner is able to apply newly acquired knowledge immediately following a lesson, the lesson is reinforced and the knowledge translated into real-life applications.

“By welcoming ASPIRE students into their classrooms and entrusting us with their students, the Avondale Elementary School District has sent a heartfelt message that reads, ‘We believe in you.’”

The Best of the West honor is the sixth such award that programs at ASU’s West campus have earned over the past seven years.  In addition to education programs, others receiving recognition during that span have included cultural offerings, student services, community outreach, and art workshops.

WESTMARC was founded in 1990 to promote a positive image for western Maricopa County and to advocate on its behalf.  WESTMARC promotes public policies leading to responsible growth, a positive quality of life, a healthy environment, strong community development, and a favorable public image.