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College of Teacher Education sets bar high


January 15, 2008

Last summer, Mari Koerner, dean of ASU’s College of Teacher Education and Leadership, called staff together to determine how best to describe the college and how its faculty and students were impacting the Valley community, the state of Arizona and beyond.

“Making a Difference” was the runaway winner, because, as Koerner notes, “Everything we do is measured by the difference we and our programs make in the lives of others and how we prepare tomorrow’s great teachers.”

If the West campus college’s graduating class of December is a measuring stick, Koerner and Co. are indeed making a difference when it comes to graduating tomorrow’s Native American teachers, as 17 members of the Navajo Nation received degrees after successfully participating in the award-winning Professional Development School (PDS) program directed by Scott Ridley. Designed to increase teacher retention rates and student achievement scores, the PDS program serves seven underserved school districts in Arizona, including the Chinle Unified School District on the Navajo Nation in the northeast corner of the state, and has won local and national awards for its dramatic results.

The Arizona Teacher Excellence Program (AZTEP), funded through the Office of Gov. Janet Napolitano, and the Arizona K-12 Center, share in supporting teacher recruitment and retention efforts through PDS.

“We take great pride in being embedded in the Navajo community where these students took their classes and worked in schools,” says Koerner of the largest school district in the Navajo Nation (seven schools, more than 4,000 students, including Chinle High School, the largest primarily Native American public high school in the United States). “Their graduation from ASU means there are 17 teachers, fully certified, who will be teachers in the schools in and around Chinle.”

Ridley, assistant dean and an associate professor in elementary education, notes that the PDS program embraces the diversity of the districts it serves, pointing to PDS student demographics that include 34 percent Hispanic, 33 percent Native American, 32 percent Anglo and 1 percent “other.” Seventy percent of PDS students are first-generation students.

“Our program coordinators work closely and meet monthly with district educators to identify social and cultural issues that impact a student’s approach to learning,” he says. “The strength of our program – and the benefit to our students – is what we learn from the teachers and what we provide back, based on their input, to address their in-class challenges. We are taking the time and putting a priority on learning more about the social and cultural elements that make up this community.”

Delia Saenz, ASU’s vice provost for undergraduate education, says the enthusiasm and success of the Native American graduates can be directly attributed to the college effort.

“I am in awe of this cohort of Native American graduates,” she says. “I am not surprised that they have gotten to the point of graduation, but I am taken aback by the success of the programming in the college. Their passion and efforts have paid off in many ways, and the size of this cohort reflects the potential that ASU has for producing graduates who will have a significant impact on society.”

The 17 Native American teacher ed graduates are among 30 who received diplomas from the four ASU colleges at the West campus. Koerner says the number will grow in her college as the PDS program continues its outreach and the extra steps necessary for such success.

“We have been working in four rural sites,” she says, referring to school districts in Chinle, Indian Oasis-Baboquivari (Tohono O’odham Nation), Gadsden and Douglas. “We work with community colleges and schools to recruit, admit and provide classes for these students. We have hired a full-time coordinator from the community to work with our students in these districts. We send an adviser to help them enroll for classes. A university supervisor worked with the students during student teaching who lived on the reservation one week each month for the past semester.

“We not only provide ways for all students to access a college education; we at the College of Teacher Education and Leadership take responsibility for the individual to be successful by offering support all the way through course completion. We are no strangers to these sites or to these students.”

Ridley says more such graduates are on their way soon. With 17 of the original 25 student-teachers graduated from the Chinle PDS program, eight will graduate as early as this spring semester. Twenty new students have registered for this month’s Chinle cohort, while five Tohono O’odham students are scheduled to begin this fall at schools in the Indian Oasis-Baboquivari district.

“These graduates are role models for their colleagues,” Koerner says. “They will continue to work in community schools where they will serve a typically underserved population. We are fortunate to tap the potential already existing in the community with people who are from and will stay in the community. We have prepared excellent teachers for the Chinle district.”

Saenz agrees and adds a benefit that could come back to ASU.

“The graduates will bring their talents to these communities, and they will serve as role models for the children whose lives they touch,” she notes. “ASU will clearly benefit from facilitating the aspirations of these young people in that they will be ambassadors for our institution and, hopefully, serve as a conduit for channeling future students in our direction.

“Their presence will be a constant reminder that dreams are possible and that a focus on personal development and growth is an investment in one’s self and in one’s community.”