Arizona Teachers Academy encourage instructors to stay in public schools

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A new initiative launched by Gov. Doug Ducey last year incentivizes teachers to stay in Arizona by waiving tuition fees for instructors who work in on of the state’s public schools.

Alicia Szymonik is a government teacher at Agua Fria High School and a candidate for the Arizona Teachers Academy. As a single mom and someone who is passionate about her career, Alicia says the program has helped her do the work she wants to do without the worry of student loan debt hanging over her head.

“The ATA approach of entrepreneurship is that you’re problem-solving for yourself,” Szymonik says. “You’re identifying areas where your team needs improvement.”

ATA Program Manager Cindy Ballantyne believes the academy will continue to provide teachers with leadership skills and tools. If the academy is successful in the way Ducey hopes it will be, says, Ballantyne, then the teachers will be inspired to stay in the state and help build a positive educational environment.

For more information on the academy, visit Ducey’s Office of Education website.

Ted Simons: A new survey indicated nearly 74% of Arizona schools report a shortage of classrooms with over 1300 teaching vacancies sitting vacant around the state. Arizona's public universities and community colleges teamed up to address the issue through the Arizona teacher’s academy. It started back in August but the producer and photographer Rob McJannet caught up with one academy teacher who said she is already seeing results from her training.

Reporter: For teachers, Alicia Szymonik there are a lot of parallels in her lessons and her life. Sometimes it takes a lot of steps to get to the final goal. Szymonik spent years trying different careers, different paths even different classrooms until she landed here teaching government to seniors at Agua Fria High school.

Alicia Szymonik: They have a lot of things to say. For me it is exciting when I give them a voice in the classroom and I know what is going on with them. I love it when we can connect and have fun and, you know, so for me that is what it is all about.

Reporter: As a student teacher, Szymonik instructs under the watchful eye of a more experienced teacher. It’s the kind of support new teachers really embrace. She is part of the Arizona teacher’s academy or ATA a program that aims to get more teachers like her into public schools and make sure they have to the tools to stay here

Alicia Szymonik: When they contacted me with the opportunity to apply I thought I will try it. I really liked what the initiative said as far as the goals for the candidates and the training that would be involved in it.

Reporter: There is a financial incentive as well. Free tuition as long as she agrees to teach in Arizona public schools.

Alicia Szymonik: I am a single mother and the tuition forgiveness is a big deal for me; you know? Even though I may qualify for some loan forgiveness with other kinds of federal programs that is not always a guarantee.

Reporter: Cindy valentine is the program manager of the Arizona teaching academic for ASU and knows that more than one third of Arizona teachers have been in the classroom for less than four years. She understands many leave out of frustration before they ever get the hang of teaching. So in their monthly work shop the ATA covers more than teaching tips. They want academy graduates to become change-makers in -- in their schools.

Cindy Ballantyne: I am hoping that what we’re doing can provide them with a leadership, tools and skills that they can start making those changes and want to stay in the classroom.

Reporter: Szymonik in particular likes the sense of empowerment she gets at the ATA.

Alicia Szymonik: The ATA approach of entrepreneurship is that you are problem solving for yourself. You are identifying areas where your team needs improvement and you develop a strategy. So you are owning it.

Reporter: Szymonik is part of the first class of 80 Arizona teacher academy students from ASU, U of a, and NAU also have academies. Each looking at different pathways to the teaching profession. The student of course have their own ideas about what makes a good teacher.

Jacqueline Hernandez: In my mind a good teacher is a teacher that likes to interact with her students.

Interview: Someone you can talk to on a teacher level or a friend level cause you have that like connection.

Reporter: Miss S, as they call her fits the bill.

Alicia Szymonik: Remember the homework is due today.

Reporter: A teacher who cares not only about the subject matter but also about them.

Alicia Szymonik: I love the way that they think. I really understand where they are coming from. They are just so awesome. They have got really great ideas.

Alicia Szymonik: Teacher candidate, Arizona Teachers Academy
Cindy Ballantyne: Program Manager, Arizona Teachers Academy

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