Arizona is facing a significant teacher shortage, according to Expect More Arizona, with more than 2,000 unfilled positions in the past academic year alone. Local business leaders say the lack of teachers is having a detrimental impact in local classrooms and, thus, the workforce.
“In the Flagstaff region, we all want a diverse economy and diversity among thriving industries. After all, that will benefit all of our residents,” said Mike Thomas, vice president of operations with Kinney Construction Services, Inc. “The impact that teachers have on that vision can’t be overestimated. We need great teachers to help create a strong workforce, which is vital to attracting new business to the area and to supporting existing businesses.”
Expect More Arizona, a statewide non-profit organization, along with LAUNCH Flagstaff and Tucson Values Teachers, presented the documentary, “Teaching in Arizona” recently at Flagstaff Medical Center. The film tells the stories of three public school teachers and offers a number of reasons why teachers leave the classroom, including pay, working conditions and a perceived lack of respect and public support. It also explores opportunities for improving the profession, teacher recruitment and retention.
“Education is a community endeavor,” said Thomas, who served in a panel discussion following the documentary. “It should be a partnership among a variety of entities, including local businesses. Company executives should ask themselves, ‘What can we do?’”
Thomas believes businesses can help by supporting existing programs and partnerships that strengthen education, such as the United Way. He cited the Scientists in the Classroom Program at Sinagua Middle School, in which he participates, as “a great way to get kids excited about learning and about potential career pathways.”
United Way of Northern Arizona President Steve Peru moderated the panel, which included Patti Pastor, M.Ed, who leads the Flagstaff High School Culinary & CTE Department, and Killip School Principal Joe Gutierrez.
“If we want to be known as a state and a community that supports education, then we need to make some changes to our system to portray that image,” Thomas said. “I believe funding is one piece of that equation, but it needs to be bolstered by a good support structure for the teachers and faculty.”
Thomas currently serves as a board member for Flagstaff STEM City and The Pantry. He and his wife have two school-aged children. FBN
By Bonnie Stevens, FBN
Photo caption: More than 100 people attended the public presentation, which included a showing of the documentary “Teaching in Arizona,” and a panel discussion.