Hello, Northern Arizona! I hope everyone is enjoying their fall! This month, I want to talk about how we talk about education. The Red for Ed movement last year made teacher pay a priority in Arizona, though it still remains one of the lowest in the country. In my meetings with those who work in our schools – teachers, but also counselors, aides, specialists – I’ve seen that the issues in our schools go far beyond teachers. Schools are an entire community within our communities, one where everyone works together to help our children grow and learn.
Investment in education begins early in childhood. Quality pre-K is out of reach for far too many families. That’s why cities around the state (including Flagstaff) are spearheading initiatives to increase access to quality pre-K.
K-12 schools need well-paid teachers, but did you know that 25% of a student’s success relies on having an effective principal? For this reason, the City of Flagstaff and my office are partnering with a wide variety of institutions to invest in FUSD’s principals and their professional development.
When evaluating education, we look at several key indicators, one of which is third grade reading levels. Across Northern Arizona, the majority of our kids are not reading at grade level when they leave third grade. LAUNCH Flagstaff is coordinating efforts to implement a coordinated strategy to improve literacy with a focus on early childhood literacy programs.
These are all promising initiatives but there is so much more to be done. One of the most distressing facts about Arizona schools is that we have both the largest ratio of counselors to students and the highest number of foster kids. Children need support and guidance to succeed. School counselors along with families, teachers and the broader community create an environment where kids can focus on their studies.
Aides and specialists are often not considered teachers, but do vitally important work. Speech therapists, special education experts and countless others make sure that all our kids have the opportunity and the support they need to succeed. These professionals also deserve fair compensation and should be included in debates over teacher pay.
Finally, studies from the Center for the Future of Arizona show us that the majority of young adults will need some sort of additional training after high school, whether that means trade school, community college, a four-year degree, an apprenticeship or the military. Increasing access to post-secondary training and education would help not only our young adults, but entire economies. Yavapai Community College has been instrumental in helping to build the wine industry in the Verde Valley, bringing in millions in investment and industry to a largely rural area. Investing in community colleges throughout the state could support economies that don’t have the advantage of a large metropolitan area or a research university.
I have always said that an institution’s budget reflects our values. It’s one of the reasons I am so proud of the initiatives we’ve undertaken locally
to support education, families, students and by extension, the entire local economy. Together, we can build the Arizona we want. FBN
By Coral Evans
Coral Evans is the mayor of Flagstaff.