School, bag, backpack.

Superintendent Kathy Hoffman and Arizona Department of Education gave $2.5 million to help support and mentor new teachers throughout the state, including Tolleson Elementary School District and Tolleson Union High School District.

This support comes from the Arizona K12 Center and its New Teacher Support Program.

This helps support new teachers by pairing them with mentors throughout their first three years of teaching. The goal is to increase teachers’ retention and effectiveness as an educator.

Hoffman said retention has been a long-standing issue for school districts, “not because we lack the talent but because too many exceptional teachers have burned out from overcrowded classrooms, noncompetitive pay and a lack of essential resources.”

On top of this issue, COVID-19 has completely changed the way schools function — and new and experienced teachers were left scrambling to find new methods of instruction and engagement. This struggle highlighted the need to provide support for new teachers even more.

Seeing how the past year has shaped education, the Arizona Department of Education took action to ensure a better environment for teachers and a more conducive learning experience for students.

“Some of the best investments we can make in solving our teacher shortage are in proven recruitment and retention strategies, like mentorship programs,” Hoffman said. “I’m pleased to partner with the Arizona K12 Center so it can expand capacity to more districts, including rural and remote districts.”

Studies have shown that teacher retention rates increase when they are met with collaboration and support. The Arizona K12 Center trains each of its mentors to do that. New teachers will receive support from a mentor who will be in the classroom with them for at least two hours a week.

Part of NAU, the Arizona K12 Center is already involved in many other schools and districts throughout the state, according to the center’s executive director, Kathy Wiebke. 

The $2.5 million in funding will help them expand their reach from seven districts to 22 schools, districts or departments.

“We are thrilled for this additional funding to expand the support we can provide for school districts throughout Arizona,” Wiebke said.

“This funding will more than double the impact of this program and allow us to reach some of Arizona’s most rural school districts. It is our vision that these new teachers will see themselves as effective and find the joy in teaching we all experienced.”

Funding to support the Arizona New Teacher Support Program comes from the Arizona Department of Education’s investment of federal relief and recovery dollars.