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Amphi Public Schools mentor program strives to retain new teache - KVOA | KVOA.com | Tucson, Arizona

Amphi Public Schools mentor program strives to retain new teachers

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Taylor Stender is a first-year second grade teacher at Nash Elementary in Tucson.

"I can't think back to a time when I didn't want to be a teacher,” Stender said.

Amphitheater Public Schools employs over 800 teachers.
For the past several years, the district’s has strived to keep teachers in the classroom through its mentorship program.

They’re officially titled Curriculum Instruction Support Specialists (CISS).

One of the mentors, Blanca Cunha, noted the importance of establishing a positive relationship with new teachers over a two-year period.

Stender admits starting out in the classroom wasn’t always easy.

"It was really overwhelming at first. I would be drowning without Blanca,” she said.

The mentors meet with first-year teachers once a week, helping them with a variety of tasks.

"We talk about strategies, we talk about things that are going well in the classroom, we talk about things that maybe need some fine tuning. It's important for us to be a part of this program so that we can help retain teachers,” Cunha said.

In 2015, Amphitheater Public Schools’ teacher retention rate was about 87 percent.

During the 2016-2017 period, 91 percent of teachers stayed. 

Blanca said whether it’s through statewide initiatives to efforts performed on the local level, addressing the teacher shortage through mentorships is vital.

But there are roadblocks, which include funding the program.

“There have been various funding sources in the past including Title II, Career Ladder, various grants, etc.; however, many of these funds are no longer available,” said Amy Sharpe, director of community relations for Amphitheater Public Schools.

This has resulted in a reduction of CISS members.

According to district officials, Amphitheater Public Schools currently has five full-time mentors, which is down from eight last year.

"As we've seen in years past, sometimes when teachers don't have that additional support, they don't know where to turn. Because of not having the support, they go to another position, they find another career,” Cunha said. 

School district officials are committed to seeking out avenues of funding for ensuring the mentor program continues.

“Amphitheater believes so strongly in the value of these positions and is committed to providing mentors so we continue to look for funding to maintain and increase this service to our teachers,” Sharpe said.

In the past, people have urged Stender to consider moving out of state to teach because of low-teacher salaries among other reasons.

But despite the data, she’s pressing on, very much looking forward to educating tomorrow’s leaders right here in Arizona.

"It can be a little bit discouraging but really what it made me want to do more than anything is stay here because I want to see our state rise.” 

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