New dean to shake up Ariz. education
BY KIRSTEN SEARER
EAST VALLEY TRIBUNE OCTOBER 21, 2002
Eugene Garcia knows that a teacher
can turn a life around. Someone did it for him.
"I was poor, I didn't speak English very well," he said of his high school
years. "The prospects for
me were pretty negative."
In ninth grade, when he was trying to slouch through school, one of his teachers
wouldn't stand for
it. She assigned him books by challenging Spanish authors. She went into cahoots
baseball coach. Soon others were hounding him about his grades.
Now Garcia, one of 10 children of migrant parents, is the new dean of Arizona
College of Education. And he hopes to help turn out teachers who will be equally
as inspiring to
He's taking over a controversial education college in a state where schools are
underfunded and test scores are often deemed substandard.
But Garcia, whom Hispanic Business magazine named in October as one of its 100
Influential Hispanics, said he's ready to make some changes, maybe even shake up
the kind of
mentalities that colleges of education have held for decades.
"We want all kids to learn," he said. "Quite honestly, 30 years ago it was OK if
some kids didn't
First, he wants to get teachers more practical experience in college so they can
hone their skills
and ensure they really want to commit themselves to the profession. He said he's
a big believer in
"learning while doing," and he wants students learning in the classroom as soon
And he wants to prepare future teachers for today's classrooms, which are
sprinkled with more
diversity and different socioeconomic situations.
"The colleges of education have been preparing teachers to meet the demands of a
does not really exist in schools," he said. "If you're trying to give
middle-class kids to our teachers,
they do very well. They may not be prepared to teach kids who are immigrants,
poor or who come
from a home that might be in disarray."
Also, Garcia wants to partner with school districts so teachers continue to
learn even after they've
taken the helm of a classroom. That's one reason why ASU wanted Garcia, said
Milton Glick, ASU's
executive vice president and provost, who helped recruit Garcia.
"The long-term future of the public schools in Arizona - or any place else -
requires an extensive
collaboration between the state, the local school districts, the parents, the
business community and, most importantly, the teachers of the public schools,"
"There's not one sector of the society that can improve the schools."
Even as he makes changes, Garcia will battle perceptions that ASU's education
school gives future
teachers more theory than experience, turning out teachers who understand
volumes of books
about education - but don't know what to do once they're standing in front of
"I hear repeatedly from some large districts talk of having to spend two weeks
training new college
graduates (before the school year starts)," said Mary Gifford, an education
reform expert and critic
of the college. "To me that's ridiculous. If I graduate from a school of
engineering, I'm expected to
jump right in."
There's also a perception that ASU is "horribly liberal" and full of professors
who have spent their
careers in research instead of in classrooms, Gifford said.
Garcia, who spent two years as a preschool teacher, defended his faculty's
experience. About half
of the professors are former teachers, he said.
And most of the rest, he said, have "either been a teacher or engaged with
teachers in research."
As dean of the school, he'll have to get used to some criticism. Arizona's eye
is on education,
especially after 227 schools took a hit last week when the state labeled them
meaning they did not meet state performance goals in the past three years and
did not show
progress toward improvement.
Garcia said the labels will be "not particularly useful" unless something is
done to help those
schools. But he said he realizes that the pressure is on Arizona's teachers.
"Teachers are a major player in a kid's future," he said. "Computers are
important. Curriculum (is)
important. But a teacher essentially makes or breaks a place."
Education: Bachelor of arts degree, University of Utah; doctorate, University of
postdoctorate work with Harvard University, National Research Council, Kellog
Languages: Spanish, English, German
Areas of specialization: Human development education, psycholinguistics,
Previous employment: Professor and/or chairman at: University of Utah,
University of California,
Santa Barbara, Arizona State University and University of California, Santa
Cruz; director and senior
officer of the U.S. Department of Education, 1993-95; dean, Graduate School of
University of California, Berkeley, 1995-2001.
Grants: 23 research grants throughout career totaling $12.7 million.
Publications: 17 published books, with one on the way. Forty-two articles
published in professional
- Tribune writer Kirsten Searer can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.
or by calling (480)