ASU unites districts with native educators
Arizona Republic
Jan. 30, 2008

Steve Des Georges

Editor's note: This article was submitted by Steve Des Georges, director of public relations and marketing, ASU West. Send your education news to

Seventeen members of the Navajo Nation have received degrees from Arizona State University's College of Teacher Education and Leadership and are returning to their communities in the Four Corners region of Arizona to teach in schools on the reservation.

The grads are products of the college's Professional Development School (PDS) program, directed by Scott Ridley.

Designed to increase teacher-retention rates and student-achievement scores, the PDS program boasts partnerships with seven underserved school districts in Arizona, including the Chinle Unified School District on the Navajo Reservation.

The Arizona Teacher's Excellence Plan (AzTEP), funded through the office of Gov. Janet Napolitano and the Arizona K-12 Center, share in supporting teacher-recruitment and -retention efforts through ASU's PDS program.

"We take great pride in being embedded in the Navajo community where these students took their classes and worked in schools," said Mari Koerner, dean of the ASU West campus college. "Their graduation means there are 17 teachers, fully certified, who will be teachers in the schools in and around Chinle."

Ridley, assistant dean and an associate professor in elementary education, says the program embraces the diversity of the districts it serves, pointing to PDS student demographics that include 34 percent Hispanic students, 33 percent Native American, 32 percent White and 1 percent "other."

Seventy percent of PDS students are first-generation students.

"The strength of our program, and the benefit to our students, is what we learn from the teachers and what we provide back, based on their input, to address their in-class challenges. We are taking the time and putting a priority on learning more about the social and cultural elements that make up this community," he says.

Delia Saenz, ASU's vice provost for undergraduate education, says the enthusiasm and success of the Native American graduates can be directly attributed to the college effort.

"I am taken aback by the success of the programming in the college," Saenz said. "The size of this cohort reflects the potential that ASU has for producing graduates who will have a significant impact on society."

The 17 Native American teacher-ed graduates are among 30 who received diplomas from the four ASU colleges at ASU West.

Koerner says the number will grow in the education college as the PDS program continues its outreach and the extra steps necessary for such success.

She has been working in four rural sites, referring to school districts in Chinle, Indian Oasis-Baboquivari (Tohono O'odham Nation), Gadsden and Douglas.

"We work with community colleges and schools to recruit, admit and provide classes for these students. We have hired a full-time coordinator from the community to work with our students in these districts," she said.

"We send an adviser to help them enroll for classes. A university supervisor works with the students during student teaching and lives on the reservation one week each month for the past semester."

Koerner also points with pride to the access her college provides students to teaching opportunities and the faculty commitment to take responsibility for the individual to be successful by offering support all the way through course completion.

"These graduates are role models for their colleagues," Koerner said.

"They will continue to work in community schools where they will serve a typically underserved population."