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Tue, Feb. 18

Prescott teachers have passion but need pay
School leaders fear losing their best

Prescott High School first-year chemistry teacher Todd Harris Jr. talks with instructional coach Alvina Green.
Photo by Nanci Hutson.

Prescott High School first-year chemistry teacher Todd Harris Jr. talks with instructional coach Alvina Green.

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Abia Judd Elementary School Principal Clark Tenney talks with second-grade student Ellie Normandy about her math sheet.

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Abia Judd second-grade teacher Janet Robertson, who has been at the school since its opening in 1988 stands with her new second-grade colleague, Christina Tymchak, who is a second-year teacher who came to Prescott this year.

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Abia Judd Elementary School second-grade teacher Christina Tymchak works with a group of students at her desk.

Passion versus pay.

For many Prescott teachers, new and veteran, a passion for their pupils supersedes pay in the equation of whether they commit to an educational career in this community.

“It’s a passion. It’s not a job,” said Abia Judd Elementary School second-grade teacher Jane Robertson, the 2004 Arizona Teacher of the Year who has been with the school since it opened in 1988. “You have to feel this is your place in the world.”

Now that doesn’t mean salary doesn’t matter.

Prescott Unified School District’s teacher salary range is between $31,800 and $40,200. Added to that salary compensation is close to another $5,000 from the state Proposition 301 sales tax initiative. The national average for elementary school teachers is $44,861 and secondary school is $47,092.

Robertson and other teachers and administrators will say that if this district, and this state, wants to recruit and retain the best of the best they must pay a salary such that these passionate people can afford to pay their bills.

“We don’t want teachers to have to work second jobs and summers so they can have a decent living,” Robertson said.

The truth is educators need to be looked at by its citizenry as high-caliber professionals worthy of salaries that speak to the importance of the work they do, Robertson said.

“We are responsible for educating the next generation of doctors, lawyers, and presidents.”

One of Robertson’s colleagues, third-grade teacher Hayley Kile, one of 21 teachers who are new to the district this year — five are new to the profession — does not deny that finances are a consideration. The paycheck, though, will never be compensation for the soul enrichment she gets from knowing she sends her students home every day knowing “they’ve been loved a little bit.”

Prescott High School first-year chemistry teacher Todd Harris Jr. said his biggest incentive is not his pay slip, but rather the relationship he has been able to build with students.

“They are very easy-going, respectful and hard-working,” said Harris of his classroom students and the boys he coaches as the junior varsity basketball coach.

Harris, Robertson and others also said they cannot put a price tag on the district’s allegiance to them. They said they are constantly offered support and creative inspiration, be it weekly professional development opportunities or the chance to try out the latest educational technology. The district has invested in five instructional coaches who work hand-in-hand with new teachers to help assure their success, be it assisting with a new curriculum or classroom management.

“What I learned was that it was a privilege to educate kids. It was one of the most exciting jobs you can have. Every day a teacher impacts a student’s life,” said Kelli Bradstreet, a 30-year district veteran who is the director of professional development and instructional coaches.

So Bradstreet strives to fuel the passion of district teachers by offering them whatever they need to become best at their craft. She and her fellow administrators also do all they can to let teachers know they are valued and appreciated.

On Feb. 17, the district will host its second annual “Excellence in Teaching” award ceremony.

A champion for higher salaries, district Superintendent Joe Howard is continually pushing to make an educational career here more financially lucrative. Beyond that, however, he wants to feed the passion that is the backbone of Prescott’s educational success by fostering a “culture” that honors educators and offers them the chance to become leaders.

“A lot of us go into the profession because of the art of teaching … so we strive to give teachers the tools to be successful,” Howard said.

In his more than two decades as an educator, Abia Judd Elementary Principal Clark Tenney said he has seen a number of colleagues passionate about teaching and students leave the profession because they “literally could not afford to raise their families on the money they were being paid.”

His hope is that passion and pay can somehow be balanced so Prescott continues to attract the “superstars” he has been fortunate to introduce to his school community

“These are people who love Prescott kids and so are committed to being here long term even though the pay is not great,” he concluded.

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