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New teachers struggle with certification process

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The Tutor Club in Catalina Foothills provides a location for students of all ages to get math help.

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New-to-Arizona teachers can be taken aback if they’re expecting a seamless transition when transferring their licenses to start a new professional chapter here.

There’s a lot to it, explains Stephanie Griffin, human resources director for Catalina Foothills School District. For example:

Arizona teachers need additional classroom training in Structured English Immersion, along with college coursework in both the U.S. and Arizona constitutions. And they need an Arizona fingerprint clearance, which costs $67 just for the card— plus the charge to actually have the prints taken. The Arizona Department of Education may also require additional assessments depending on the teacher’s previous home state or length of service.

Some requirements must be met within the first year, others within three years— but the monetary costs don’t diminish, Griffin said. 

These are state requirements, not specific to Catalina Foothills or any other district. Because Catalina Foothills is relatively small – it has eight schools – Griffin has the time 

to carefully explain the process, which may help alleviate some concerns, she said.

She understands first-hand how complicated it can be.

“I have a certification in Arizona, Texas and Utah and I was surprised when I came to Arizona how much I had to do to get my certification,” she said.

In a recent column in the Arizona Daily Star, Vail Unified School District Superintendent Calvin Baker wrote about a young Empire High School chemistry teacher who found the time and expense of transferring her teaching license from Montana – about $1,200 in fees and tuition, if she did everything right the first time – burdensome enough that had she known about the extent of the process in advance, she wouldn’t have made the move to Arizona.

At Catalina Foothills, it doesn’t seem to be keeping teachers away, but Griffin said she has heard new hires, who already have at least one college degree, vent frustration at the obligations that come just from moving. 

At Marana Unified School District, if the process of license transfer is a problem, it hasn’t been brought to the district’s attention, said district public relations director Tamara Crawley.

At Amphitheater Public Schools, the burden of license transfer is really a secondary issue, said district spokeswoman Mindy Blake.

The main recruiting impediment, Blake said, is salaries. In Arizona, the average annual pay is $32,000 for a teacher fresh from university (thanks to a budget override it’s a little higher at Amphi, at about $33,300 a year).

“I think the bigger picture for us is that it’s difficult to attract teachers from out of state to come here for lesser pay,” she said.

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The Tutor Club in Catalina Foothills provides a location for students of all ages to get math help.

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