This month I attended the 103rd Arizona Town Hall Meeting that focused on Early Education in Arizona and was held at the south rim of the Grand Canyon. The Arizona Town Hall is a private, nonprofit corporation founded in 1962 for the purpose of identifying and discussing critical policy issues facing Arizona and creating solutions. The Town Hall process starts with extensive panel discussions. Each panel addresses the same Discussion Outline during their time together. The purpose of these panel discussions is to reach a consensus around the topic containing a series of solutions and possible recommendations. The Town Hall culminates on the final day with a plenary session containing the full body of participants and a shared group consensus.
I was invited to participate in the Town Hall Meeting because of my experience as an early childhood educator. Prior to the event I was prepared to have some rich discussions around high quality early childhood education. The reality was that there were many participants from all walks of life with varied perspectives on education and I had to adjust my approach to include more transparency in my input around the topic. After the three-day town hall experience I walked away with a multi faceted perspective on what might be needed in Arizona and what kinds of things we might be able to do.
This is what I have learned:
- Funding and resources for early childhood education are scarce.
- Many view early childhood education prior to the K-12 school system to be the family’s responsibility.
- Kindergarten is not currently fully funded throughout Arizona.
- Accessing state funding for early childhood education is cumbersome.
- Resources that are available might currently be used redundantly by competing agencies or organizations providing educational services.
- Early childhood teacher quality is inconsistent, with few state certified teachers and many licensed childcare providers passing as teachers.
- We as teachers have a lot more work to do to raise the profile of our profession; decisions are made without our input and often lead to the undermining of our profession.
Here is what I contributed:
- The real life teacher perspective, this might not seem too valuable on the surface but it was critical to constantly bring the group back to the idea of having highly qualified and state certified teachers in early childhood programs. You might think that this would be a given in any conversation around education, but sadly it is not.
- Recommendations for recruitment, development and retention of teachers. The teaching profession is no longer an attractive career option for those entering the job market. It is critical that education at all levels attract the best recruits. Teacher development is an essential component of growth for any educator. I strongly advocated for funding for high quality professional development as well as funding for National Board Certification in the areas of Early Childhood and Exceptional Education.
This link contains our final recommendations in a report:
I was very fortunate to have this opportunity and found it to be quite an eye opener for me as an educator. There is a strong need for us to come together as educators and determine the guidelines for all education in our state. This is the work of teachers; legislators seek out recommendations such as those in the Town Hall Reports to make decisions. It is critical that legislators hear the voices of teachers when making decisions that affect education. Make your voice heard.