K-12 Center celebrates decade of teacher improvement

Dan Kain

Northern Arizona University’s 100-year-old history of teacher education added an impressive component a decade ago, culminating in a celebration this week and a continuing verve for helping teachers improve.

NAU’s Arizona K-12 Center celebrated its 10th anniversary Tuesday with a gathering in downtown Phoenix. The real stars of the occasion, however, were the accomplishments and future plans of the center.

“When you graduate and leave a college of education—whether you’re a twenty-something or starting a new career—you are only beginning, and you will need support for the next 20 or 25 years,” said Kathy Wiebke, executive director of the Arizona K-12 Center. “We provide that support to teachers no matter where they are on that continuum.”

The center can boast of tripling the number of National Board Certified teachers, to 555, and developing a program that increased the number of master teachers from zero to 100. Master teachers become mentors to younger or less-experienced individuals, helping them progress throughout their careers.

Wiebke described the center as unique in filling the needs of practicing educators. It’s the only professional development center in Arizona, she said. “We provide development opportunities that are timely, relevant and meet the needs of the state’s teachers,” she said.

The center concentrates on three areas: learning, leadership and technology, offering 50 different learning opportunities, workshops and seminars annually. The K-12 Center offers teachers the opportunity to self-select, improving their own performance.

“We are empowering them to improve their own teaching and leadership skills,” said Penny Kotterman, the center’s associate director. “Often, development opportunities are prescribed for teachers, but our programs are offered for teachers by teachers.”

The center began in 1999 after a call by then-Gov. Jane Hull, a former elementary school teacher, to create an institute that would support teacher development and, in turn, improve student learning. The Arizona Legislature funded the Arizona K-12 Center, and over the years, it has expanded through collaborations with the three state universities and other national learning institutions, educational organizations and community and business leaders.