Lopes Leap to Teach — and lead — in schools
By Rick Vacek
GCU News Bureau
Talk about a big occasion for the vocation: The passion for teaching – and leadership – resonated up and down the Promenade on Thursday afternoon at the annual Lopes Leap to Teach.
Grand Canyon University students seeking internships and full-time jobs met face to face with administrators of 65 local school districts to share their credentials. They came across people who are determined to join GCU in its quest to blanket the Valley and other regions with graduates eager to lead the way.
“GCU understands that we need leaders in our community,” said Howard Paley, Interim Chief Human Resources Officer for the Isaac School District. “I love this idea of faith-based leadership, and I’m Jewish. I’m not Christian, where you would think it would resonate from that perspective. But from a faith perspective, it resonates.
“Faith needs to be a part of our lives, and that’s OK. Notice I didn’t say religion – I said faith.”
Paley has done it all in education, from preschool to the university level. Like other educators, he is alarmed about the public’s perception of the profession and the challenges it faces in retaining good teachers.
But he also points to studies showing that perceptions improve when people know more about their schools.
“It isn’t that people have a perception that we don’t do good work,” he said. “… The more you can engage in education, the more you’re a partner with your schools, the more you’re going to realize the amazing work that’s happening.”
He values his connection with GCU because of the University’s work, which he also considers amazing. He notes how students in GCU’s College of Education have been taught by a wide variety of professionals, creating a different mindset as they begin their careers.
“That’s the thing I notice of the students who come out of GCU: They’re much more willing to accept a broad variety of colleagues,” he said. “Some young people might say, ‘I want everyone around my age on my team.’
“But GCU students … that’s not what they’re looking for. They’re looking for a good team.”
The team effort is most evident in the educational community at Westwood Elementary School, a starting point for GCU’s creation of Academic Excellence Sites. Assistant Professor Jena Akard, who leads the students serving as pre-service resident teachers at Westwood, stopped by Lopes to Teach and said she could feel the excitement immediately.
“My students and other students are really prepared to go in there and teach and have fun and build relationships with students, as early childhood teachers need to do,” she said. “They’re excited. And so as you can see from today, this is truly exciting in that there are this many people interested in the future of education, which makes it a good time to be in it.”
And a good time to be at Lopes Leap to Teach. Said Dr. Kimberly LaPrade, Dean of the College of Education, “The success of Lopes Leap to Teach is a testament to the exceptional work of our COE faculty and students in partnership with our community schools.”
GCU students and alumni have fanned out all over the Valley, and many of the recruiters on hand Thursday come from schools where they have gotten a first-hand look at that impact.
One of them was Kristi Pashley, Principal of Paseo Pointe School in Laveen. She has two student-teachers and one intern from GCU on her staff.
Another was Alex Dumas, Director of Personnel for Wilson School District, which likewise has a GCU student-teacher. “GCU is doing a tremendous job,” he said.
It’s important to note that Pashley and Dumas both said they have been able to keep all of their teaching positions filled all year. Pashley credited it to recent Arizona legislation that has increased salaries.
“I hate to say that it comes down to dollars and cents, because we’re all here because we love kids and we want what’s best for kids and that’s our passion,” she said. “But we all know we also need to make a living and keep a roof over our head.”
Paley believes those examples are a sign that the education pendulum is swinging in a positive direction.
“Nothing stays the same. Everything changes,” he said. “This is my opinion — we know the pendulum that swings in any business. So in education we’ve watched the pendulum swing where people don’t have a tremendous amount of respect for the work globally that teachers do.
“Education needs a public relations firm. What we need is someone who’s only job is understand public education. Apple spends millions on branding, and it has nothing to do with the quality of the product. They just understand that when they put out the iPod, they had to brand it.”
Come to think of it, an apple would be a good place for education’s public relations campaign to start. The time is ripe for the pendulum to move.
Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or [email protected].