Schools need more than teachers, and GCU aims to help

Zara Kazyaka (right) and Jennifer Sevier of Autism Academy talk with a student during the Jobs in School Districts Career Fair at GCU on Feb. 15.

Photos by Ralph Freso

The chronic teacher shortage in Arizona has endured for years, but it’s not the only shortfall school districts face.

They need accountants and counselors, IT professionals and nurses, paraprofessionals and communications managers, and more.

“You name the role and it’s probably open in the districts,” said Dr. Meredith Critchfield, Dean of the College of Education at Grand Canyon University, which has long been a key player in helping fill teacher openings across the country and in the past year initiated a program to help fill substitute teaching jobs in Arizona.

GCU isn’t stopping at the head of the classroom.

At the fall meeting of the President’s Educational Advisory Council at GCU, many of the 20 superintendents from mostly West Valley school districts told President Brian Mueller that they have numerous jobs to fill in nonteaching roles.

“From this input, President Mueller encouraged the development of an opportunity to attract our students across all the colleges to serve in this arena as a way to both earn money and assist the districts,” said Dr. Tacy Ashby, Senior Vice President of K12 Educational Development.

The initiative, a collaboration with K12 Educational Development, Career Services and the College of Education, launched recently with the Jobs in School Districts Career Fair, in which 24 schools, districts and educational organizations came to campus to meet with students.

“We also started meeting biweekly with districts and to craft job postings in our Career Connections so students can apply,” said Aysha Bell, Executive Director of Career Services of the ongoing effort. “We are going to continue to invite them on our campus, post on our job network and educate our students about opportunities beyond teaching. School districts are excited. They love coming on our campus.”

Students are excited, too. More than 70 showed up for the fair.

A student talks with a representative from Southwest Human Development during the Jobs in School Districts Career Fair.

“A lot of us have a myth in our heads that schools are just for educators but, truly, schools are an ecosystem,” Critchfield said. “They need business students to work there, they need health students, they need social science students to work there, they even need engineers to work there. These are great, stable jobs with benefits and a lot of resources.”

She said the schools are also getting savvy about building positions customized for students.

GCU is not only launching campaigns to make sure students are aware of the openings but also helping school districts craft job postings.

“We are rewriting that story, down to the job description” said Arriel Pilapil, Employer Relations Program Manager for Career Services. “The job description is important because we are telling about the community impact that is made. We want to share they are not just to do a job but make a difference.”

Glendale Elementary School District already has a solid partnership with GCU, which helped fill many open substitute teaching openings in the past year, and the district is happy to now highlight its other openings.

“What most people fail to remember is that a school district is just like any other business. We need people in payroll and accounting, in communications and IT,” said Jacque Horine, Director of Human Resources. “Because of our proximity, GCU is a great partnership.”

While schools have faced negative publicity on cultural and economic fronts in recent years, Critchfield said a job at a school is rewarding and nicely suited to GCU students who are hungry to serve others and make a difference.

“For me, it is simple. When I go to bed at night and when I wake up in the morning, I want to know that I have made a difference,” Critchfield said. “There are hundreds of thousands of jobs across the country where you might not feel there. When you work for a school or a district you can go to bed every night and wake up every single morning knowing that you made a difference in a child’s life because you were part of something that will forever change their future.”

Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-6764.

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