As Dr. Kathy Wiebke, NBCT, prepares to retire, she reflects on her time leading the Arizona K12 Center.

Jan 11, 2023

I am a product of Arizona’s public school system. I often share that I have been in Arizona’s public school system since I was five years old either as a student or as an employee and at times both. This is an incredible point of pride. On January 20, I will retire and close this chapter of my life. It has been a life of opportunity and reward.

In these last days as executive director of the Arizona K12 Center, I find myself in a state of constant reflection.

From an early age, I knew I wanted to be a teacher. I loved learning, and the teachers I had made it irresistible. When I finally entered the teaching profession, unlike today, jobs were difficult to find. I was ecstatic when I got my first teaching job as a special education teacher. It wasn’t my first choice, but I was a teacher. To this day I am grateful to the Paradise Valley School District for taking a chance on me. Undoubtedly, they had other candidates and, yet, they chose me.

At the end of that first year, my position was eliminated due to budget cuts. The district promised me I would have a job the following year, and I landed a third-grade position, the job I really wanted. By the time I ended my teaching career, I had been a fifth-grade teacher, chair of many school and district committees, as well as an active member and leader in the Paradise Valley Education Association.

My career was probably very similar to many teachers today. I vividly remember my first day on the job. The more experienced teacher took me aside and said, “Here is the supply cabinet. This is it for the year. Don’t waste anything.” That was it. From that point forward, I was on my own. I would like to think that today’s novice teachers have access to a more robust and comprehensive system of support, but I think in many cases, what I received in 1981 is similar to many teachers today. Later in my career, I worked for an incredibly progressive and innovative principal who valued professional learning. The opportunities I was afforded during my time working for her were simply amazing. It was only when I went on to work at the Arizona Department of Education that I come to learn that the teaching and learning opportunities I had as a teacher were not the norm but the exception. I realized how lucky I was but, at the same time, I realized the inequities that existed in my profession.

As I reflect on my career, my pursuit of National Board Certification left an indelible mark. It was in that same district where I started my career that I was not only challenged but encouraged to take a risk by my association president, the district superintendent, and my principal to pursue National Board Certification. Having first heard about it years before at an annual meeting of the NationaI Education Association and being totally enthralled at the idea of having one’s practice evaluated against a set of standards, I knew it was something I had to do. I believed then as I still do today: it was something that could elevate the profession I came to love and care about, a profession that to this day many still believe only requires content knowledge to be an effective and successful teacher. Pursuing and achieving National Board Certification changed me forever in how I approached my job as a teacher and leader as well as how I viewed the teaching profession.

When you are the first at something, there is a spotlight on you that you did not anticipate. I remember the day I found out I achieved National Board Certification, the school district superintendent drove across town and was in my classroom within the hour of hearing the news to personally congratulate me. I remember so many floral deliveries that each pod of student desks had an arrangement in its center. I remember the opportunities I was afforded to speak and present on this advanced credential. It paved the way for other honors and recognitions. All the while, I couldn’t help but think that I wanted these experiences for all teachers.

I never saw myself as anything but a teacher, but after achieving National Board Certification, I realized the impact I could make as I became a mentor in my district for beginning teachers and later a principal. I never saw myself in these roles, but there I was. They were not easy paths but ones where I grew immensely. It was when I took a position at the Arizona Department of Education that I first realized “how the other half lived,” in other words, those outside of a school and district. It was a place where my voice and opinion mattered. It was also a place where I discovered I could set the wheels in motion for things that needed changing.

When I was approached to lead the Arizona K12 Center, I was given the charge of creating a new vision and direction for the Arizona K12 Center. With only my own experiences, I set forth on that charge to make quality professional learning accessible for all. I have long held the belief that just as we have an achievement gap for students, that same gap exists for teachers. I wanted to change that. I knew early on that I wanted the Center to be a place for all teachers, not just those who could afford it. We used some of our resources to offset the costs so that not only individual teachers could afford us but schools and districts could send teams. I hired incredibly talented people from the field of teaching and hospitality because I knew that both the content and overall experience mattered. I wanted every teacher who walked through our doors to know that we valued them and the role they played in educating Arizona’s youth. Most importantly, I wanted to take my own experiences and parlay them into a robust professional learning center for all Arizona’s teachers, no matter where they worked or found themselves on the teaching continuum.

I remember spending years waiting for others to honor and recognize teachers who achieved National Board Certification. One day I realized that if we continue to wait for someone else, it most likely would never happen. So, in 2008, we held our first Celebration of Accomplished Teaching, a night to honor and recognize accomplished teachers throughout Arizona. Our Celebration of Accomplished Teaching was modeled after the Disney’s American Teacher Awards where honorees were treated liked celebrities complete with swag bags, an elegant evening event for adults where teachers were honored in a way befitting of their accomplishment and enormous responsibilities.

I am proud of all that has been accomplished at the Arizona K12 Center during my time as the Executive Director. We changed the mission and the direction of the Center to be one of service to Arizona’s teachers. I reflect on the past 17+ years and marvel at all that has been accomplished, including the development of:

    • a robust professional learning center where all Arizona teachers, no matter where they are on the continuum of teaching practice, have access to our services.

    • the Arizona Master Teacher Program now called the Arizona New Teacher Support Program where we are supporting teachers in over 30 districts throughout Arizona.

    • a robust National Board support program leading to Arizona now having more than 1,700 NBCTs who can be found in every part of the state.

    • individual professional development plans now called our Professional Learning Plans.

    • new programs to support aspiring teachers, Fueled for Success, and for beginning teachers, Sharpen Your Skills.

    • the Arizona Teacher Residency.

This is just an abbreviated list of all that has been accomplished. This all started with a vision of what was possible but none of it would have happened without the hard work and talents of many current and former employees as well as many outstanding practitioners in the field.

I offer my best wishes to the Arizona K12 Center as it continues to be a place where teachers can recharge and be in the company of excellence, a place where a teacher can refine their skills and advance their practice, a place that will always remind them of the important role they play in the future of Arizona.

None of us are perfect, but at the end of the day, you measure the good over the bad, and this has been a good life. You look back and hope the good outweighs the bad. You think of the kind gestures along the way. Most importantly, I think of the people I have met over the years. This job has provided me the opportunity to explore almost every part of this state, from Red Mesa to Somerton, from Lake Havasu to Douglas. I have seen first-hand the beauty of this state, both in its geography and people. It is the people I will miss the most.

My time at the Arizona K12 Center has been a labor of love — love for teachers, the students and families they serve, and all that is possible. The work of the Arizona K12 Center will always be a point of pride. It has truly been an honor to serve.

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