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Science Foundation releases 5-year plan to strengthen STEM education

Ask any leader of a technology company in Arizona what their biggest hurdles are and there is always one common challenge: finding enough homegrown qualified workers to fill their needs.

“Arizona is transitioning to an economy that is increasingly dependent upon a knowledge-based workforce,” said Steve Sanghi, CEO of Microchip in Chandler. “Out No. 1 challenge is to improve the schools. Arizona high schools are near the bottom and if we don’t improve them soon, it’s really going to impact the future.”

Science Foundation Arizona (SFAz) is doing something to help Sanghi and other business leader. The nonprofit public-private partnership has launched the Arizona STEM Network. The STEM Network is a first-of-its-kind strategic effort to help transform Arizona’s educational system for STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).

“The vision for a statewide, strategic commitment to STEM education is coming to fruition,” said Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer. “The Arizona STEM Network will help build a common agenda for STEM education that will lead our teachers and students forward.”

The five-year plan being led by SFAz will leverage effective education practices and teaching advances, including the state-adopted, internationally benchmarked Common Core Standards. The Arizona STEM Network will provide educators, the business community and donors with a centralized infrastructure, tools, resources and the framework needed to measure performance and achieve collective impact in Arizona classrooms. The plan’s driving force is to help Arizona children be successful in school, careers and life.

The Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Foundation — which provided $2.2 million for the establishment of SFAz’s STEM initiative, announced a new three-year, $2.1 commitment beginning in this year that will allow SFAz to roll out its plan for the Arizona STEM Network. Also providing financial support for the launch were the Helios Education Foundation, Intel, JPMorgan Chase Foundation and Research Corporation for Science Advancement.

“We believe that the private sector must play an active role in developing the next generation to keep our businesses competitive and our economy vibrant,” said Tracy Bame, president of Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Foundation. “A first-rate education that encompasses the STEM disciplines is a foundational step to provide students with the skills and knowledge they need to succeed.”

The STEM Network focuses on four strategic areas:

* Integrating STEM learning into Arizona schools and districts.

* Developing and deploying a predictive analytics system to measure impacts.

* Strengthening teacher effectiveness in STEM teaching.

* Creating opportunities for the private business sector to meaningfully engage with schools.

“Arizona must develop a globally competitive educational system and STEM disciplines will lead the way,” said Darcy Renfro, vice president of education and coordinator of the Arizona STEM Network at SFAz. “The Network will link existing STEM assets in Arizona, build on best practices and foster innovative teaching approaches for school districts to help students improve in these areas.”