Teachers lined the doorway to greet students at DeMiguel Elementary School early Thursday when students came back to school.
Among the teachers there Kiersten Gaetano looked like a veteran. You would never know it was her first day as a teacher.
“I am extremely excited for my first year. I feel like there’s been so much preparation and now its time to make my mark," Gaetano said.
Gaetano just graduated with a degree from Northern Arizona University and returned to DeMiguel Elementary School, where she started as a student-teacher.
“What really inspires me to be a teacher is just the kids themselves. I think every child deserves to have someone in their corner who believes in them and lets them know they are capable," she said.
Flagstaff Unified School District hired 67 fully certified teachers this year and about a quarter of them are fresh out of college, according to Mary Kay Walton, the assistant superintendent for the school district.
Median pay for educators in Flagstaff is around $37,000 per year but in many parts of the state, starting salaries are lower than $35,000.
“For Arizona, our neighboring states, their median salary of teachers is quite a bit higher than ours," said Walton.
Even though Walton said that Flagstaff Unified School District sees a turnover rate of a little less than 10 percent, teachers still may leave for better pay elsewhere.
“They’re going for a another job somewhere else and my guess is that it’s going to pay more than what they are getting (in Arizona)," said Walton.
But for teachers like Gaetano, money isn't an issue.
“It is a little nerve-wracking. But I’ve spent my whole life budgeting," said Gaetano. "And ultimately, it ends up not being about the money. I’d rather leave my day at work with a huge smile on my face and knowing I’m doing right by these kids.”