As another school year draws near to a close we have an opportunity to reflect on the truly great teachers in Arizona who have put our state on the map for academic progress. Few jobs are as hard or carry as much responsibility as shaping the futures of tomorrow’s leaders. To all those who embrace this work as a calling and do it with excellence and determination—a million times, thank you!

As a former middle school teacher, I know that the best teachers go above and beyond for every one of their students, everyday. Just showing up or doing the minimum doesn’t cut it when it comes to drawing out the best in our students. That means meeting with kids before and after school, offering extra tutoring—sometimes on Saturdays, and wearing all sorts of hats from coach and mentor to friend and encourager. This work is compounded for teachers in low-income schools and communities where other obstacles can make learning more challenging. The best educators know these hurdles do not limit what a student can achieve, and instead, hold fast to the belief that every child can be successful.

In Arizona, we continue to eliminate the achievement disparity between affluent and low-income students, now with one of the smallest gaps in the country. This only happens when teachers and the schools where they teach hold students to the same high expectations and commit to their individual success. This is hard, but all the more rewarding when students defy the odds and achieve beyond their situation.

Arizona teachers are not only helping to make achievement gaps extinct, they’re contributing to Arizona’s notable education gains. A forthcoming study from ASU’s Morrison Institute notes that Arizona is the only state in the country to make statistically significant gains on all parts of the NAEP exam between 2009-2015. In some of the toughest economic years, Arizona students continued to make strides on national tests and outperformed their peers in academic gains across the country. Our teachers deserve a great deal of credit for this achievement and our growing reputation as an education gainer and gap closer state.

Of course, the million-dollar question is, “how do we get and keep great teachers?” One secret is to focus on school quality. Teachers in high performing schools are more likely to stick around and often feel more supported than in low performing schools where morale can be low.

Happily, for highly performing schools, this year’s state budget includes additional dollars to support the work of Arizona’s top performing schools with an emphasis on low-income communities. Growing the reach of our best schools gives more students the opportunity to learn in quality classrooms, while boosting the morale of Arizona teachers and encouraging them to remain in the profession.

Arizona’s teachers, we cheer you all the way across the finish line of this year’s school year, and thank you for investing in our children and their futures.