The Education Village, Austin and teachers

Published 5:31 pm Saturday, April 5, 2014

By Scott Olson

Winona State University President

When I was a kid growing up in Minnesota, there were three things most Minnesotans would have said defined our state and made us the best place to live in the world. Most would have said our state’s beauty helped define us: the bluffs, the rivers, the lakes, the forests and so on. Most Minnesotans back when I was a kid would have said that the arts helped define Minnesota: beautiful music, tremendous theatre and world-class art museums.

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But the outdoors and the arts were not the biggest source of Minnesota pride when I was a kid. No, the first thing to come to mind would have been education. My parents and grandparents would have boasted that Minnesota had the finest system of education in the world.

Their pride had its origins right here in Southeast Minnesota. In 1858, the first teacher training school west of the Mississippi was chartered in our region, and today we call that school “Winona State University.” It’s time for Southeast Minnesota to reclaim its historical birthright by reasserting its national and international preeminence in preparing teachers. We believe the Winona State Education Village will help define our region as the center of education reform, and we believe the best way to strengthen our K12 schools is to reform how teachers are prepared.

The Education Village is a WSU bonding proposal to create a 21st century teacher education center. The village will repurpose three existing school buildings to create a modern, technologically integrated teaching and learning laboratory. The reforms we envision are simple but powerful, and we are grateful to the Bush Foundation for supporting teacher preparation innovation. We plan to recruit great candidates to be teachers, candidates who also reflect the increasingly diverse classrooms they will serve. Teacher candidates will be steeped in the newest approaches to teaching, including the use of technology in the classroom, the use of a “flipped classroom” in which the teacher is a mentor and coach, and inquiry-based methods where students learn through discovery and exploration.

That’s just the beginning. Rather than wait until their senior year for student teaching, teacher candidates will have clinical experiences early on and throughout their preparation. They will be mentored by master teachers, and after they graduate from WSU we will continue to offer them professional development to ensure their success. Educators in the Southeast region will build new teaching methods and collaborate with each other to address classroom challenges. We’ll celebrate the success of all teachers, and help restore teaching to the high-status profession it rightly should be. We envision a rich and vibrant site for lifelong learning.

I’m happy to report that this concept has proven popular at the Capitol. Austin Public School Superintendent David Krenz has been integral to the process of designing the Education Village, as have other superintendents in the region. We are well-placed on the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities bonding list, and Gov. Mark Dayton has included us in his bonding priorities.

Our vision is that Southeast Minnesota will lead the nation in preparing high quality teachers for the 21st century. Thanks to leadership in the Austin schools and in the community, including the Hormel Foundation, it’s gratifying to see that Austin has made top quality schools its priority, too. That’s why Winona State University has partnered with the Austin Public Schools as well as the schools in Rochester, La Crescent and Winona to ensure that we are preparing teachers for the classrooms of the future. We believe the Winona State Education Village will help define our region as the center of education reform.

So, the WSU Education Village is an idea whose time has come. We believe this is good for Austin, good for teacher education, and most important of all, it will be good for kids.