Partnering for teachers; Teaching program nears first graduating class

Published 10:36 am Friday, October 21, 2016

By Dr. Debra Mishak

Winona State University Faculty Member and Austin’s 2 + 2 Program Coordinator

Austin Public Schools, Winona State University and Riverland Community College have launched the second year of their collaborative and innovative “2+2 Pathway to Purple” Elementary Teacher Education Program. This K-12 and higher education partnership allows students to earn a two-year Associate Degree from Riverland, and transfer directly to Winona State University for two years of coursework and clinical experiences to complete their Bachelor of Science degree in Elementary Teacher Education. Winona State has a long and proud history of training elementary and secondary teachers, and was recently named in the Top 20 of all Teacher Preparation programs in the United States by Dr. Debra Mishak, Assistant Professor of Education at Winona State University, and Matthew Weyers, Teacher on Special Assignment from Byron Public Schools are the faculty dedicated full time to the Austin program.

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Riverland Community College, which has its own fine tradition of producing top-talent for all branches of the workforce, has teamed with Winona State University to continue supporting their post-AA teachers in training by offering faculty offices at Riverland, and by assigning their own faculty to teach three courses in the junior year program that are required by the state for teacher licensure. Kelly McCalla, Vice President for Academic and Student Affairs at Riverland, is excited about this new initiative and the possibilities this partnership may provide for growth of future 2+2 programs.

The uniqueness of this partnership, however, rests with its third member — the Austin Public Schools. Through the overwhelming support and vision of Tarrell Portman, Dean of the College of Education at Winona State University, Austin Superintendent David Krenz, and Executive Director of Educational Services John Alberts, APS has designated staff and classrooms at Sumner Elementary for nearly all Winona State coursework to occur, meaning that the entire four-year program can be completed in Austin. Under the direction of Ms. Sheila Berger, principal of Sumner Elementary, the two cohorts have been placed and mentored across the district in multiple clinical and field experiences, with over 45 elementary and intermediate classroom teachers stepping up to make this truly a home-grown teacher preparation program.

While in their clinicals and field experiences this fall, teacher candidates have been actively learning their future craft. The junior cohort recently finished a fifth and sixth grade Bubbleology clinical under the guidance of Mr. Adam Ansorge and Mrs. Kim Richardson at I.J. Holton, where students spent two weeks studying how the scientific method could be used to create a bubble large enough to physically fit a person inside of it. The senior cohort just completed a six-week student teaching experience where they were paired full time with a cooperating teacher at one of six elementary and middle schools in Austin. It was during this student teaching experience that the candidates were able to witness first hand the joys and complexities of starting a new school year. Although these experiences are over for the time being, the teacher candidates are excited for what’s to come. This spring the seniors will complete a ten-week student teaching experience in various parts of the state, complete their final coursework, and will be the inaugural Austin Elementary Teaching graduating class in May 2017.

Since most of the students were born and raised in Austin, or are now residents of Austin, many are hoping to obtain teaching jobs in the Austin Public Schools upon graduation. It is because of this exciting “2+2 Pathway to Purple” collaboration that students and families in the Austin Public Schools will benefit for many years to come. For more information about the program, please visit the Winona State University website at, or contact Debra Mishak at