Restoring the state’s status as No. 1 in education

December 26, 2018

WINONA — During a tour of Winona State University’s Education Village, a $31.2 million project more than halfway complete, WSU President Scott Olson mused about Minnesota’s one-time status as an undisputed leader in education.

When he was a kid, teachers were great heroes, Olson said.

If you asked someone to name an influential teacher, you would be hard-pressed to find a person who couldn’t tick off several names. But there have been times within the last generation when that commitment to education has wavered.

That’s why Education Village is so important. It helps move the state back in the direction “in terms of preparing and honoring teachers,” Olson said.

“This project was born of an idea that Minnesota needs to regain its rightful place as the nation’s leader in terms of education,” he said.

The spark for Education Village occurred when WSU began overhauling and renovating its teacher education programs.

In 2010, WSU received a $5 million Bush Foundation grant that fueled a restructuring of how teachers are prepared for the classroom. From those changes emerged a new model that emphasized “clinical experiences” — getting students into the classroom as early and often as possible.

“The old model was to sort of sit in the classroom on campus for four and half years and then, spring semester of your senior year, going through student teaching, which sometimes led folks to say, ‘I didn’t know what this was,’” Olson said.

Other curricular changes included preparing teachers for multi-cultural classrooms and learning how to integrate technology into teaching.

The restructuring of WSU’s teacher education programs drove talks at WSU about the best spaces in which to deliver such training — and thus was born Education Village.

Located east of the campus, Education Village involves the renovation of three historic buildings, all of which were built for educational purposes: Donna J. Helbe Hall, the Wabasha Recreation Center and Cathedral Elementary School.

Financing for the project came from the Legislature: $5.9 million was approved during the 2013-14 session, followed by $25.3 million in 2017.

The project is 65 percent complete and will open the fall of 2019.

The village will offer a variety of educational settings for students to train in, from a 1960s paper-and-pencil environment to a 21st century classroom. There are closed classrooms, collaborative classrooms and STEM classrooms.

“They don’t know what kind of environment they’re going out into,” said Tarrell Portman, WSU dean of the College of Education, so students get training in a number of them.

In addition to teachers, programs for counselors, administrators and organizational leaders will be taught at Education Village.

Along with a teaching certificate, WSU graduates receive what’s called the Winona State Guarantee. It gives WSU graduates who are found to be lacking in a skill set within two years of graduation the opportunity to return for remedial training free of charge.

The village has implications for Rochester, because a large percentage of teachers hired by the school system come from WSU.

Shannon Leahy, a WSU student and a Winona native, has had an opportunity to compare the different ways schools prepare teachers.

The first school Leahy attended, a university in Wisconsin, depended on “learning about education from a textbook.” She later transferred to Winona State, where on her first day of class she was in a classroom.

Entering her senior year, Leahy now has tallied 169 hours of classroom experience (a student needs 100 to graduate) and she hasn’t yet started her student teaching.

“It shows you that they want you to excel and be in the classroom right away and get that practice, so you’re prepared when you go to student teach,” Leahy said.

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