Winona State University used to be the model used around the world for training teachers, WSU president Scott Olson said Friday at his inauguration.
He’s hoping that WSU’s Education Village will allow the university to reclaim that status.
The $22 million proposal, to buy the Cathedral Elementary building from the Diocese of Winona and, along with the old Cotter High School and John Nett Catholic Rec Center, create a modern 90,000-square-foot facility where educators of all levels would design the future of teacher education.
The village wouldn’t be contained to WSU’s college of education, WSU administrators say. The goal is to create an open environment where students, faculty and educators in Winona and school districts across the region can come together to learn and rewrite the rules of how teachers teach.
“What’s a village? A village is a place where you have many kinds of talents and expertise with people living and working together towards something,” Olson said. “With the hope that sparks will ignite and teachers and students will bring those back to their school.
“Then a thousand flowers begin to bloom.”
WSU has asked for $5.8 million from the state and MnSCU for the first phase of the project. Gov. Mark Dayton has recommended it in his building projects bill, both Rep. Gene Pelowski, DFL-Winona, and Sen. Jeremy Miller, R-Winona, have pushed for the funding in the House and Senate.
Nothing at the Legislature is certain at the moment, but if WSU’s proposal is approved this spring, the village could be open for classes and students as soon as fall 2015.
Partnerships and technology are the key
Education and teacher preparation is under scrutiny at the state and national levels. Legislative bodies and education organizations are searching for ways to better prepare young teachers for the modern classroom and students for graduation at both the high school and college levels.
A leading idea is create partnerships among all levels of education, from early-childhood to college, so educators and students can better learn from each other — and teach each other in the process.
WSU hopes to do just that with its Education Village, said Jim Schmidt, WSU’s vice president for university advancement.
“It’s all about changing course on teacher education,” Schmidt said. “Teachers are not being prepared for modern education. The college of education needed more and better space to meet the needs of the next several generations of teachers.”
That collaboration requires a place like Education Village for teachers to come together, Schmidt said.
It also requires using the latest technology.
One example of using technology in the village would be piloting the use of tablet computers such as iPads in teacher education, particularly at a time when area K-12 school districts are introducing the technology into classrooms.
WSU interim provost Nancy Jannik said it fits with WSU already being a cutting-edge campus in terms of technology. WSU also uses virtual classrooms and online meetings, among other initiatives, and the university could partner with state schools to provide those kinds of resources with the Education Village.
There are many other possibilities, Jannik said, such as WSU faculty and students creating and sharing content for specialized instruction that otherwise wouldn’t be available because of resource or size limitations.
“Technology will have a compelling impact,” Jannik said. “It is a great tool for education.”
Ditching classroom for real-world experience
Both President Olson and Jan Sherman, WSU’s interim dean for the college of education, said the Education Village would return WSU to its teacher-college roots by bringing outside students and educators to the village to work with WSU’s education students. But unlike the laboratory model of the past, the university would take a more open approach to teacher education — by sending students into community classrooms.
“We are hoping for more give and take,” Sherman said. “We want fewer boundaries in the preparation of our teachers.”
Lab schools are designed to give a small group of students an intense, multi-year experience using the latest innovations, Olson said. But they can be insular, and in the 21st century, he said, “that is not going to to be good enough. We have to share that much more generously and broadly.”
There’s a move nationally to improve teacher preparation by following the clinical model, getting students out of the classroom and working in the community, Sherman said. There is less focus on lectures and more on student teaching and real-world experience.
The Education Village would provide exactly that, WSU officials said.
The vision is to bring the outside world to the village while taking the classroom into the world, Schmidt said. That means college students teaching in classrooms, K-12 students coming to the college, bringing elementary-school and college teachers together to share ideas, offering professional development opportunities for teachers at all levels, and other ideas.
“Our goal is to have the College of Education be completely porous with the districts around the region,” Schmidt said. “We can envision a time with buses pulling up to the new entrance to Wabasha Hall.”
Partnerships, possibilities, prudence
Area school districts and local legislators see a lot of possibilities for improving teacher education and improving partnerships with WSU.
“Winona State was the first teacher college west of the Mississippi,” said Rep. Gene Pelowski. “Teaching in the western part of the United States started at Winona State. This would put the focus back on teaching.”
Pelowski said he likes that the university plans to renovate three existing historic buildings on and near campus, and said the project would be a boon for both the university and area school districts.
Ron Wilke, the superintendent at La Crescent-Hokah, is one of a number of education officials in the area WSU has reached out to with the idea in order to explore partnerships. He said he also sees big possibilities for the Education Village, the first being the ability for his staff to get professional development resources and ongoing training in modern teaching methods.
He said WSU would need to push those initiatives into area schools, which would break down some of the barriers between K-12 schools and universities.
“The more we collaborate and learn from each other, the better for students,” Wilke said.
Dave Krenz, the superintendent for the school district in Austin, Minn., said he’s more focused on the ability of the Education Village to give college students training to be teachers real-world experience in area classrooms.
“What’s exciting about the village is that students are engaged with teaching as a freshman,” he said.
Krenz was cautious about the proposal, saying that while the village has potential he would like to see more concrete details. But, he said, he is optimistic about the possibilities.
“Nobody is doing education right,” Krenz said. “Winona State is stepping out of what has been considered normal for the last thirty years. It’s that willingness of the university to work with K-12 that is so important.”
Winona Area Public Schools superintendent Scott Hannon said he’s intrigued by the possibilities for closer collaboration with WSU, and the opportunity for professional development for his faculty and staff. But, he said, the devil is in the details — and WSU, in pitching an initiative that would rewrite some of the rules of teacher education, will be under pressure to succeed.
“WSU has a unique opportunity to set themselves apart from all the other institutions in the country,” Hannon said.
“They need to get it right.”
Where the money’s coming from
Funding for the $22 million project would come from state capital money, along with other financing.
WSU is also planning on using its multi-year Bush Foundation grant to help develop the project. WSU was one of more than a dozen universities invited in 2009 to participate in Bush’s 10-year, $40 million program to transform teacher education.
Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton is among the supporters for $5.8 million in state funding for the first phase of the project. Winona Sen. Jeremy Miller and Rep. Gene Pelowski have introduced bills in their respective chambers that would also provide that funding. The Legislature will ultimately be asked to approve the proposal, either this year or next, as part of a larger bill that funds building projects statewide.
Any timeline for the project is entirely dependent on when funding becomes available. The following is a best-case scenario.
2013: State funding is secured for the initial phase of the project. WSU hires an architect and finalizes designs. Some renovation work could begin.
2014: Funding for the remainder of the project is secured. WSU begins construction and renovation on the three buildings.
2015: WSU opens the Education Village, in whole or in part, in time for the fall semester.