Imagine a classroom where everyone is learning — students from school districts across the region, plus university education majors mentored by professors and master teachers straight from the field. Called "Education Village," a $22.8 million plan for Winona State University (WSU) would help revitalize the art of teaching students how to teach.
The plans call for the renovation of Wabasha Hall (former Cotter Junior and Senior High at Lafayette and Seventh streets), Wabasha Recreation Center (former John Nett Recreation Center), and the purchase and remodel of Cathedral Elementary School for use in the village concept. The buildings would be used for a state-of-the-art, laboratory-style education program for the university in which students majoring in education would have the chance for meaningful, hands-on teaching experiences with students aged six-weeks-old through high school.
Central to the concept are strong partnerships with school districts, ensuring that WSU education programs mirror the needs of the schools that will employ those future teachers. "We're not preparing our teachers for what they need to be out in today's classrooms," said WSU President Scott Olson, citing national statistics that show nearly 50 percent of all new teachers leave the field after five years.
One of the most important aspects of the Education Village concept will allow education students to experience classroom teaching early on in their college careers, explained Olson. It is a way to ensure that those majoring in education are the right fit for the profession before they have spent years pursuing a teaching degree. "Under the old model, we'll lecture at you for three and a half years and then the last semester, we'll plop you in a classroom," said Olson. "Teacher reform efforts have been tried and failed in the past. This time, we're trying to get it right, and attract the best and brightest to the profession."
University officials will work with school districts around the region to identify "master teachers," those working in pre-kindergarten through high-school settings who have proven track records of effective teaching methods. Master teachers will work with professors and students in the village setting, providing education students with mentors who can help foster successful teaching skills.
The facility space would be flexible, to meet the needs of a variety of classroom exercises and events, and additionally, students from districts in the region could travel to the village for a variety of special occasions. WSU Vice President for University Advancement Jim Schmidt said, for example, that students could hold events such as Model Legislature, Model UN and debate and theater competitions at the village. The Winona, La Crosse, La Crescent, Austin and Rochester public school districts, along with private schools, are expected to partner on the plans.
Both Senator Jeremy Miller and Representative Gene Pelowski have authored bills that would fund the $22.8 million Education Village, and Governor Mark Dayton's proposed bonding bill includes $5.8 million in funds to develop planning documents for the project. Whether House and Senate leaders will agree to a bonding bill this year is not certain, but WSU officials say they will keep working on the plans until the funds are realized.
The Education Village project would work in tandem with a Bush Foundation grant that aims to revamp teacher education curriculum at WSU and 13 other higher education institutions in the Midwest. Creating an attractive, functional home for WSU's education department, as well as improving curriculum, said Olson, will carry the university's teacher training program into the future. "We think it's time for Winona State to plant a flag in the ground and say 'You want a model for 21st century teacher education? You come here.'"