Project Name: The Hormel Foundation/University of Minnesota Fellowship Program
District: Austin Public Schools
Contact: Dr. Candace Raskin
Title: Superintendent of Schools
Website: http://www.austin.k12.mn.us/AHS492/ Program overview: http://www.thehormelfoundation.com/files/AustinHigh.pdf
The Austin Public Schools in southern Minnesota received two grants from the Hormel Foundation, one to update their science laboratories, and the other to provide ongoing training, leading to a Master’s from the University of Minnesota, for their mathematics and science teachers at all levels of instruction. While the grant for laboratory equipment was fairly similar to others given by Hormel and other organizations, the teaching fellowship is more unique, and has helped this district of less than 5,000 students develop a base of teachers with strong content and pedagogical knowledge.
Subject the program is most concerned with:
A combination of subjects.
Which part of the school system (e.g. elementary school, middle school, high school, all level, special math/science school, etc.) the program focuses on:
All levels. The grant includes monies for both a fellowship program, which allows teachers to get their Master’s in Education, at no cost, while still teaching, and a professional development program, which allows teachers to collaborate on instruction and lesson planning to improve their pedagogy.
Role of the school board in supporting the program:
The primary role of the school board was in foreseeing the impacts this program would have on the district in the long-term and deciding to support it. Because the program takes a non-traditional approach to staff development, and because it could have budgetary implications beyond what was covered by the grant, the board’s support was crucial to its success.
Community and business partners:
The main business partner in this project was the Hormel Foundation, which gave the district grants of $1.5 million for laboratory renovation, and $1.3 million for the professional development program. The district had a long-standing partnership with the Hormel Foundation, a non-profit foundation established by Hormel Foods, but in the past they had focused primarily on “brick and mortar” projects, such as the current laboratory grant.
The idea for the fellowship and professional development project arose from a challenge from the foundation to raise the overall excellence of the math and science programs. When considering the primary obstacles to excellence in SMT, the district concluded that they needed resources to improve their teaching staff, as well as their facilities.
The superintendent’s office conducted a large-scale engagement effort for the program with local business, including presentations at service clubs and a research facility located in the community. The response was overwhelmingly positive, and the effort resulted in several other community business partners who have offered to help support the program after the original grant expires.
Higher education partners:
The district has worked very closely with the University of Minnesota (UMN) to design the program and to make it a success. In order for working teachers to pursue a Master’s degree that included a high level of science content, a new program had to be created. To make this happen, the district worked closely with the UMN College of Education Policy to bring professors together from the colleges of science and education. The program is designed to take five years—teachers study full-time in the summer, and part-time during the school year. Because Austin is located over an hour away from UMN, university professors come to the district to teach in their schools throughout the year. Classes are held in the science laboratories in the middle- and high schools where teachers will be working, which increases carry-over from coursework to teaching practice.
Obstacles faced by the program:
Persuading university faculty to agree to work in Austin was a challenge, as was designing the program to include elements from different disciplines.
The district also had to consider the budgetary implications of having up to a third of their teachers complete a master’s program and qualify for higher pay; the projected pay raises have been included in the district’s long-range budget plans.
Duration of the program:
Discussions about the project began in June of 2007. Teachers began taking classes in January of 2008.
Story of the program:
The current fellowship program grew out of a long-standing partnership between the Hormel Foundation and the Austin public schools. When considering how to raise the overall excellence of their science and math programs, the district concluded that their biggest challenges were recruiting and retaining qualified, dedicated teachers with the depth of subject knowledge needed to offer first-rate instruction. To address that issue, they proposed to offer ongoing professional development, leading to a Master’s degree in science education, to teachers at all levels. The program is designed to take 5 years to complete, and teachers must commit to staying with the district for an additional 3 years after getting their degree.
The program includes a focus on increased subject knowledge and best-practices in pedagogy, along with a strong collaborative component. Teachers work together in learning communities to share lesson plans, success stories, and challenges. For elementary school teachers, the program also contains a literacy component, connecting the math and science content back to the core literacy taught to younger students.
The program has only just begun but has already been very successful. Several of the top education graduates from the University of Minnesota have joined Austin’s teaching staff in order to take part in the program, and 96 of a total of 320 teachers, or approximately one third of the teachers in the district, are participating.