By Pioneer Press Editorial Board

In a system as big, complex and resistant to change as that by which we educate children, efforts to innovate deserve notice.

They matter in a state that fails to educate all its children and one struggling to add diversity to its teaching corps.

With hometown pride, we make note of new work at Metropolitan State University to remove barriers that make it harder for aspiring teachers to take their places in Minnesota schools that need them.

The university — known for its diverse and non-traditional student body — explains that an agreement with Osseo Area Schools in the northwest Twin Cities suburbs will reduce “barriers of entry” for prospective teachers of color from Metro State’s School of Urban Education.

For those with jobs, family and other responsibilities, student teaching represents a daunting three-plus months of unpaid labor. When we met with Metro State President Ginny Arthur last summer, she told us about one student who completed course work and saved for four years to raise enough to offset expenses while student-teaching.

The partnership gives university students “priority consideration for hiring in the district’s paraprofessional and teaching positions,” a statement from the university explains. Paraprofessionals are those who, for example, assist teachers with large classes, one-on-one work and other tasks.
Once hired as paraprofessionals, university students can access such benefits as a paid leave of absence during a student teaching assignment in the district, as well as “first consideration for hire in licensed teaching positions” and additional seniority that’s hoped will help retain them in the classroom.

A participating student teacher was among those attending the ceremony last month at which President Arthur and Osseo Superintendent Kate Maguire signed their partnership agreement, the first of its kind in the state.

“He’s actually on leave from his job at one of our middle schools, and he is student teaching at another one of our middle schools,” Maguire explains.

Under new labor-contract language, which the superintendent describes as “an important part of this partnership,” an individual “does not lose pay. That person maintains pay and benefits while student teaching.”

The hard work involved in such change, says Rene Antrop-Gonzalez, dean of Metro State’s School of Urban Education, “would not have happened without the courageous leadership of Dr. Maguire,” in conjunction with the district’s human resources and labor relations leaders and school board.
The work of student teachers on leave from paraprofessional positions is funded through the district’s regular operating budget.

Another recent Metro State effort to address barriers keeping teachers of color from classrooms used funds appropriated by the Minnesota Legislature in 2015 for student-teaching pilot projects. The program, now concluded, provided stipends to help offset their expenses while student-teaching.

It’s all important work. Our schools are growing increasingly diverse, while only about 5 percent of Minnesota’s teachers come from communities of color, President Arthur observes. “And that number has not moved in years.”

Perhaps, now, it will. “This is one barrier we can remove,” Arthur told us.