“Grow Your Own” Grant to put diversity first for Austin Public Schools

(ABC 6 News) – In the Austin Public School district, about 55% of students are of color, however less than 4% of teachers match the same demographic. APS is looking to change that ratio and create a more diverse district with the “Grow Your Own” grant.

APS joined 31 other school districts in southeast Minnesota in a joint application for the “Grow Your Own’ grant by the Minnesota Department of Education. Austin will receive $749,000 in funds to create opportunities for students to explore the teaching profession. For adults, this money will help recruit and prepare community members to join the education field.

“Taking people that maybe already know they have a passion in this area and helping to fund and support them pursuing their dream,” said Sheri Willrodt, Executive Director of Special Services for Austin Public Schools.

“Taking adults that are ready to go and committed to right away pursuing those college credits and getting their teacher licensure up to speed.”

For students, the money will help create opportunities to explore a degree in teaching through different classes, future educator classes, and potential mentorships. These programs will align with the district’s Packer Profile, which guides students to explore future careers through different learning experiences.

“Part of our strategic plan is to really help students unpack their why and figure out what it is that they connect to,” added Katie Baskin, the Executive Director of Academics and Administrative Services for Austin Public Schools.

“Not just through our content, but also through experiences throughout their educational journey.”

The grant will start giving people new opportunities this fall. More opportunities to start pursuing a teaching career could happen during the spring semester.

In response to the news, Superintendent Joey Page said in a statement: “Given that Austin Public Schools are becoming more diverse, educators of color have been shown to make a difference, and the teacher shortage in greater Minnesota, these grants give us a chance to recruit, train, and keep the next generation of teachers in Austin.”

In addition, APS received a second GYO grant in partnership with the Zumbro Education District for over $460,000. This grant will be used to assist in recruiting Special Education teachers.