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Hormel Foundation gives $2.8 million to Austin schools

By Karen Colbenson

kcolbenson@postbulletin.com

A $2.8 million donation from the Hormel Foundation to Austin Public Schools will go toward remodeling and expanding its high school science labs, and will help give teaching staff the opportunity to earn advanced degrees and certificates.

The award was announced Friday. Of the total, $1.5 million will be used for remodeling and expanding the six existing science labs and adding two additional labs to the third floor of the high school. Work is expected to begin next summer.

A $1.3 million grant will give teaching staff them an opportunity to earn master’s degrees or certification in the subjects of science, math and early education literacy in science. Four additional fellowships will be offered each year for other content areas, such as music or Spanish. The teaching development program will be coordinated and monitored by the University of Minnesota.

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Teachers will be able to apply to the University of Minnesota graduate school, and once accepted, the Hormel Foundation will pay the fee for them to participate in graduate-level credits. The courses will be offered in Austin during the school year and the summer. Scientists at the Hormel Institute have agreed to be part of the summer instruction.

"This is a gift," said Superintendent Candace Raskin. "It’s a $20,000 investment in a teacher. There were some (teachers) in tears, saying, ‘I can’t believe this; I have kids in college, there’s no way I could afford to go back (to school), and not only am I going to go back, I’m going to get the very best institution in the state providing high-level quality instruction here in Austin.’"

The district does not offer advanced-placement courses in science, due to lack of lab space and lack of the capacity to teach those higher level courses. The award will allow the school district to offer advanced-placement courses in biology, chemistry and physics.

The University of Minnesota also will make Austin a professional practice partner district, meaning it will use its research to help solve district problems, said Raskin.

A version of this story appeared in the Austin Post-Bulletin.

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