MANKATO — Preschool and camp scholarships, volunteer parent coaches and more teacher mentors are among the ways Mankato Public Schools will spend a new pool of diversity funding.

Mankato School Board members heard an update Monday on the district’s achievement and integration plan.

Mankato is among four area districts now receiving state and local dollars they can use toward equity and integration initiatives. Mankato’s goals include improving equity and reducing disparities while increasing achievement for all students, Director of Human Resources and Organizational Development Eric Hudspith said at Monday’s board meeting.

Mankato, along with the St. Peter, Cleveland and Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton districts are now eligible for funds because of growing diversity in the Mankato district. A quarter of the district’s students are not white.

The program gives districts $350 for each of its minority students and another $10 for every pupil. For Mankato it means over $900,000 in additional funding each year. The state provides 70% of the funds and a new property tax levy provides the remaining dollars.

The Mankato School Board members on Monday reviewed goals and a generalized three-year plan for the funds that they established last winter. District administration also provided some more details and gave an implementation status update.

The district hired Jessica O’Brien in August to lead the district’s integration initiatives. She previously managed the district’s refugee employment services program and more recently had been a community engagement manager for the Region 9 Development Commission. She is receiving an annual salary of nearly $83,000.

The district also has hired more professional development coaches to support elementary teachers and expanded their roles to include more cultural competency work. Each elementary school now has a teacher coach.

Most components of the district’s plan are still in the development stages.

The district is planning a parent coaching program in which volunteers will help engage parents of early childhood and elementary students with opportunities at their school and provide other support. The volunteers will supplement the engagement work cultural liaisons already are doing with immigrant families.

Much of the district’s plan focuses on early learning in an effort to reduce the achievement gap before children even reach kindergarten.

Scholarships and free transportation will be provided to help select families attend district or other approved community preschool programs. The district also is planning to share teacher coaches with partnering community preschools to help them build their pupil’s early literacy skills.

Some families with preschool-age programs also will be given scholarship memberships to the Children’s Museum of Southern Minnesota.

Some older students will receive scholarships for educational summer camps along with college tours and career and cultural exploration field trips alongside students from neighboring districts.

Area districts also are planning to come together for an ‘equity summit’ in the summer of 2020 for both teachers and students.

The district will work to cultivate more diversity among teachers through continued partnership with Minnesota State University to provide a pathway for paraprofessionals and other employees of color to earn a teaching license.

The district currently has 32 teachers and other licensed staff who are persons of color, Hudspith said.

The district also is developing an eighth-grade exploration class for students interested in becoming a teacher. A high school version of the class already exists. While the classes are open to all students, the goal is to encourage more minority students to go into the teaching profession.

The district was required to submit its plans to the state. But Supt. Paul Peterson said the district does have some freedom to make changes over the next three years after further study and trial runs.

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