South O'Brien enters partnership with BVU

A Buena Vista University banner hangs outside of South O’Brien 7-12 counselor Ashley Bonner’s office. The district recently entered into a strategic partnership with the un that will allow district employees and eligible family members discounted tuition to further their education at the Storm Lake school, from which Bonner and several other staff members are graduates.

REGIONAL—South O’Brien School District employees and their family members have a new way to save should they choose to further their education at Buena Vista University.

The district recently entered into a strategic partnership with the Storm Lake-based college that makes grant funding available to workers at South O’Brien.

Superintendent Wade Riley called the partnership, “a win-win situation” for the district because of how it can benefit staff.

“In today’s world of teaching, it’s becoming harder and harder to find teachers, so when they brought this idea to us, we thought this may be a great opportunity to try to develop some of our own teachers within our current system,” Riley said.

For instance, if there were a paraprofessional in the district that was considering becoming a full-time teacher, the arrangement with Buena Vista would offer a more affordable avenue for them to obtain a teaching degree.

The idea for the partnership came up when South O’Brien 7-12 principal Denise Phillips connected with Buena Vista’s director of strategic partnerships Laura Todd earlier this year at a conference.

Phillips graduated from Buena Vista in 1996 with her bachelor’s degree in elementary education and later with her master’s degree in K-12 school administration in 2002.

“I enjoyed my time at BVU, a quality university that gave me the skills necessary to make a difference in my community,” Phillips said. “My degree from BVU has helped me in my own career, and I look forward to the opportunities this partnership will create for others.”

Riley said there are several other staff and faculty members in the district who are Buena Vista graduates. He noted how teachers at the high school recently put up flags of their alma maters outside their rooms to go along with college readiness activities taking place at the school.

“I counted the other day — just in that main hallway — there were five BV flags in that main hall,” Riley said.

The partnership extends to all part- and full-time employees in the South O’Brien School District as well as to family members of full-time district staff.

Todd said the grant funding amounts depend on which academic program members of the South O’Brien community pursue.

For those who attend undergraduate classes on Storm Lake’s campus, the partnership provides up to $2,000 annually in tuition savings. Those enrolled in the university’s online or hybrid undergraduate programs or the organizational leadership graduate program meanwhile can save up to 30 percent off the cost per credit hour.

The grant availability through the partnership is in effect for new applicants to Buena Vista’s academic programs. For those already enrolled in Buena Vista classes, the benefits will be applied for their spring semester tuition bills.

The South O’Brien School District serves about 585 K-12 students in Calumet, Gaza, Germantown, Paullina, Primghar and Sutherland and employs about 110 workers.

“We’re really excited to partner with them and a lot of other organizations across Iowa and beyond,” Todd said of the partnership with South O’Brien.

This story was first published in the Nov. 20, 2021, print edition of The South O'Brien Sun.