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CUNA Mutual Group has promised more than $1 million to a new program aimed at training and keeping new teachers developed by the Madison School District and the UW-Madison School of Education.

Officials announced the company’s $1.2 million commitment Thursday at Wright Middle School. It is the largest grant the organization has awarded, said CUNA Mutual Foundation executive director Steve Goldberg.

“This is also the largest opportunity we’ll ever have to make a difference in the future trajectory of our community and especially the young people who live here,” Goldberg said.

The money will fund the mentoring of 150 new teachers starting this fall and for the next three years. District spokeswoman Rachel Strauch-Nelson said the district will “be working to develop a sustainable model for years” after that.

The project, dubbed “Forward Madison,” would provide mentors and coaches for new teachers, improve professional development for teachers, and create a program for district students to become teachers to diversify teaching ranks. The CUNA Mutual grant only pays for the mentoring.

“We liked the idea of helping students succeed by helping their teachers succeed,” Goldberg said. “This will also attract a workforce that reflects more completely the demographics of the students they are teaching.”

When the Madison School Board approved the partnership in March, the university’s School of Education said it would commit $452,000 worth of faculty and staff time and program materials, while the district would commit $498,000 worth of district staff time for the project.

The project calls for hiring one coach for high school principals, two for middle school principals and three for elementary school principals. It also involves hiring four mentors and holding a monthly seminar for new teachers.

Falk Elementary School is one of the five Madison schools that CUNA Mutual Group has adopted.

“The Maasai warriors have a traditional greeting that means ‘How are the children?’ ” incoming Falk principal Grace Okoli said. “This partnership is one step our village is taking to improve student engagement and achievement, as well as answer that question. We all want to say the children are well. This funding will allow us to say that.”

The path for district students to become district teachers has not yet been decided.

The process for reserving teaching spots and how many students would be part of such an endeavor is still in development, Strauch-Nelson said.

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Contact reporter Molly Beck at or 608-252-6135. Contact reporter Bailey Berg at or 608-252-6139.