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Mentoring program seeks to help with transition for new teachers in district

Park Rapids Area School District mentoring program facilitator Jill Stevenson, left, talks with mentors Jo Judson and Coral Schmitz during a training session last year. The program will continue this fall. (Submitted photo)

Park Rapids teachers benefited from a mentoring program during the 2008-09 school year and hope to continue the program this fall.

The goal of the program is to "attract and retain quality professionals and to improve the quality of instruction for students in District 309," according to the program manual.

Park Rapids Area School District is faced with the challenge of replacing experienced teaching staff with those who are less experienced. A mentoring program helps to make that transition.

Terry Zoller, industrial technology teacher, and Jill Stevenson, fourth-grade teacher, facilitated the program and will continue to facilitate through May 2011, which is the duration of the three-year pilot program.

During the last school year there were 34 participants, including the facilitators, which encompassed 29 percent of the district's staff, Stevenson said.

Some of the incentives included stipends, clock hours and board credits. Overall average attendance for mentors was 83 percent and for mentees was 79 percent.

There were monthly training sessions during the school year that included themes/food, handouts/activities, guest speakers, assignments and surveys.

Mentors and mentees conducted classroom observations of their teaching to get feedback. Surveying the teachers who participated, they discovered the mentoring was not just good for the mentee, but also for the mentor.

"We've had several thank yous from participants," Zoller said.

To be a mentor, recommended criteria includes: a minimum of five years teaching experience, with at least two in District 309; subject to approval by principals/administrators; agreement to attend mentorship training and carry out the expectations of the position; evidence of continuous personal and professional development; District 309 teachers who have been granted leave may be eligible to serve as mentors.

Recommended criteria for mentees includes: being in the first full year of teaching with District 309; designated by administration; and non-tenured teachers who wish to participate.

Mentors and mentees are matched, when possible, according to grade level, degree and content area.

The budget for the mentoring program totals about $7,800. This includes stipends, sub/mileage costs for facilitators, a speaker, sub costs for observations, binders and books, and food and supplies for the monthly meetings. The cost comes out of staff development dollars.