Iowa State receives $111,000 grant for Iowa school leadership mentoring program

AMES, Iowa -- An Iowa State University mentoring program for new school district leaders has been awarded a $111,000 grant from the R.J. Carver Charitable Trust. The money will pay for continuation of the Iowa Mentoring and Induction Program for the new school year.

Thomas Alsbury, assistant professor of educational leadership and policy studies in Iowa State's College of Education, said new national education research shows leadership in school districts is second only to classroom instruction in benefiting student learning.

Alsbury said the program is important because many novice administrators feel a loss of support systems and a sense of professional isolation with limited feedback in their new roles.

In Iowa, close to 200 new school administrators have started during the past three years, Alsbury said. That number is expected to account for 40 percent of school leaders in the next four years, he added.

"Well-designed mentoring programs help develop a resource network of experienced professionals, promote visibility among peers and encourage challenging and risk-taking activities that might otherwise be avoided," Alsbury said. "For example, new principals have cited mentors as their primary source of assistance in becoming successful school leaders."

Mentors can help new administrators effectively move educational theory into practice, improve communications skills within the school district and community and develop problem-solving techniques.

"Mentors in the program focus on 12 specific areas such as school culture, reforms leading to student achievement gains, diversity and community involvement," Alsbury said. "Mentors are trained in coaching techniques and strategies for guiding and motivating adult learners."

Mentoring also has been shown to increase the number of female and minority job placements by increasing candidate visibility, networking and expanding access to job opportunities, Alsbury said.

"Mentoring programs also have been shown to benefit students in districts with high minority and poverty populations, among other variables," he said. "Leadership effects are usually largest where and when they are needed most."

The Iowa Mentoring and Induction Program began with a one-year pilot program in 2002-2003 funded with a $350,000 grant from the Iowa Department of Education. Alsbury said the Carver Trust money allows the program to continue while it seeks sustainable funding.

Alsbury said an additional piece of this project may be the creation of the first Web site to serve as an online training and discussion venue and a clearinghouse for research and resources on effective educational leadership.

"On-the-job formal mentoring is a relatively recent phenomenon in the field of educational administration and to Iowa school districts," Alsbury said. "Early results show the potential payoff to students, districts, communities and economic development is worth the investment."