An Iowa State University program seeks to prepare better school administrators. Tom Alsbury is an assistant professor in educational leadership at ISU. He says it’s a mentoring program, that lets someone with lots of experience in the field work with a first-year school principal or superintendent. Those administrators are not inexperienced, as Alsbury says they’ve all “come up through the ranks” in Iowa schools. Principals come from the teachers, as Iowa requires them to have taught for at least three years before they can get a license to act as a principal. And it takes several years working as a principal before someone can take a job as superintendent. There’s also a two-year licensure process and hundreds of hours of field work before they can take the job, but Alsbury says there are still plenty of unforeseen challenges. Many who get into administration and take that principal or superintendent job say there’s no way to replicate what actually happens on the job. They say it’d be nice if after getting the job, when they’re facing the real issues, they could get some training and assistance during that time — and that’s what this program provides, Alsbury says. While other states have thought of such programs, Alsbury says many are not as effective as Iowa’s.He says they’ve found that a good mentor doesn’t always just tell things, or give a prescriptive, step-by-step solution when a problem arise. The best mentors are people who’ve honed the skill of asking the right questions, “pressing and probing the protege toward a solution” while applying what they’ve learned through their years of experience. Alsbury says nearly 200 new school administrators have started during the past three years, and many have gone through the mentoring program. When surveyed, they say they’re finding they have lots of the most important skills needed to do their new jobs. A new grant from the R-J Carver Charitable Trust will continue the program for another year, while the ISU College of Education looks for a permanent source of funding.
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