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Principals’ mentoring program made official

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Before he ever heard about a new principal mentorship program, Ron Tidmore reached out to a fellow principal for advice.

“I asked her for help, because her school is where I want my school to be,” he said, gesturing toward principal Elisa Beguería. “So I had to lower my head and go find somebody that was doing things in a different way, to help me to move my kids where they deserve to be.”

Both Tidmore and Beguería are elementary school principals in Roswell, and both are participating in a new principal leadership program offered by the Public Education Department. The mentor relationship they began informally has now been made official.

Beguerí, who heads East Grand Plains Elementary, is a mentor. She is helping to coach a handful of principals, including Tidmore of Washington Avenue Elementary, who have not been as successful as she has. There are about 14 mentors helping 40 colleagues, who are all together this week in Albuquerque to kick off a year of working together. Mentors will stay in touch with all the principals they are coaching through email and other means, and the whole group will get together again in January and again in April for workshops and presentations.

The mentorship program, called “Principals Pursuing Excellence,” is based in part on a school leadership program at the University of Virginia, which has been touted by the PED and by some New Mexico school districts that have sent their school leaders through the program. The program is a collaboration between the business and education schools at the University of Virginia, and is heavily focused on how leaders can use data to improve performance.

State education chief Hanna Skandera said the New Mexico program borrows some elements from the University of Virginia, but it is tailored to New Mexico’s needs.

“The vision for this really came from, you know what, not everybody’s going to get to go to UVA,” Skandera said. “We need to grow our bench, we need to develop something that’s an ongoing part of our state, and we want to reach more folks as quickly as possible.”

All principals in the program – the mentors and the mentored – will receive stipends for their participation. That funding comes from a budget appropriation the PED received for turn-around efforts at low-performing schools. The PED has also received some private grant funding to support the initiative.

Beguería said the PED program has also included helpful training for the mentor teachers on how to coach other principals. She said she has a tendency to want to rush in and fix problems, instead of helping others figure out their own solutions.

“We were doing all this role playing and I’m a fixer; I’m a big mama. I just want to get it done and fixed and move on,” she said, adding that facilitators gave her feedback about that. “They were just like, ‘No, no, no, you cannot fix it for them. They need to make their own decisions.’ ”