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Boulder Valley seeks to put teacher mentor in every school building

Boulder Valley seeks to put teacher mentor in every school building

Boulder Valley School District story on teacher mentor program

BVSD is developing a teacher mentor program for its first and second year teachers. (File photo)

Boulder Valley School District, one of the grantees that received ESSER funding to help create an effective teacher mentor program, will have a two-day summer institute for beginning teachers and plans to put teacher mentors in every one of its 56 schools.

Boulder is one of 26 Colorado school districts participating in the $9.5 million Teacher Mentor Grant program, which is designed to help ensure that novice teachers receive critical mentorship and coaching support that went missing during the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Learning disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic impacted everyone in education but beginning teachers faced an even steeper hill to climb than their more experienced peers. Just as students have learning gaps due to the disruption, beginning teachers also have their own missing pieces. 

Some preservice educators were unable to have adequate clinical residency experiences because of quarantine rules or impacts. New to the profession or “probationary teachers” may have been completing their student teaching experience in the spring of 2020 when it was cut short by the initial COVID closings. Then those same preservice teachers were hired for the first time in the 2020-21 school year and may not have had quality mentorship, instructional modeling, additional professional learning, or feedback and support on their instruction.

The Colorado Department of Education, recognizing this problem, created the Mentor Grant Program from its ESSER III funding that will provide grantee districts the money through the 2023-24 school year to develop their own mentor programs.

Boulder Valley School District is using the majority of its $248,918 grant funding to pay the salary for a teacher on special assignment who will build the program plan with much of the rest of the funding being put toward a two-day summer institute with stipends for second-year induction mentors, according to Katie Mills, the district’s director of professional development. Boulder Valley has 88 educators in its induction program this year, with about 70 expected for the next school year.

Mills and the five other members of her professional learning team are looking at an expansion of the district’s existing one-year induction program. 

“When you look at the research, one year is never enough, because at that point we’re really just getting started,” Mills said. “We’re now shifting to a two-year program. We have 56 schools, so our plan is to have an induction teacher leader in every building, who will act like a mentor leader to train teachers in that building, and to welcome new teachers and new student teachers. Then the induction piece is that we’ll train them to be the second-year mentors.”

Mills hopes that even veteran teachers who move to a new building will take advantage of this point person who can help them navigate unfamiliar territory.

Boulder Valley is also working with the University of Colorado Boulder, which is helping the district ground their mentor program decisions through research and assessment tools.

“We want to know: How do we take what we learn the first year into the second year?” Mills said. “We’re looking to CU to help us hone those decisions so that we can improve our retention rate in a meaningful and sustainable way.”

Mills pointed out that the current struggle to find and retain teachers is actually a new one for Boulder Valley.

“We’ve usually had all of these options, but since the pandemic, things are more complex now,” Mills said. “We need as much support as we can get there, and so we really appreciate that this grant bought us two years to try to figure it out.”