Mentor Program provides leadership roles for classified staff
CASTLE ROCK— Once per month, a group of 70+ classified employees meet to gather information about district-level happenings and decisions, ask questions of department representatives and share best practices with each other.
Now in its fourth year, the Classified Staff Mentor Program is a leadership opportunity for classified staff from schools and district departments. Selected by principals or supervisors, these mentors are responsible for completing one-on-one inductions with new classified employees and providing communication back to other classified employees from their site.
The goals of the Mentor Program include providing rapid development of confident and competent new employees, reinforcing the value of support staff as professional members of the organization and improving job satisfaction through increased knowledge and skills.
The program was founded out of a need for two-way communication between school employees and the district. Peggy Mueller, Douglas County School District’s Director of Professional Development and Personalized Learning, along with professional development staff members Melody Bishop, Jackie Feely and Vanessa Hoffman, built and have been nurturing the program to meet this need, as well as increase classified employee retention.
“The more a person has one-to-one contact in their workplace and has somebody they can go to to get answers or find out how to get answers, the more they feel connected to that workplace and apart of a group,” Mueller said.
Each meeting features a designated speaker or multiple speakers, primarily directors or representatives from district departments to help provide clarity on their department’s role and to answer questions from the participants. Staff from several departments such as finance, community relations, sustainability, life safety and business services have presented and answered questions at Mentor Program meetings. The result has been very straight-forward and honest conversations on what is happening in the district, which is then reported back to each mentor’s site.
“We ask them who they would like us to bring in to speak and what they would like to learn more about,” said Mueller. “They know the agenda for each meeting ahead of time. Often they’ll send an email to the other classified employees in their school to ask what questions they have for the scheduled speaker. In a district as big as ours, it’s good that they get to put a face with the name and that they have the ability to ask them questions in person.”
Based on over 700 responses to evaluations sent to mentors, their supervisors and the staff they serve, the Mentor Program is the number one vehicle for keeping classified staff informed of Professional Development opportunities. Nearly every supervisor who responded to the survey said that having a mentor has improved communication with support staff and that having a mentor in their building reinforces the value and support of classified staff.
“This program is SO valuable for providing leadership opportunities for classified staff while affirming the hard work of our classified staff, and helping our staff to feel supported and connected on a larger scale,” said one supervisor. “Our department has over 170 classified staff in over 68 buildings. This resource is tremendous!”
“My mentor has offered support throughout the school year and also checked in with me to inquire about my needs,” said a classified colleague of a participating mentor. “She consistently reminds me that she's eager and prepared to assist me with anything. I really appreciate that when I ask a question she doesn't know the answer, she always follows-up to find out!”
Mentors additionally have the opportunity to network with employees from other schools and departments, gaining valuable contacts they can correspond with on a regular basis, not just at the meetings.
“We try to make it a bonding situation, and we get to know people really well,” Mueller said. “At each meeting, we have them connect with another participant and find out what they do. It helps to build bridges and gives them a new contact with a whole new base of knowledge.”
The Classified Staff Mentor Program has been expanding year after year, and is encouraging all schools and departments to recommend a mentor this Spring for the 2017-18 school year.