The Glendale and La Canada school districts received additional state funding last week to increase the size of their mentor teacher staffs.
A $42,000 allocation will allow Glendale school officials to increase the number of mentor instructors from from 17 to 24. Another $6,000 given to the La Canada Unified School District will fund one more mentor teaching position, bringing its staff to five.
"This extra money will be a real shot in the arm," said James McGlashan, Glendale's director of secondary instruction who is in charge of the district's mentor program. "It will sort of let us spread our wings a little."
The state's Mentor Teacher Program, established in 1983 after the passage of school reform legislation, is designed for experienced teachers who, besides their regular duties, help other instructors hone their skills.
The mentor teachers, who are each paid an additional $4,000 a year regardless of the base salary, take on such tasks as assisting new teachers by sharing classroom techniques, re-training veteran instructors and developing innovative curricula.
The program was criticized two years ago by some Glendale teachers who opposed the method for choosing who would sit on the committee that chooses the mentors. Much of that criticism has since died down, however, according to Jean Silverman, president of the Glendale Teachers Assn.
"I don't see as much opposition now as there once was," Silverman said. "I think, if there is a problem now, it's with communication. A lot of teachers don't really know what to expect from the mentors, and what they can and cannot request of them."
McGlashan said he has heard similar complaints and acknowledged that the program "started slowly with a lot of misunderstanding as to what the mentor jobs were." But he said the roles are "beginning to take focus."
He said the additional mentor positions should be filled in March from a list of about 70 teachers who applied for the posts last May, when the program was established in Glendale.
The selection committee will also consider applications received since the beginning of the school year from teachers who have at least three years of full-time classroom experience.
During the summer, the mentors, who will be chosen by a committee of eight instructors and seven administrators, will go through a three-week training seminar before starting their new duties in the fall.
Laura Wagner, who is in charge of the statewide mentor program, said money for the additional positions came from funds that had been budgeted to other districts that decided not to participate in the program.
Glendale and La Canada schools will probably be given money next year for more mentor teacher positions because the program's proposed budget has been increased by $7 million, Wagner said.
Budget Cutbacks Feared
However, she said, Gov. George Deukmejian's budget calls for slicing the amount now given to districts each year for the operating costs of each mentor position from $2,000 to only $200.
"That $2,000 is vital because there are always operating costs for districts that choose to have mentor programs," Wagner said. "If the governor gets his way, a lot of big districts have told me that they would pull out because it would be too expensive for them."