Principals learn new approaches in statewide mentor program

HANCOCK COUNTY — In a push to fine-tune their leadership skills, a handful of local school principals are participating in an exclusive statewide mentoring program.

Heather Noesges, Stephanie Miller and Dan Jack, principals at Fortville Elementary, McCordsville Elementary and Greenfield Central Junior High, respectively, have been selected to be part of the Indiana Principal Leadership Institute’s latest class.

The institute, administered by Indiana State University, leads principals through an intensive two-year program designed to expose them to fresh ideas and approaches to learning. Participants learn from experts in the field and also have time to reflect and discuss ideas as a group.

Principals meet at least once a month for seminars and discussions, sometimes as a whole group at Indiana State University and sometimes in smaller focus groups.

Programs for the latest class, which is made up of 61 principals from across the state, began at the beginning of the school year and will be completed by summer 2017. The institute was created by the Indiana General Assembly in 2013, and two classes have since completed the program.

Heather Whitaker and Keith Fessler, principals at Mt. Comfort Elementary and New Palestine High School, respectively, completed the program this summer.

Whitaker is now serving as a mentor for one of the focus groups. Rhonda Peterson, curriculum director for Southern Hancock School Corp., is also serving as a mentor for the institute.

At each meeting, principals have a chance to bounce ideas off one another and reflect on what initiatives are working well in their schools, as well as those that aren’t, Jack said.

The program is helpful because opportunities to collaborate with principals from other school districts aren’t always easy to come by, Noesges said.

“It’s easy to get so busy running your building that it can be hard to find time to have meaningful conversations with other school principals,” she said.

Those conversations can expose principals to ideas they likely wouldn’t have encountered otherwise, Jack said.

“Each community is a little bit different, and a lot of us have different perspectives on certain ideas or challenges,” he said. “This opens the floor up, so we can pick each others’ brains about how each district handled a situation.”

The recent push by local school districts to equip each student with a personal computing device — a nationwide trend — has been a topic frequently discussed by members at meetings, Jack said.

Those talks have been particularly helpful for Jack, as Greenfield Central Junior High gears up to roll out a similar program in coming years, he said.

To apply for the program, principals have to write personal statements and supply a letter of recommendation from the district superintendent.

Harold Olin, Greenfield-Central superintendent, said it’s important to hear outside perspectives to provide a broad sense of all the options and education strategies available.

While Jack is the first Greenfield-Central principal to participate in the program, Olin said he plans to encourage others to attend the academy in the future.

“We’re proud of the way we’re doing things at Greenfield-Central, of course, but it’s always positive to hear what’s working for other districts,” he said. “That’ll only make us better.”

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Daniel Morgan is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. He can be reached at (317) 477-3228 or