OXFORD, Miss. – Eleven outstanding educators from school districts across the state make up the seventh cohort of the Principal Corps, the University of Mississippi’s elite program for K-12 leadership.
The group includes Brad Blake of the Vicksburg-Warren School District, Emma Cornwall of the Columbus School District, Stephanie Crowell of the Quitman County School District, Kristy Dunning of the DeSoto County School District, Leslie Mikell of the Lauderdale County School District, Brantley Pierce of Perry County Schools, Brock Ratcliff of Harrison County Schools, Alyson Saucier of Harrison County Schools, Elizabeth Towle of Marshall County Schools, Tristal Watson of Hattiesburg Public Schools and Melanie Wells of Rankin County Schools. Each recruit was nominated for admission into the Principal Corps by his or her district superintendent.
With participants hailing from Columbus and Meridian, the seventh class marks a new presence in east Mississippi for the program. Established in 2009, the 13-month program awards graduates with a master’s or specialist degree in educational leadership from the UM School of Education and has a near-perfect success rate in landing its graduates jobs as educational leaders.
“This program will be a challenging experience that prepares you to serve as a transformational leader,” said Tom Burnham, interim director of the Principal Corps and two-time state superintendent of education. “Each of you will learn to make difficult decisions and the skills and processes needed to serve as an instructional leader focused on moving a school toward higher levels of success, even when it’s challenging.”
One of the most valuable K-12 leadership scholarships in the nation, the program includes full tuition, books and fees, as well as housing and living expenses while completing coursework at Ole Miss The Principal Corps also provides funding to maintain recruits’ salary during the program.
“Our goal is have every Principal Corps graduate in a leadership role in a Mississippi school,” said David Rock, UM education dean. “We know the impact that building level leaders have on student achievement. We need great principals to lead positive change in each school in our state.”
The program focuses on combining theory with experience-based learning. During full-time internships, recruits work closely with mentor administrators, often serving as acting assistant principals. They graduate with a year of full-time experience and often receive job offers from internship sites.
“The most attractive aspect for me was that you come out of the program with a year of full-time experience,” said Leslie Mikell, a recruit from Northeast Lauderdale Elementary in Meridian. “I feel so privileged to be part of such a competitive and prestigious program.”
All Principal Corps graduates make a five-year commitment to stay in Mississippi after graduation and receive a $10,000 bonus upon signing a contract as a principal or assistant principal and beginning work. With 66 graduates, the ranks of Principal Corps alumni could grow to 77 next year.
“For me, this is a chance to seek opportunities and enhance my discipline,” said Brantley Pierce, a recruit from Perry Central High School in New Augusta. “So far, it’s been inspiring to surround myself with people who have the same career goals and are invested in improving education in Mississippi.”
During June, recruits will complete coursework at the Oxford campus before reporting to their first internship site in the fall and a second site in the spring. Each principal-in-training also attends classes at Ole Miss one weekend a month throughout the year.
Originally funded with $2 million in startup money from the Jim and Donna Barksdale Foundation in 2009, the program received additional funding in October 2012, when the Robert M. Hearin Support Foundation awarded Principal Corps $1.5 million in new funding to expand placements across the state.