Grant Extends Foundation’s Support of METP to 10 Years, $42 Million

Success of teacher preparation program draws $28 million in continued funding for UM, MSU

Graduating METP seniors, including Ben Logan of Sherman, have gained hands-on teaching experience since their freshman year as part of the program. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

JACKSON, Miss. – A new commitment of $28 million from the Robert M. Hearin Support Foundation marks a total investment of $42.1 million over 10 years into the Mississippi Excellence in Teaching Program, a collaborative teacher preparation program at the University of Mississippi and Mississippi State University that provides both scholarships and an honors college-type experience for top students.

The new funding, which the universities will split, will sustain the program until 2021 and comes as METP leaders prepare for the program’s fifth class of new freshmen.

Meanwhile, METP seniors at both UM and MSU, who were recruited into the program’s charter class in 2013, are planning to graduate in May and enter Mississippi’s teacher workforce for the first time.

“The Hearin Foundation’s goal is to improve the economic status of Mississippi,” said Laurie H. McRee, a trustee of the Jackson-based foundation. “(We) believe that if you can help raise the level of education, you can raise the economic level of state, as well.

“It’s incredible to see the caliber of (students) the program is attracting. The fact that the universities are working together is just icing on the cake.”

“We hope that this provides a template for our state institutions to continue to work together for education, particularly with respect for teacher education,” said Alan Perry, a trustee of the Hearin Foundation and a member of the Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning. “We hope that their example is followed by other institutions across our state.”

Enrollment information compiled by the two universities shows a significant uptick in both the number and quality of new college students entering teacher education programs at UM and MSU since 2013, as a result of METP.

UM education Dean David Rock, a key figure in creating METP, speaks to a new cohort of Ole Miss freshman in the program. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

“The METP is the culmination of hard work that’s been done by the leadership of Mississippi’s two largest universities – normally very spirited rivals – to come together to address a very critical issue for this state, the future quality of K-12 teaching,” MSU President Mark E. Keenum said. “The continuation of this vital partnership shows the confidence that the Hearin Foundation has in our universities to substantially address this need in a transformative way.”

The program is designed to attract the best and brightest students from around the nation, and the average ACT score for incoming METP freshmen at both institutions is approximately 30. Today, 146 students from 16 states are members of METP at the two institutions. More than 60 percent of participants come from Mississippi.

“METP is truly a high-impact, high-value investment in the future of our state, and we are very grateful to the Robert M. Hearin Foundation for its continued support,” UM Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter said. “The METP scholars are exceptionally talented students who, as educators, will transform lives and communities throughout Mississippi.”

One of the nation’s most valuable scholarships, METP offers each recipient four years of tuition, housing expenses, living stipends, a study abroad experience, monies to attend conferences and more.

The study abroad experience, valued at more than $6,000 per student, is a huge draw to potential recruits. Last summer, students from UM and MSU traveled together to British Columbia where the rising seniors spent time studying education systems in a different cultural context.

“This is one of the most significant private gifts to attract top students into the teaching profession,” said David Rock, dean of the UM School of Education. “This investment shows the value and importance of teaching. The economic impact of this program cannot be overstated.”

“The College of Education is excited about the Hearin Foundation’s continued support for the Mississippi Excellence in Teaching Program,” said Richard Blackbourn, dean of the MSU College of Education. “These additional funds will allow us to expand the program, thereby increasing the number of outstanding teachers placed in Mississippi classrooms.”

Admission into the program has become increasingly competitive since 2013. As a result, the overall caliber of freshmen education majors has increased at both universities, according to data provided by the institutions.

METP fellows Ben Logan of Sherman (left), Lydia Hall of Madison, Kay P Maye of Gulfport and Rylee Blomberg of Belleville, Illinois, were among the first students to join the UM chapter of the prestigious program. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

At Ole Miss, the School of Education has seen the number of freshman education majors with a 28 or higher on the ACT rise from five in 2012 to 42 in 2016 and is enjoying a 94 percent retention rate of its students.

“We are thankful to the Hearin Foundation for the opportunity to continue to improve a program that will have a positive impact on Mississippi,” said Ryan Niemeyer, director of METP at UM. “Their commitment to improving teacher preparation is bringing in students who would have otherwise never pursued living and working in our state.”

At MSU, the College of Education has seen its number of students with a 28 or higher on the ACT rise from 26 in 2012 to 54 in 2016 and is experiencing a 90 percent retention rate.

The program was created in 2013 with a startup donation from Hearin of $12.9 million.

This is the third time the foundation has made an investment into METP. In 2016, it granted additional funds that allowed both universities to increase the program’s incoming cohort size from 20 to 30 students each, allowing 60 new students into the program each year.

For admission into the program, applicants must possess top academic credentials – typically at least a 28 on the ACT or comparable score on the SAT – but they must also demonstrate a dedication and passion for the teaching profession as part of an interview with education faculty members.

Another aspect of the program is that students from both universities get chances to study alongside each other every year. Each spring, as part of regular cross-campus visits, the students come together for a weekend of seminars to discuss education issues. The location for the cross-campus visits rotates between Starkville and Oxford.

“I feel like I am prepared for teaching because we have been in classrooms since freshmen year,” said Brenna Ferrell, an Ocean Springs native who will graduate from UM with a degree in secondary English education in May.

“METP creates a sense of comradery and group. I have a family at the School of Education. We lean on each other. I am really thankful that I got to be part of the first class. I think everyone is going to do great things.”

In 2016, METP also expanded from exclusively training secondary education majors to include elementary and special education majors, as well. UM and MSU expect to admit a combined total of 60 new METP students in August 2017.

Besides Ferrell, other UM students scheduled to graduate from the program in May are: Lydia Hall and Anna Claire Kelly, both secondary English education majors from Madison; Nancy “Bella” Hutson, a secondary mathematics education major from Liberty; Shelby Knighten, a secondary English education major r Gautier; Ben Logan, a secondary mathematics education major from Sherman; Kaypounyers Maye, a secondary English education major from Gulfport; Katianne Middleton, a secondary mathematics education major from Selma, Alabama; Abigail Null, a secondary English education major from Corinth; Emily Reynolds, a secondary English education major from Brandon; Rachel Sanchez, a secondary English education major from Southaven; Jenna Smiley, a secondary English education major from Meridian; Jake Wheeler, a secondary mathematics education major from St. Johns, Florida; and Kaye Leigh Whitfield, a secondary English education major from Birmingham, Alabama.

Streets Endow Scholarship to Honor Longtime UM History Professor

Education fund named after Harry P. Owens, professor emeritus and Civil War scholar

Dr. Harry P. Owens. Photo by Robert JordanPhoto by Robert Jordan

Harry P. Owens. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – A recent gift from two University of Mississippi donors will provide scholarship opportunities for future UM secondary education majors while honoring Professor Emeritus Harry P. Owens, who taught history at the university for more than 35 years.

The Dr. Harry P. Owens Secondary Education Opportunity Scholarship Endowment was created with a $25,000 commitment from Bill and Ginny Street of Alabaster, Alabama.

Bill, a senior vice president at ServisFirst Bank, started his post-college career as a social studies teacher in DeSoto County in 1978 after receiving his undergraduate degree in secondary education from UM.

“The thing that I got from Harry was learning how to listen,” Bill explained. “Even if someone is on a different side (of the aisle) than you, you should hear what they have to say because you might learn something useful. I credit him with my ability to do that.”

Bill was a nontraditional college student. After initially losing interest in his studies at UM in 1969, he left the university to serve in the U.S. Navy, where he became a submarine petty officer. After being discharged in 1975, he returned to the university with two new things: a new resolve for his studies and tuition money from the G.I. Bill.

During this time, he was highly influenced by the Civil War historian. According to Bill, he and the professor just “clicked” and they bonded over their extensive interest and knowledge of Civil War history. The professor became a mentor for the sailor-turned-teacher.

Owens and his wife, MaryLou, still live in Oxford.

Bill and Ginny Street of Alabaster, Alabama (Submitted Photo)

Bill and Ginny Street. Submitted photo

“The most telling thing I can say about Bill is this: The first time I met him, I was teaching a new course that I had never taught before about the military history of the American Civil War,” Owens said. “I remember that there was Bill and one other student, who, if ever I had a single doubt in my mind about a particular fact, I could look at Bill for confirmation. He knew that much.”

Owens recently attended a meeting with Bill, Ginny and leadership from the UM School of Education, after finalizing the gift.

“Bill doing this in my name is a most gracious thing,” Owens said. “This reinforces the idea that teachers count.”

After college, Bill took a teaching and coaching job in Horn Lake, where he was named the school’s Star Teacher after his very first year in the classroom.

Although no longer a student, he kept in touch with his favorite professor. The two men often conversed via phone or would meet up when Bill and Ginny would return to the Oxford for sporting events.

To the Streets, this scholarship is also a way for the couple to help students who struggle with the tuition demands of college. Without the G.I Bill scholarship, Bill said would not have been able to afford his Ole Miss education.

A needs-based scholarship, each year recipients of the award will receive tuition support after being selected by the UM School of Education Scholarship Committee. The scholarship will support Ole Miss students majoring in secondary education.

“Harry had a profound impact on me and we want to put his name on this (scholarship),” Bill said. “We want to give someone an opportunity that they might not get otherwise. That’s what this is all about.”

Willie Price Playground Donated to Lafayette Elementary School

Play structure donation coordinated by local parent-teacher organization

(left to right) Pam Swain, Sarah Langley and Amanda Winburn worked together to coordinate the donation of the Willie Price playground.Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

(left to right) Pam Swain, Sarah Langley and Amanda Winburn worked together to coordinate the donation of the Willie Price playground.Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Willie Price Lab School, a pre-K facility operated by the University of Mississippi School of Education, has made a sizeable donation to the Lafayette County School District with the gift of its existing playground as the preschool makes plans to replace the play structure.

Coordinated by members of Lafayette’s parent-teacher organization, the playground soon will be used by children at Lafayette, which did not previously have a playground for its lower elementary school. Willie Price will upgrade its facility with the installation of a new playground later this winter.

“Our playground was better-suited for children who are a little bit older, like the children at Lafayette,” explained Sarah Langley, Willie Price director. “So, when we were approached by the Lafayette PTO, we thought it was a perfect solution. (That playground) still has a lot of life left in her!”

Willie Price administrators decided to upgrade the facility in preparation for the preschool to become accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children. The new playground will be purchased with funding from a grant from the Mississippi Department of Education.

Lafayette PTO members, including Pam Swain and Amanda Winburn, played key roles in the coordination of the gift by working with staff at Willie Price and Lafayette.

Workers from McGregor Industrial Steel Fabrication donated their time and resources to move the playground from Willie Price to Lafayette Elementary School. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

Workers from McGregor Industrial Steel Fabrication donated their time and resources to move the playground from Willie Price to Lafayette Elementary School. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

“I have two daughters in the Lafayette School District, so when I heard Sarah talking about Willie Price’s new play equipment, I put two and two together,” said Winburn, UM assistant professor of counselor education and a Lafayette PTO member. “I think this is a wonderful example of how it takes a village to provide for opportunities our children.”

Oxford-based company McGregor Industrial Steel Fabrication donated the workforce and resources needed to move the structure from Willie Price to the Lafayette campus on Nov. 15.

The structure will be split into two pieces at its new location. Part of the playground will be used by Lafayette’s lower elementary school and part of it will be used by the district’s special education program.

“We started raising money a couple of years ago to build a new playground (at Lafayette),” said Swain, who serves as president of Lafayette’s upper elementary PTO.

“So now, this will allow us to use the money we’ve raised to build new fencing. This puts us light years ahead of where we thought we could be in the process.”

Willie Price’s new structure will be installed in the coming months and the preschool will host a silent auction fundraiser in January to raise additional money for additional playground features such as balance beams, conversation benches and shades to add to the overall design of the playground.

Implicit Bias Expert Benjamin Reese Jr. to Speak at UM

Duke University VP to lead frank discussion on subconscious attitudes

Ben Reese, senior vice president for institutional equity

Ben Reese Jr., senior vice president for institutional equity at Duke University, speaks Thursday at UM.

OXFORD, Miss. – Benjamin Reese Jr., chief diversity officer and vice president of the Office for Institutional Equity at Duke University, will speak to University of Mississippi faculty, staff and students Thursday (Oct. 6) to discuss the role of implicit bias in people’s everyday lives.

Free and open to the public, the event is set for 6 to 7:30 p.m. in the Ole Miss Student Union ballroom.

“I think everyone is familiar with explicit biases, the conscious behaviors that are discriminatory,” explained Reese, a clinical psychologist with more than four decades of experience. “However, implicit biases refer to the ways in which we behave, or make decisions, that we are not aware of.

“We may think our decisions are fair and equitable, but there is still a subconscious bias.”

Implicit bias is a judgement and/or behavior that is rooted deep in subconscious attitudes and/or beliefs. Implicit biases can be either positive or negative toward a specific group with certain characteristics, such as age, appearance, race, sexuality or weight.

“We want people to be aware that we all have biases,” said Nichelle Robinson, UM School of Education diversity officer, who coordinated the event. “It’s once we are aware of these biases that we can begin to work to change these behaviors.”

During the event, Reese will define implicit bias and share steps that individuals can use to identify and decrease these subconscious judgements.

He will also discuss free implicit association tests that can help individuals identify their own implicit biases. One example is Project Implicit, hosted by Harvard University.

bias“I think it’s important to walk away (from this discussion) with an understanding of how bias develops within us,” Reese said. “There is some compelling research that suggests all of the different ways that implicit bias operates, and I will give some examples so people can gain an understanding of their own everyday decisions.”

Reese also will conduct a special session with students from the School of Education at 9 a.m. Friday (Oct. 7) at the Jackson Avenue Center.

For close to 40 years, Reese has consulted both public and private institutions on organizational change, conflict resolution, race relations, diversity and more.

The event is sponsored by the UM School of Education, Center for Inclusion and Cross-Cultural Engagement, Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, and Office of Multicultural Affairs.

University Partners with USM to Expand Jumpstart

UM literacy center plans statewide expansion through collaborations

Jumpstart recruits college students from a variety of academic majors to teach language and literacy skills in pre-k classrooms. Photo by Nathan Latil- University Communications

Jumpstart recruits college students from a variety of academic majors to teach language and literacy skills in pre-K classrooms. Photo by Nathan Latil/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – A new collaboration between the University of Mississippi and the University of Southern Mississippi will expand Jumpstart, a national organization that helps children develop the language and literacy skills needed to excel in kindergarten.

This ongoing effort to expand Jumpstart statewide is led by UM’s Center for Excellence in Literacy Instruction. Last fall, the university announced a similar partnership when CELI staff helped expand Jumpstart into the Columbus area by partnering with Mississippi University for Women.

“We have a goal of having a Jumpstart presence at all IHL campuses statewide,” said Angela Rutherford, CELI director. “The University of Mississippi will be the ‘central hub’ for Mississippi Jumpstart as we help grow the program.”

Jumpstart opened its first Mississippi chapter in 2012 at Ole Miss. The program recruits undergraduate students from all academic disciplines and provides volunteers with specialized training and placement in pre-K classrooms where students provide support to existing education centers.

“Jumpstart is a great hands-on experience, and a lot of it,” explained Olivia Morgan, CELI literacy specialist and the state program manager for Jumpstart. “The experience is not just beneficial to education majors, but anyone who wants to work with children or have children of their own one day.”

Volunteers complete at least 300 volunteer hours in an academic year between training and teaching as part of the program. Students also receive a Segal AmeriCorps Education Award that can be applied toward education expenses.

“Children in Hattiesburg need this kind of exposure to rich vocabulary and social skills,” said Laura Beth Hull, the new site manager for the USM chapter and a graduate student in speech pathology there. “Jumpstart is here to help bridge that gap and our students want to be a part of it.”

As the site manager, Hull is working on recruitment and hopes to have 12 students working in two classrooms by the end of October.

Mississippi does not offer universal public pre-K education and state data suggests a significant need for it. A 2015 assessment conducted by the Mississippi Department of Education found that approximately 64 percent of Mississippi children do not possess the literacy skills needed for entering kindergarten.

As noted by Rutherford, literacy research suggests that children who experience quality early childhood education are more likely to be proficient readers by third grade.

According to the National Institute for Early Education Research, multiple studies show quality preschool programs can produce lasting gains in academic achievement, including gains in reading. Studies also show communities could reap an estimated $7 return on every $1 invested in public pre-K education in the form of long-term cost savings.

CELI oversees more than 35 Oxford-based volunteers at three sites in north Mississippi, and the chapter serves more than 100 children. At the MUW chapter, more than a dozen volunteers serve more than 40 children in Columbus area. The new Hattiesburg chapter is expected to be operational by mid-October.

CELI hopes to identify new partnerships for the expansion of Jumpstart in the coming year.

Melody Musgrove Joins Graduate Center for Study of Early Learning

Former U.S. Department of Education administrator to serve as co-director and associate professor

Melody Musgrove is the new co-director of the UM Graduate Center for the Study of Early Learning. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

Melody Musgrove is the new co-director of the UM Graduate Center for the Study of Early Learning. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Melody Musgrove, an accomplished public education leader and advocate, has joined the University of Mississippi faculty as co-director of the Graduate Center for the Study of Early Learning and associate professor of special education.

Housed within the UM School of Education, the center was established in 2015 to provide research and collaborative leadership to advocate for more quality pre-K education programs throughout the state. The center is financially supported by the Phil Hardin Foundation of Meridian.

“The combination of working with the graduate center and the chance to teach at this university is a very appealing opportunity,” said Musgrove, a Mississippi native. “I believe that Ole Miss is on the move in the field of teacher education and I am excited to be part of that.”

Before joining UM, Musgrove served as director of the Office of Special Education Programs at the U.S. Department of Education from 2010 to 2016. OSEP oversees the administration of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, a law that ensures educational services and opportunities for children of all ages. The $13 billion program provides grants, monitoring and technical assistance to states.

Musgrove, who also served as state director of special education with the Mississippi Department of Education, started her career as a classroom teacher. This is Musgrove’s first major faculty appointment in higher education.

In her new role, she will teach undergraduate and graduate courses in education and work alongside the center’s other co-director, Cathy Grace. As collaborative leaders, the two will work to provide professional development for pre-K teachers, conduct research on the importance and impact of early learning, and provide public and political advocacy for the expansion of early childhood education statewide.

“I am thrilled that a person of Dr. Musgrove’s experience and long-term commitment to Mississippi’s children will be joining the center,” Grace said. “Her wealth of knowledge relative to meeting the needs of all children, especially those with special needs, will allow the center to broaden the opportunities we will offer.”

The Graduate Center was established as a continuation of the School of Education’s efforts to prioritize the training of pre-K educators in Mississippi.

According to the National Institute for Early Education Research, several studies show quality preschool programs can produce lasting gains in academic achievement, including gains in reading and mathematics. Studies also show an estimated $7 return on every $1 invested in public pre-K education in the form of long-term cost savings.

Mississippi offers no statewide early childhood education in public schools.

Musgrove holds a doctorate in educational leadership and a master’s degree in special education from the University of Southern Mississippi and a bachelor’s degree in education from Mississippi College.

“We have a responsibility to raise awareness of the importance of early learning both in general education and in children with disabilities,” Musgrove said. “Dr. Grace has done a great job with this already, and I am excited to be part of that good work.”

Mississippi Excellence in Teaching Program Admits 30 at UM

Elite scholarship program expands to elementary and special education, draws students from nine states

The fourth cohort of METP is composed of 30 freshmen from nine states and has an average ACT score of 29.7.Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

The fourth cohort of METP is composed of 30 freshmen from nine states and has an average ACT score of 29.7.Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – The 30 outstanding freshmen who comprise the fourth class of the Mississippi Excellence in Teaching Program at the University of Mississippi posted an average ACT score of 29.7, making it the program’s largest and most academically accomplished incoming cohort yet.

Originally designed for secondary education majors, the METP scholarship program has expanded to accept students majoring in elementary education and special education. It also increased its maximum cohort size from 20 to 30 students, thanks to $600,000 in new funding from the Robert M. Hearin Support Foundation in Jackson.

The freshmen, who come to Ole Miss from nine states, met with faculty and administrators recently during the program’s orientation at the Lyceum. This new cohort brings the number of METP scholarship recipients at UM to 75, and the first class of the program will graduate this May.

“I’m here to welcome you and to thank you for your commitment to go out and change the world,” Provost Morris Stocks told the group at the orientation.

“I am committed to our university and its efforts to transform lives. People who come to us as students go on to change the lives of others, so I am thankful that you care so much about education.”

The incoming freshmen are: Claire Alexander of Moorpark, California; Grace Cauley of Cairo, Georgia; Jessica Flach of St. Louis; Dakota Ford of Dawson Springs, Kentucky; Jordan Freeman of Bishop, Georgia; Claire Gershon of Oxford; Caroline Glaze of Hattiesburg; Zachary Goodrow of Southaven; Heather Grayson of Shawnee, Kansas; Arielle Hudson of Dundee; Kendall Kern of Hernando; Kayleigh Keyes of Monroe, Louisiana; Mary King of Brandon; Melissa McCann of Munster, Indiana; Ashley McDaniel of Corinth; Elizabeth McDowell of Ocean Springs; Jessa McEntire of Newton, Alabama; Holly McGinnis of Hernando; Morgan Moak of Clinton; Amanda Moore of Roanoke, Texas; Gregory Parker of Lucedale; Shelby Phillips of Corinth; Emily Rose of Southaven; Kalissa Rydeen of Frisco, Texas; Ashlign Shoemaker of Horn Lake; Kameron Shook of Ridgeland; Christopher Shute of Brandon; Sarah Sproles of Brookhaven; Sara Valentine of Oxford and Christianna Van Hooreweghe of Spring, Texas.

Established in 2012 with nearly $13 million from the Hearin Foundation, the METP scholarship covers up to four years of tuition, housing, living expenses, study abroad and more.

“There is no other program like this in the nation,” UM Dean of the School of Education David Rock told the students. “You are going to be challenged and start gaining experience in the classroom from freshman year.

“You will travel outside Mississippi and beyond the borders of our nation to learn how education is different across the world. We do all of this because we believe you can choose no greater profession than teaching.”

The program previously focused on recruiting top-performing students into teaching at the secondary level. The recent investment in METP will allow a broader mix of top-performing education students to enter the program.

“Our program that has grown rapidly in just a few years,” said Ryan Niemeyer, METP director. “Each year, the admissions process becomes more competitive and we’re seeing applications from as far away as California now.

“These are high-performing students who want to move across the nation, come to Ole Miss and stay in our state as a teacher. We’re very proud of this.”

METP held its first study abroad experience for seniors last June when it took UM students to different places in British Columbia and Alberta, Canada. During the trip, METP students and faculty had chances to meet with educators in multiple Canadian schools and at the University of British Columbia.

For the past two years, the program has also taken its rising juniors on a trip to Washington, D.C., to study American education from a policy perspective, as well.

“I was most attracted to METP because of the opportunities it provides,” said Alexander, an English education major. “I never thought I’d be able to find a program that would send me on a study abroad trip, pay for my education and help provide a fulfilling job once I graduate.”

All graduates of the program make a five-year commitment to teach in a Mississippi public school following graduation. However, this service commitment may be deferred for three years if a graduate wants to pursue graduate studies before teaching.

“I was blessed to have multiple teachers in high school who went above and beyond for me,” said Glaze, who is majoring in secondary mathematics education. “I believe that teachers are some of the most influential people in people’s lives and I hope to be able to change students’ lives one day.”

For more information on programs in the UM School of Education, go to http://education.olemiss.edu/.

UM Welcomes New Cohort into Hybrid K-12 Leadership Doctoral Program

K-12 education leaders from north, central Mississippi begin doctoral studies

Front row (left to right): Leigh Ann Newton, Amy Sutton, Debra Ware, LaShonda Ivory, Kristen Fondren, and Lindsay Brett. Back row (left to right): Steven Hurdle, Steven Havens, Jason Arledge, Chadrick Spence and Jimmy Weeks. Not pictured: Jacob Gentry and John Michael Tacker. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

Front row (left to right): Leigh Ann Newton, Amy Sutton, Debra Ware, LaShonda Ivory, Kristen Fondren, and Lindsay Brett. Back row (left to right): Steven Hurdle, Steven Havens, Jason Arledge, Chadrick Spence and Jimmy Weeks. Not pictured: Jacob Gentry and John Michael Tacker. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Thirteen Mississippi education leaders make up the second cohort of the University of Mississippi’s Hybrid Doctor of Education program in K-12 leadership.

The group, which hails from north and central Mississippi, gathered at the UM School of Education in August for an orientation with UM administrators, faculty and other doctoral students.

“The No. 1 thing that we need to do in Mississippi is to make sure that every teacher has a great leader,” said David Rock, UM education dean. “This program is designed so that education leaders, who are going to stay in their field, can earn an advanced degree that is going to help them lead schools and districts to success.”

A three-year program, UM’s Hybrid Ed.D. combines both online and face-to-face coursework and is designed to enhance the professional practice of school- and district-level administrators, including superintendents, assistant superintendents, principals, assistant principals and district-level professionals.

The group includes: Jason Arledge, assistant principal of Shannon Middle School; Lindsey Brett, assistant principal of Plantersville Middle School; Kristen Fondren, assistant principal of Aberdeen Elementary School; Jacob Gentry, assistant principal of West Point High School; Steven Havens, principal of Guntown Middle School; Steven Hurdle, principal of Oxford Intermediate School; Lashonda Ivory, assistant principal of Leflore County Elementary School; Leigh Newton, chief academic officer of the Lee County School District; Chadrick Spense, assistant superintendent of the South Panola School District; Eric Sumrall, assistant principal of Durant Elementary School; Amy Sutton, assistant principal of Batesville Middle School; Johnmichael Tacker, assistant principal of Okolona High School; Debra Ware, principal of Clarksdale Middle School and Jimmy Weeks, superintendent of the Lee County School District.

“I function best in a collaborative environment,” said Arledge, who is one of three assistant principals at Shannon Middle School and is in his 16th year in education. “The cohort experience creates a perfect environment for collaboration, and I look forward to creating new friendships and bonds with my classmates through this experience.”

At the end of their program, each Ed.D. candidate will complete and defend a “dissertation in practice,” which is a research project that allows students to evaluate a real-world problem in his or her school district. Each student will design a plan to address a select problem, implement the plan, evaluate their work and present their findings.

“What attracted me most was how the dissertation in practice caters to working administrators,” said Fondren, a two-time Ole Miss graduate who is in her seventh year in education. “I will be able to work on a doctorate while also working on solving a problem in my own district. That’s what’s really attractive about this opportunity.”

Throughout the next three years, the students will complete online coursework in addition to meeting face-to-face for weekend classes every three weeks. The class location will rotate from the Oxford campus to other locations around the state to make the program more accessible to working educators.

UM established its model for a Hybrid Ed.D. in 2014. The Ed.D. program in K-12 leadership is one of three offered at UM, with the others focusing on higher education and secondary mathematics education.

‘An Ambush of Tigers’ Claims CELI Read Aloud Book Award

UM literacy center honors top picture book of the year with annual award

CELI literacy specialist Angie Caldwell reads "An Ambush of Tigers" to children at Willie Price University Lab School.

CELI literacy specialist Angie Caldwell reads ‘An Ambush of Tigers’ to children at Willie Price University Lab School.

OXFORD. Miss. – “An Ambush of Tigers,” by author Betsy R. Rosenthal and illustrator Jago Silver, is the 2016 winner of the CELI Read Aloud Book Award, which presented annually by the University of Mississippi’s Center for Excellence in Literacy Instruction to recognize outstanding new books to read aloud to young children.

Published in April 2015 by Millbrook Press, “An Ambush of Tigers” conjures a wild gathering of rhyming and collective nouns to pique the interest of young children while educating them on vocabulary referring to groups of animals, such as a prickle of porcupines or a shiver of sharks.

“This book really focuses on enriching children’s vocabulary and engaging them with rich illustrations,” said CELI literacy specialist Angie Caldwell, who serves on the Read Aloud award selection committee. “We had a great deal of positive comments and it engaged children in asking questions about the book.”

A committee of UM School of Education faculty and staff and working educators field-tested the eligible books with young children in a variety of educational settings, including schools, homes and media centers.

“Our class loved reading ‘An Ambush of Tigers,'” said Sarah Siebert, pre-K teacher at Willie Price University Lab School and a committee member. “It was an awesome way to introduce new vocabulary words to explain the different names of groups of animals.”

Committee members, who are selected based on their experience with children and their knowledge of children’s books, choose the best read-aloud picture book of the year using rubrics that measure children’s reactions to the books.

The book was chosen as the 2016 winner from 25 eligible books and will carry a seal on its cover. All remaining Read Aloud submission books will be donated to needs-based classrooms in north Mississippi.

Established in 2010, the Read Aloud Book Award recognizes honors books created for children from toddlers to 8 years old and promotes a love of reading. The award is partially supported by the Robert M. Hearin Support Foundation in Jackson.

CMSE Staffer Receives International Award for Robotics Work

Mannie Lowe honored for growth, impact of FTC Robotics Challenge statewide

Mannie Lowe is recognized as the FIRST Tech Challenge Volunteer of the Year. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

Mannie Lowe (left), pictured with John O’Haver, is recognized as the FIRST Tech Challenge Volunteer of the Year. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – Mannie Lowe, a staff member at the University of Mississippi, is the 2016 recipient of the International Volunteer of the Year Award from FIRST, an organization that promotes an interest in STEM fields among students, with programs such as the FIRST Tech Challenge robotics competition for middle- and high-schoolers.

As this year’s honoree, Lowe, a program manager at UM’s Center for Mathematics & Science Education, was selected from more than 200,000 volunteers in 80 countries worldwide for his more than 12 years of service to the organization. He received an honorary certificate from FIRST at a surprise ceremony in July at Ole Miss.

“I’m touched by this award because I hold other people who have won this honor in such high admiration,” he said. “People who have won this in the past have done some truly amazing work with FIRST and with students. I didn’t realize I was held in such high esteem.”

As the manager for FIRST Tech Challenge robotics, Lowe, who previously ran FTC programs as a volunteer in Georgia, has spent the past five years carving out an infrastructure to allow Mississippi middle and high school students, as well as home-schooled children, the opportunity to design and build their own robots and compete in tournament-style competitions at the local, state, regional and even international level.

The competitions allow students to learn and apply knowledge in such disciplines as engineering, computer science, physics and mathematics. Many students participating in FTC programs go on to earn valuable scholarships to study STEM fields at colleges and universities around the world.

Under Lowe’s leadership, FTC programs in Mississippi have grown from just four robotics teams in 2012 to more than 40. Lowe spends about two days a week on the road, working with students and teachers to help FTC teams with their robot designs, a task that requires countless hours of travel and work after hours.

“First and foremost, Mannie has a passion for what he does,” said John O’Haver, CMSE director. “He loves what he does and is loved for it. He will use his vacation time and weekends to drive across the state to work with students and teachers. He will tell you himself that he feels like he is living the dream.”

Lowe also helps plan other events related to the robotics competitions, such as regional qualifying tournaments in communities across the state. Each February, the CMSE hosts a statewide competition at UM. This year, the event attracted more than 450 students.

Besides his work in Mississippi, he serves on the FIRST game design team, which brings together an international group of robotics mentors and volunteers who design a new challenge for students each year. This year, the FIRST Res-Q challenge required robotics teams to design a robot that can simulate a mountain rescue mission by lighting beacons, clearing debris and climbing an uphill rack made to simulate a mountain ascent.

“One of the things that amazes me is that we will come up with an idea and say, ‘There’s no way the students will be able to do this,'” he said. “But every year they find a way to top our challenge. It really is amazing to see.”

Lowe said he hopes to help FTC robotics programs continue to grow across the state and to see the number of participating teams rise to 50 in 2017.