UM Launches Wellness and Physical Activity Credential for Teachers

Mississippi Department of Education to offer new endorsement based on Ole Miss curriculum

Wellness and Physical Activity Endorsement

Wellness and Physical Activity Endorsement

OXFORD, Miss. – The Mississippi Department of Education has launched a new license endorsement in wellness and physical activity for K-6 teachers based on a specialized program designed by education faculty at the University of Mississippi.

This fall, the UM School of Education will begin offering a 12-hour curriculum in wellness and physical activity for elementary education majors who seek to understand the correlations between cognition, physical activity and overall wellness. All students who complete these courses will qualify for the new credential as part of their teaching licenses.

“Our goal is for our students to teach in a way that benefits the whole child,” said Alicia Stapp, assistant professor of wellness and physical activity and coordinator of the program. “Integrating wellness and physical activity into academics benefits all forms of intelligence including academic, physical and social.”

Stapp, a veteran of public schools in central Florida, joined UM to design the new program in 2014 after the School of Education obtained $1.2 million in private funding from the Bower Foundation in Ridgeland to create the wellness program in 2013.

The new endorsement is no typical PE program. In fact, the physical aspect of this methodology is only a small piece of the puzzle. The Ole Miss program focuses on what happens in the minds and bodies of children who are active in a well-designed academic environment.

In essence, the goal is to prepare teachers to jumpstart children’s brains to optimize their capacity to learn and generate positive health outcomes. Wellness education graduates will create and implement lesson plans that integrate music and movement while also focusing on academics.

UM’s coursework utilizes extensive research that shows a direct link between health, physical activity, academic achievement and student behavior. Other research also suggests that incorporating physical activity in a classroom for just 20 to 30 minutes a day could help prevent troublesome conditions such as obesity or Type 2 Diabetes.

With more than 400 students, elementary education is the largest professional major at Ole Miss and graduates should start to emerge with this training within a year.

“The strength of the wellness and physical activity endorsement is that it provides pre-service teachers with the knowledge and skills needed to integrate movement and wellness into the existing curriculum,” said Susan McClelland, chair of the Department of Teacher Education. “This integrated approach can transform a classroom and greatly enhance student involvement in the learning experience and thus, impact student achievement.”

The university’s eventual goal is to place small cohorts of wellness education graduates in individual schools to help shift school cultures in a positive direction.

For more information about UM’s endorsement program in wellness and physical activity visit http://teachwell.olemiss.edu.

UM Inducts Three into School of Education Hall of Fame

Kuykendall, Reynolds and Smith honored for leadership, service in public education

UM education dean David Rock, Jerome Smith, Judith Reynolds and Milton Kuykendall at the Inn at Ole Miss following the School of Education Hall of Fame induction.

UM education Dean David Rock, Jerome Smith, Judith Reynolds and Milton Kuykendall at the Inn at Ole Miss following the School of Education Hall of Fame induction.

OXFORD, Miss. – Three University of Mississippi alumni were admitted into the inaugural class of the UM School of Education’s Hall of Fame.

The inductees were Milton Kuykendall, superintendent of the Desoto County School District; Judith Reynolds, a 45-year educator from Clinton; and Jerome Smith, a retired Jackson-area education leader and former education adviser to Gov. Kirk Fordice. The inductees were honored Friday (May 8) at the School of Education Awards Day Banquet.

“We are proud to honor the dedication and accomplishments of these outstanding alumni,” said David Rock, dean of the School of Education. “Milton Kuykendall, Judith Reynolds and Jerome Smith have made a positive impact on not only their profession but thousands of students and community members in Mississippi.”

The inductees were selected for the honor by the UM Education Alumni Advisory Board after being nominated by their peers in January.

Kuykendall, who holds a master’s degree from UM, has served as superintendent in Desoto County for the past 12 years and previously served as principal of Horn Lake High School for 18 years. During his 45-year career, he has been honored as the state’s top administrator, principal and superintendent by multiple professional originations and was once featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated with his twin brother, Malcom, when the Kuykendall brothers became the nation’s first siblings to simultaneously lead their respective basketball teams to state championships. He plans to retire in December.

“My education at Ole Miss equipped me with knowledge but more importantly, it prepared me to go on the job and apply it,” Kuykendall said. “I’m grateful for all of the opportunities I’ve had in my career, and this wonderful university has offered me so much over the years.”

Reynolds, who received her bachelor’s degree in education from UM in 1968, was a classroom teacher and spent much of her career at Clinton High School, where her teaching accolades included being selected as the school’s Star Teacher nine times, being named Mississippi Star Teacher in 1988, and serving as the chairperson of her school’s departments of English and Foreign Languages. Reynolds has been a National Board Certified Teacher since 1999 and is a member of the Mississippi Hall of Master Teachers at Mississippi University for Women.

“This is an overwhelming honor,” Reynolds said. “There is no career more rewarding than teaching, if you love it. I have spent my entire career working with students and I wouldn’t change a single thing.”

Smith, who earned a bachelor’s degree in 1948 and a master’s in in 1952 from UM, spent more than 52 years in Mississippi dedicated to service and leadership in public education. A World War II veteran, he served in the U.S. Army Air Corps, then attended UM on the G.I. Bill and later went on to be a teacher and football coach at public schools in Louisville. He later served as a counselor and principal at multiple schools including Callaway High School, which became the first integrated public school in the state in 1966 under Smith’s leadership.

His other accomplishments in public education include serving as executive director of Mississippi Professional Educators, where he helped lawmakers appropriate funding for the State Health Plan, which gave health insurance to Mississippi teachers, and helping Gov. Fordice encourage the Mississippi Legislature to provide a $6,000-a-year pay increase for national board certified teachers.

“I’ve enjoyed my profession and I’ve enjoyed my life and I am very proud that I came to Ole Miss,” Smith said. “I would tell any student of education today to attend this university. It has a strong program and it will prepare you to succeed.”

Sweeney Named Mississippi Teacher Corps Director

UM alumnus rejoins program as new leader after serving as secondary school teacher, administrator

Joseph Sweeney

Joseph Sweeney

OXFORD, Miss. – Mississippi Teacher Corps veteran Joseph Sweeney has joined the University of Mississippi School of Education faculty as director of the highly selective teacher preparation program.

Sweeney, who took the helm of the Teacher Corps on March 16, is in the midst of preparing for the program’s 26th cohort of new recruits who will undergo hands-on teacher training during the program’s summer training school in Holly Springs in June and July.

“The Teacher Corps is a great program with great people,” said Sweeney, who also serves as an instructor in the Department of Teacher Education. “It’s almost surreal to be back here, but I feel very confident we will continue to offer a valuable service to the state of Mississippi. I feel like I’m home and this is my dream job.”

Established in 1989, the Teacher Corps, which receives its primary funding from the Mississippi Legislature, is an alternate route program that prepares college graduates to teach and succeed in secondary, critical-needs schools in the state. The program provides job placement with full benefits and salary upon finishing its summer training school.

Each year, the summer school calls upon Teacher Corps alumni and UM education faculty to expose the new cohort to skills and tactics they will need as teachers in the state’s most challenging middle and high school classrooms.

“Joe Sweeney was a rising star during his time in the program,” said Mississippi Teacher Corps co-founder Andy Mullins. “He was successful as a teacher and as a graduate student and showed skill and leadership abilities from the very beginning. When the opening occurred, we immediately thought that Joe would be an excellent choice.”

The Teacher Corps, which can accept up to 35 new recruits a year, requires teachers to complete graduate coursework at UM to earn a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction over two years. Graduates also qualify to apply for an advanced teaching license from the Mississippi Department of Education. More than 600 teachers have come through the program.

Sweeney, a native of Traverse City, Michigan, joined the Teacher Corps in 2004 and served as an English teacher at East Side High School in Cleveland. He later served as the principal for the Teacher Corps’ summer school for three years and was an adjunct faculty member in the UM School of Education, continuing his connection to the program.

Before joining UM, Sweeney was an instructional designer and faculty development coordinator at Baptist College of Health Sciences in Memphis, Tennessee, where he worked with faculty members in health care professions to develop and/or redesign curricula to utilize online, face-to-face and hybrid models. Sweeney has also held teaching positions at H.W. Byers Attendance Center in Mt. Pleasant, Byhalia High School in Byhalia and WinBe English School in Mie, Japan.

This spring, Sweeney expects to complete a doctorate in instructional design and technology from the University of Memphis. He also holds a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction from UM and a bachelor’s degree in English education from Michigan State University.

“We will continue to build on the great foundation that Dr. Mullins and others have built over 26 years,” Sweeney said. “We will continue to recruit good people, support them in the classroom and solidify the Mississippi Teacher Corps’ long-term and positive role in this state.”

Teaching Program Fellows Study Education Policy in Nation’s Capital

Spring break trip offers policy perspective for education students

METP fellows in from the of the U.S. Department of Education. The group includes (left to right): Brenna Ferrell of Ocean Springs, Lydia Hall of Madison, Emily Reynolds of Brandon, Kaye Whitfield of Birmingham, Ala, Katianne Middleton of Selma, Ala., James Wheeler of St. Johns, Fla., Abigail Sudduth of Flowood,Shelby Knighten of Gauthier, Ben Logan of Sherman, Kaypounyers Maye of Gulfport, Rachel Parbs of Southaven,, Anna Claire Kelley of Madison,Bella Hutson of Liberty, Jenna Smiley of Meridian and Abigail Null of Corinth.

METP fellows gather in front of the of the U.S. Department of Education. The group includes (left to right): Brenna Ferrell of Ocean Springs, Lydia Hall of Madison, Emily Reynolds of Brandon, Kaye Whitfield of Birmingham, Alabama, Katianne Middleton of Selma, Alabama, James Wheeler of St. Johns, Florida, Abigail Sudduth of Flowood, Shelby Knighten of Gauthier, Ben Logan of Sherman, Kaypounyers Maye of Gulfport, Rachel Parbs of Southaven, Anna Claire Kelley of Madison,Bella Hutson of Liberty, Jenna Smiley of Meridian and Abigail Null of Corinth.

OXFORD, Miss. – Fifteen University of Mississippi sophomores from the Mississippi Excellence in Teaching Program spent spring break in Washington, D.C., getting a close-up view of how education policy is crafted and administered at the national level.

Throughout the 2014-15 academic year, the cohort has studied education policy issues on a variety of levels as part of specialized seminars designed for METP participants, or fellows.

“This year, our goal is to help fellows understand how policy decisions at the national and state level directly impact schools,” said Ryan Niemeyer, the program’s director. “We’re training students to be exceptional educators. This means equipping them with content knowledge and a pedagogical understanding of teaching. But it also means producing educators who recognize how governing bodies operate and how they can have a voice in policy discussions.”

Established in 2012 with nearly $13 million from the Robert M. Hearin Support Foundation in Jackson, METP is one of the nation’s most valuable teacher education scholarships, designed to attract the best and brightest into the field. The program, which has a partner chapter at Mississippi State, includes four years of tuition, room and board, books, study abroad professional development and more.

METP fellows (left to right) Rachel Parbs of Southaven, Bella Hutson of Liberty, Jenna Smiley of Meridian and Shelby Knighten of Gauthier stand in front of the Washington Monument in the District of Columbia.

METP fellows (left to right) Rachel Parbs of Southaven, Bella Hutson of Liberty, Jenna Smiley of Meridian and Shelby Knighten of Gauthier visit the National Mall.

During the trip, fellows toured the U.S. Capitol and met U.S. Sens. Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker. The group also visited the U.S. Department of Education, where they met with Melody Musgrove, a Mississippi native who directs the department’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services.

On the first night, the group spent an evening discussing state and national education policy with Melody and her husband, former Mississippi Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, at their home in the district.

“I thoroughly enjoyed our evening with the Musgroves,” said METP fellow Ben Logan, a Sherman native who is majoring in both mathematics education and public policy leadership. “We gained an interesting perspective when we able to sit and discuss education policy with Gov. and Dr. Musgrove.”

Throughout the group’s stay, they also visited Arlington National Cemetery, Chinatown, Ford’s Theatre, the Library of Congress, the National Mall, multiple Smithsonian exhibits and more.

“We’ve jumped feet-first into education policy issues this year,” said fellow Rachel Parbs, a Southaven native majoring in English education. “So far, this program is going above and beyond my expectations. Our cohort is bonding and we’re getting to travel. I’m really looking forward to what’s next.”

To date, the UM chapter of METP has recruited 32 students from nine states with an average ACT score of 29.1. Each graduate makes a five-year commitment to teach in a Mississippi public school after graduation. Next year, METP plans to take a group abroad to study education issues from an international perspective when the fellows visit multiple countries within the United Kingdom.

“It was so encouraging to meet people who care about education issues and have ideas for the future,” said fellow Brenna Ferrell, an English education major from Ocean Springs. “Each experience we’ve had in the program has made me more excited to enter the classroom and make a difference.”

UM is interviewing applicants for METP’s third cohort, which will enroll this fall.

UM Literacy Center Takes Lead Role in Jumpstart Program

Educators look to expand pre-K reading program in Mississippi

Photo by UM photographer Nathan Latil.

Photo by UM photographer Nathan Latil.

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi’s Center for Excellence in Literacy Instruction has taken over as the lead unit for the university’s ongoing partnership with Jumpstart, a national organization that helps children prepare for kindergarten by developing language and reading skills.

Jumpstart, which places college students in pre-K classrooms to work with children on basic skills, is in its third year at UM. It previously was administered through the College of Liberal Arts with training support from CELI staff. UM is the only Jumpstart partner in Mississippi, but CELI director Angela Rutherford hopes to identify new collaborators across the state.

“We hope to grow the positive impact we’re making on the lives of children,” Rutherford said. “We know from research that the more words children can hear, speak and understand, the more they can improve their language and literacy skills. Jumpstart allows children to be actively engaged in language experiences with adults in a pre-K setting, which is essential in closing the knowledge gaps that exist in Mississippi.”

A 2014 assessment by the Mississippi Department of Education found that more than 65 percent of Mississippi children do not possess the reading skills needed for entering kindergarten. Literacy research suggests that children who enter kindergarten with quality pre-K instruction are much more likely to be proficient readers by third grade.

“Because our volunteers go in as a team at consistent times, they are able to lower the adult-to-student ratio to about 3-to-1,” said CELI literacy specialist Olivia Pasterchick, who oversees volunteers and provides training. “That’s huge, considering it’s often about 17-to-1.”

With 21 volunteers, the UM Jumpstart program has nearly doubled in size in three years and has directly affected more than 130 Mississippi children enrolled in pre-K programs in Oxford and Okolona.

“I always knew I wanted to be a teacher, but Jumpstart helped me realize that I want to specialize in early childhood,” said Sarah Howell, a first-year master’s student in elementary education who has volunteered at ABC Learning Center in Oxford and at Okolona Elementary School. “It’s a lot of work but it’s also very rewarding. The lessons are very strategic and you learn how children develop vocabulary and comprehension.”

Each Jumpstart volunteer makes an overall commitment of more than 300 hours in an academic year, which includes training, lesson preparation beforehand and professional evaluation after.

“The job requires dedication but it doesn’t feel like work once you begin developing relationships with the kids,” said Benjamin Parkman, a senior biology major from Jackson who has worked at ABC and Mary Cathey Headstart Center in Oxford. “One of my greatest aspirations in life is to be a good parent one day, and Jumpstart has given me the opportunity to build the foundation for that.”

As part of Jumpstart training, volunteers complete 40 hours of preparation before entering the classroom, including early learning knowledge assessments. UM volunteers saw nearly a 10-point jump on this assessment in 2014, Pasterchick said.

“This opportunity has a huge effect on not only the children but on the volunteers, even the ones who aren’t education majors,” Pasterchick said. “We have business and biology majors who come through this and become advocates for early childhood education because they’ve seen it work. Because of this experience, they will be better future parents and neighbors and citizens.”

Billy Crews Hired as Education Development Officer

Former Daily Journal executive joins UM in fundraising role

Billy Crews education development officer ole miss university of mississippi daily journal school of education um foundation tfa oxford

Former newspaper executive and public education proponent Billy Crews joins the UM School of Education as its new development officer.

OXFORD, Miss. – Longtime newspaper executive and public education proponent Billy Crews has joined the University of Mississippi as the new development officer for its School of Education.

Crews’ position is a new one, in which he will head fundraising efforts from within the school in collaboration with the UM Foundation.

“I believe the School of Education is one of the most important units at the university in terms of potential impact on our state,” said Crews, an Oxford native. “After 35 years in business, I am committed to a new career focused on supporting public education in Mississippi.”

Crews joins the university after more than two years working for Teach for America’s Mississippi region, where he served as vice president for strategic partnerships. Before TFA, he led the Tupelo-based media company Journal Inc., which owns the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, serving as chairman and chief executive before retiring in 2010. Crews also previously served as chief operations officer and as a member of the board of trustees for the Tupelo Public School District.

“Billy Crews is an asset to the University of Mississippi because of his experience and his genuine passion for education,” said David Rock, UM education dean. “We are very fortunate to have his experience and expertise as we advance our mission to support and improve education in Mississippi and beyond.”

Crews’ experience in support of public education dates to the late 1970s when, while working as a community service representative for the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, he helped establish the Mississippi Reading Improvement Program, an endeavor that placed assistant teachers in K-2 public classrooms throughout the state. More recently in 2010, he helped lead a citizen initiative to raise $100,000 to fund pre-K classrooms in Tupelo public schools. Crews also helped establish Mississippi’s first multicorporation pre-K learning center for employees of five Tupelo-based organizations.

A UM alumnus, Crews received a bachelor’s degree in political science in 1978 and was the Associated Student Body president and a Rhodes Scholar finalist. The son of former UM English professor John Crews, he spent much of his childhood on the Ole Miss campus.

“In a sense, I’ve come full circle from growing up on this campus, graduating college here and now returning for a new career,” he said. “I’m looking forward to working with Dean Rock and the School of Education’s faculty and staff to enhance the university’s commitment to excellence in education.”

UM Launches Professional Doctorates in Math, Higher Education

Three-year doctoral program designed for working teachers, administrators

Carnegie Project on the Education Doctorate

Carnegie Project on the Education Doctorate

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi now offers professional doctorates in the fields of mathematics instruction and higher education.

The UM School of Education‘s new Doctor of Education program is designed for secondary mathematics teachers or college administrators who already hold a master’s degree and wish to pursue doctoral studies with an emphasis on professional practice.

The Ed.D. is designed to be completed part-time over three years and both emphases require at least 48 hours of post-master’s credit, including a “Dissertation in Practice,” which will be a major research project focused on solving real-world problems in Mississippi education.

The new program is the result of an ongoing collaboration with the Carnegie Project on the Education Doctorate, or CPED, a consortium of more than 80 institutions undertaking an examination of professional doctorates in education.

“CPED is a knowledge forum where institutions work together to improve doctoral education that affects practice,” said Amy Wells Dolan, associate dean of the education school, who has worked with CPED as a UM representative since 2011. “Our institution has long attracted students who seek doctoral study for the purpose of professional practice. Establishing an Ed.D. program with CPED principles makes us more responsive to those students’ needs and goals.”

While the Ed.D. program’s initial focus is mathematics education and higher education, it could soon expand to other fields such as English education or educational leadership. Both emphases will share a joint core of educational research courses that are completed alongside other graduate seminars in either mathematics education or higher education.

The fundamental difference between the new Ed.D. and UM’s existing Ph.D. programs in these fields is that the Ed.D. is designed to help teachers and administrators advance existing careers, whereas the Ph.D. is intended to prepare graduate students for new careers in collegiate teaching and research.

“We believe the Ed.D. will better serve doctoral students in higher education who are currently administrators and see themselves advancing on this path,” said John Holleman, coordinator of higher education. “The professional doctorate utilizes a consultancy model allowing students to develop research and assessment skills and then directly apply them to an ongoing, real world environment.”

The program is also designed to make doctoral study more accessible to teachers and administrators across Mississippi. One plan in the works could include cohort sites for both emphases at the Oxford  campus and at the Medical Center in Jackson, as well as other areas where a demand can be identified.

“We are looking to provide maximum opportunities for mathematics educators who want to stay classroom-based in their careers,” said Allan Bellman, associate professor of mathematics education. “This program will allow teachers to identify something that they want to improve, design a solution and apply it. The research will have a direct impact on their practice and even practice across their whole district.”

The application deadline for the first cohort of both Ed.D. tracks is April 1. For more information about curriculum and admissions, visit http://education.olemiss.edu.

CELI Helps Delta Elementary School Rise to A Rating

Literacy instruction center provides resources for Tunica teachers

CELI literacy specialist Olivia Pasterchick explains a literacy workstation to a Dundee Elementary student.

CELI literacy specialist Olivia Pasterchick explains a literacy workstation to a Dundee Elementary student.

OXFORD, Miss. – With support from the University of Mississippi’s Center for Excellence in Literacy Instruction, or CELI, Dundee Elementary School in Tunica has earned an A rating from the Mississippi Department of Education, making it the highest-rated school in the Tunica County School District.

The latest MDE data shows third- through fifth-graders at Dundee achieved significant academic growth this year, especially in reading. The school reported that 94.4 percent of students improved in reading and nearly 67 percent of students are reading above the 80th percentile for their grade; more than 10 points higher than the state average.

This upturn has helped Dundee, which has 216 children in grades P-5, rise from B to A status in 2014, and Principal Natasha Bates attributes much of this success to ongoing curriculum support from CELI.

“A lot of the strategies that we’ve put in place in reading are a result of our ongoing partnership with CELI,” said Bates, who earned a specialist degree in educational leadership from UM in 2010. “They work with our teachers to identify areas for growth and provide strategies for our teachers to use in the classroom.”

Established in 2007, CELI provides professional development, research and service to reading teachers throughout Mississippi. It is also an official affiliate of the Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling organization, which provides continuing education for literacy teachers nationwide.

“When you can help a child learn to read, you help improve their life trajectory,” said Angela Rutherford, CELI director and founder. “We’re happy to see our ongoing partnership with Dundee is having a positive impact on children and educators.”

At Dundee, CELI specialists work primarily with recently hired teachers. They offer resources to help faculty make data-based decisions and set paths for improved professional performance and student outcomes by utilizing the latest research-based practices for literacy educators. One example includes helping implement individualized workstations for students, allowing them to improve in reading based on their skill level. The center has worked with the Mississippi Delta school since 2008.

“The teachers at Dundee are very driven and really want to see their students excel, and I think that makes the difference,” CELI literacy specialist Angie Caldwell said. “We work with Dundee teachers to help them constantly evaluate how they can improve. Every strategy we recommend is based on data and research.”

Third-grade teacher Suzanne Wheeler, who received an elementary education degree from UM in 2006, noted that CELI literacy specialists provide not only teaching resources, but also valuable feedback on how she can improve her craft and align lessons with Common Core state standards.

“Right now (CELI specialists) are helping me create a writers’ workshop for my students,” she explained. “We’ve set a schedule and identified benchmarks and the types of prompts we can use to help children practice the types of writing they will be tested on. They’ve been a fabulous resource.”

Bates hopes Dundee will continue to be a model for student success in her district and hopes to continue the partnership with CELI.

“At Dundee, our goal is to cater to the whole student, whether that’s emotionally or academically,” she said. “We’re here to mold productive citizens and we thank CELI for its help in making sure our students are prepared to succeed at the next level.”

Mississippi Teacher Corps Helps Transform a School Culture

North Panola High School raises graduation rate by more than 21 percent

With 14 current or former Mississippi Teacher Corps instructors on faculty, the program has played a key role in North Panola High School's academic turnaround. Pictured (left to right): MTC Co-Founder Andrew Mullins, Emily Herrick, Kelly King, Chelsea Brock, Daniel Hart, Ryan Eshleman, Whitney Cilch, Noah Tobak, Emily Fyda, "Coach" Derek King, Hanna Olivier and Bill Darden

The Mississippi Teacher Corps has played a key role in an academic turnaround at North Panola High School, where 14 faculty members are graduates of the program. Pictured (left to right): MTC co-founder Andrew Mullins, Emily Herrick, Kelly King, Chelsea Brock, Daniel Hart, Ryan Eshleman, Whitney Cilch, Noah Tobak, Emily Fyda, ‘Coach’ Derek King, Hanna Olivier and Bill Darden.

SARDIS, Miss. – At North Panola High School in Sardis, teachers lead class with an air of confidence, a majority of seniors plan to graduate this year and, with six wins already, the Cougars are having one of the best football seasons in the small town’s recent history.

Adding to this positive energy is the Mississippi Department of Education‘s release of state test scores. As of Oct. 17, North Panola, which has 392 students, has officially risen in status from a C school to a B school. For an institution that was near failing in 2009, the result is a significant milestone in a district that came out of conservatorship in July 2014.

North Panola’s four-year principal Jamone Edwards is quick to praise his staff, especially teachers hailing from the University of Mississippi’s Mississippi Teacher Corps. More than one-third of North Panola’s 35 teachers are current or former members of the Teacher Corps, including three of the school’s instructional coaches in English, science and social studies.

“The Teacher Corps’ impact can’t be understated at North Panola,” said Edwards, who received a master’s degree in educational leadership from UM in 2010. “Every one of our subjects that are tested by MDE is staffed by the Teacher Corps. They do a fantastic job of sending us new teachers. If you bring us a new teacher who has strong content knowledge and passion, we can teach them the rest.”

While significant and lasting change often comes slowly in education, veteran teachers at the school say North Panola is a dramatically different place than it was four years ago.

Since May 2010, the graduation rate has risen from 49 percent to nearly 72 percent. In subjects such as Algebra I and U.S. History, students’ test scores surpass state averages and they’re not far behind state averages in areas such as English II and Biology I. Last year, North Panola graduates received college scholarships valued at more than $2.2 million, up dramatically from $200,000 in 2010.

Teacher Corps alumna Hannah Olivier is a five-year science teacher at North Panola. In her time, she’s witnessed a rejuvenation of the school, especially in students’ attitudes.

“Students take school very seriously now,” said Olivier, the school’s science instructional coach. “Students are interested to try new things. A lot of kids are asking questions about colleges. It’s a very different culture here then when I started. It’s really great to see kids encourage each other and compete with each other to try and break into the top 10 or top 20 spots in their class.”

Teambuilding and retaining quality teachers have been a key parts of North Panola’s advancement, Edwards said. This means setting up accountability models, supporting good teachers and creating a productive learning environment.

“In my first year here, I was a lead teacher and I saw what was and wasn’t working. … I saw that the teachers did not feel supported, student behavior and teacher practices needed addressing” he explained. “The first thing I did as principal was to draw a hard line on what is and what isn’t acceptable for teachers and students. We have to make sure the environment is conducive to teaching and learning.”

Tactically, North Panola has built itself up by establishing a series of “safety nets.” From freshman year, students identified as at-risk in reading in junior high are enrolled in an extra 40-minute remediation period during the school day. On Mondays and Wednesdays, the school offers afternoon tutoring.

Once a semester, classes are paused for a parents’ visit day to ensure that every parent has a chance to sit down with North Panola teachers. This fall, more than 200 parents came to meet with faculty on Oct. 20.

When a student fails a required test for graduation, they are enrolled in a 50-minute remediation class called Learning Strategies to focus on a particular content area. For example, when 17 students failed to pass their state English II exams in 2011, the school recruited head football coach Derek King, a Teacher Corps alumnus, to lead the remediation period. As a result, 15 advanced to pass their exams.

Founded in 1989, the Mississippi Teacher Corps is supported by the state Legislature and provides some of Mississippi’s most demanding secondary classrooms with new teachers every year. Over a quarter of a century, the program has fine-tuned a process for training college graduates to teach and succeed in critical-needs settings where high teacher turnover can be the norm.

For the last two years, the program has placed record groups of 32 new teachers into schools throughout Mississippi. To date, the program has trained more than 600 teachers, most of whom are still involved in education across nation.

The Teacher Corps has placed teachers at North Panola for the last eight years; however, the relationship between the school and program has improved greatly in the last four. The Teacher Corps’ administration seeks to place groups of teachers within schools they believe have supportive principals.

“Nothing works in a school unless you have a principal who supports teachers,” explained Teacher Corps co-founder Andrew Mullins. “That means visiting their classrooms, giving advice and backing them up. Jamone has done an excellent job in seeking out our teachers and supporting them. For first-year teachers, every day is a learning experience.”

An alternate route program, the Teacher Corps is a two-year commitment that culminates in a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction from UM. Acceptance into the program is highly competitive and includes a full-time teaching job at a critical needs school and full tuition to UM.

A self-described data-driven leader, Edwards provides no guesswork as to his vision for the future of North Panola High School: the school’s B ranking is a step toward becoming an A school. He hopes to continue his relationship with the Mississippi Teacher Corps.

“Superintendent Cedric Richardson has brought great stability to North Panola,” Edwards said. “My goal for North Panola High School is to have a 100 percent graduation rate, and a 100 percent passage rate on our state exams and to be an A school.”

Professor to Design Program in Wellness and Physical Activity

UM health and physical education expert developing emphasis for education majors

Alicia Stapp joins the UM School of Education faculty to lead the school's new emphasis in wellness and physical activity for education majors.

Alicia Stapp joins the UM School of Education faculty to lead the school’s new emphasis in wellness and physical activity for education majors.

OXFORD, Miss. – Health and physical education expert Alicia Stapp will lead the University of Mississippi School of Education‘s effort to implement a new emphasis in wellness and physical activity for elementary education majors starting in fall 2015.

The new focus on wellness and physical activity is the result of a $1.2 million grant awarded to the School of Education last fall by the Bower Foundation of Ridgeland. The emphasis will train future elementary teachers to integrate physical activity in the classroom to support academic achievement.

“I’m very excited to join an institution as innovative and forward-thinking as the Ole Miss School of Education,” said Stapp, a Florida native who comes to UM from the University of Central Florida. “We have an excellent opportunity to make an impact on not only in the way we train teachers, but on the unknown number of children our future graduates can positively impact in Mississippi schools.”

Stapp, an assistant professor of elementary education and wellness and physical activity, is designing the new curriculum, which is expected to include four specialized courses totaling 12 credits. The proposed coursework could cover research showing how active lifestyles positively affect learning in children, pedagogical theories, wellness integration strategies (i.e., introducing music and movement into lessons) and multiple, hands-on learning experiences allowing teacher candidates to observe working educators as part of class.

David Rock, UM education dean, originally approached the Bower Foundation about the new emphasis after he collaborated with the Move to Learn organization, also supported by Bower, which visits schools around the state showing how to implement fun and engaging physical activity into the classroom. The organization’s efforts are grounded in Mississippi-based research showing a direct correlation between improved test achievement, student behavior and physical activity levels.

“All the research out there shows that if you can stimulate physical activity of children, it can reduce absences and increases academic learning,” Rock explained. “Dr. Stapp is extremely dynamic and has an amazing passion for children and exercise.”

Stapp hopes to have the emphasis on the UM books by next fall. Another goal for the program is to work with the Mississippi Department of Education to create a new license endorsement in wellness and physical activity that could be acquired by completing the UM program.

“Dr. Stapp will teach pre-service teachers how to integrate wellness and physical activity into their existing curriculum,” said Susan McClelland, UM chair of teacher education. “This approach will help transform the general education classroom, ensuring increased opportunities for all children to experience success.”

Long-term, the new program will seek to place multiple graduates within individual schools to help make active learning and wellness an integral part of the culture within schools.

Before joining UM, Stapp taught in Florida public schools for 10 years and was an adjunct professor at UCF, where she taught courses on integrating arts and movement into classroom curricula. She holds a doctorate in instructional leadership from Nova Southeastern University, a master’s degree in physical education from Florida State University and a bachelor’s degree in social science education from UCF.