UM Partners with MUW to Expand Jumpstart

Program provides service and teaching opportunities for college students

Ole Miss sophomore Monica Riley is one of 25 UM students volunteering in the UM chapter of Jumpstart.

Ole Miss sophomore Monica Riley is one of 25 UM students volunteering in the UM chapter of Jumpstart.

OXFORD, Miss. – A new partnership between the University of Mississippi and Mississippi University for Women will expand Jumpstart, a national organization that helps children prepare for kindergarten by developing language and literacy skills, into the Columbus area.

Until now, UM has been home to the state’s only Jumpstart chapter. The program, in its fourth year at Ole Miss, is coordinated through the university’s Center for Excellence in Literacy Instruction.

“Jumpstart brings awareness to the importance of early childhood education and allows children to engage in language experiences with trained adults,” said Angela Rutherford, CELI director. “We are happy to help expand Jumpstart to benefit Mississippi children in partnership with faculty and staff at MUW.”

UM has CELI staff and 25 undergraduate Jumpstart volunteers from a variety of academic majors working in four pre-K classrooms in Oxford and Okolona. The initial goal is to have up to 12 volunteers working at centers near MUW. Such a partnership would expand Mississippi Jumpstart programs by nearly a third.

“The education department at MUW values collaboration with and among faculty, students, P-12 educational facilities and between universities,” said Monica Riley, chair of education at MUW. “This is a great opportunity for our students to be involved in the local community while making a difference in the lives of the children. Further, the opportunity to implement the literacy lessons will provide valuable learning for our students.”

Mississippi does not offer universal public pre-kindergarten education and data suggests a huge need in this area. A 2014 assessment by the Mississippi Department of Education found that more than 65 percent of Mississippi children do not possess the literacy skills needed for entering kindergarten. Literacy research suggests that children who enter kindergarten having experienced quality pre-K instruction are much more likely to be proficient readers by third grade, Rutherford said.

“Jumpstart provides an organized workforce that can benefit pre-K students at both public and private centers,” said Olivia Morgan, Jumpstart site manager for CELI. “It also reduces the adult-to-child ratio in classrooms, allowing for more individualized instruction.”

Each Jumpstart volunteer makes a commitment of at least 300 volunteer hours in an academic year, which includes training, lesson preparation and professional evaluation. As part of Jumpstart training, volunteers complete 30 hours of preparation before entering the classroom, including early learning knowledge assessments.

“It’s wonderful to volunteer with children because you can literally have an impact on their future,” said Nicole Johnson, a sophomore hospitality management major and Jumpstart volunteer from Rockwall, Texas. “Having someone to help you learn to read is a huge privilege that helps shape the people in our community. I think being part of this program will help me be a better parent one day and a better community member.”

In four years, Jumpstart has proven to be beneficial to multiple educational facilities working with UM’s chapter.

“Jumpstart has made a huge difference here,” said Jane Prater, a pre-K teacher at ABC Learning Center in Oxford. “In just four years, I would say we have gone from just being a day care facility to being an academic center that supports literacy development.”

The new Jumpstart chapter at MUW should be operating by year’s end with support from CELI staff. CELI’s long-term goal is to identify partner institutions to continue to grow the program throughout the state.

For more information about Jumpstart, visit

UM Admits 16 into Hybrid Doctor of Education Program

Professional education doctorate focuses on problem-based learning for school leaders

The first cohort of UM’s Hybrid Ed.D. in K-12 Leadership has a combined 199 years experience in education.

The first cohort of UM’s hybrid doctorate in K-12 leadership has a combined 199 years experience in education.

OXFORD, Miss. – The first class of the University of Mississippi’s hybrid Doctor of Education program in K-12 leadership gathered on campus recently to begin the three-year process of earning professional education doctorates. Most of their learning sessions, though, will be in various locations across north Mississippi

Unlike traditional doctoral programs, UM’s hybrid Ed.D. utilizes both online courses and face-to-face seminars on weekends. As working professionals, participants can immediately use what they learn to benefit their school districts.

“The most attractive aspect of the program is that we are going to have the chance to see what research and theory look like in practice,” said Jamone Edwards, assistant superintendent of the North Panola School District and one of the initial cohort’s members. “For me, I hope to bring innovation and strategy back to the North Panola School District.”

The Ole Miss program integrates the dissertation into the curriculum, an approach used by only a few elite universities, including Harvard and Vanderbilt. The program is designed to be specialized, but challenging and success-driven, said Doug Davis, associate professor and director of doctoral programs in educational leadership at the UM School of Education.

“We have extremely high expectations for this first cohort and that’s nothing but a good thing,” Davis said. “The focus of this program is to learn the knowledge base that comes from research and theory and enable practitioners to successful apply it to achieve results in their districts.”

The group of 16 hails from school districts across the northern half of Mississippi and southwest Tennessee. They have more than 199 years combined experience in K-12 education.

The group also includes Regina Biggers, principal of Kosciusko Middle Elementary School; Bobby J. Cossey Jr., assistant principal of Rankin Elementary School in Tupelo; Angela Ellison, principal of Como Elementary School; Valarie Ellis-Barnes, principal of North Panola Middle School; Ashley Fonte, curriculum coordinator of the South Panola School District; Cloyd Garth, principal of Aberdeen High School; Chandler Gray, curriculum coordinator for professional development for the Corinth School District; Vanessa Hopkins, instructional literacy coach for Shelby County Schools in Memphis, Tennessee; Mark Jean-Louis, assistant principal of Shivers Middle School in Aberdeen; Talina Knight, assistant principal of Tupelo Middle School; Cindy Risher, assistant principal of Horn Lake Intermediate School; LaTonya Robinson, principal of Della Davidson Elementary School in Oxford; Thomas Tillman, principal of Lafayette Upper Elementary School in Oxford; Deatrice White, assistant superintendent and federal programs director of the Coffeeville School District; and Haley Wilson, assistant principal of Lafayette Elementary School in Oxford.

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

While the first classes of the semester take place on the Oxford campus, the cohort will travel to their fellow participants’ school districts and hold class roughly once a month. This will allow, for example, an assistant principal at Lafayette Middle School to get immersed in public education environments in the Delta or Aberdeen or Shelby County Schools.

“The hybrid Ed.D program provides the opportunity to continue my assistant principalship while embedding new knowledge and reflection into my professional practice,” said Wilson, a Batesville native. “From my experience, the cohort model also provides the support necessary to create a group of professional educators who maintain a learning community for years to come.”

The hybrid Ed.D. is rooted in problem-based learning and will enable these education leaders to identify goals within their own school districts and incorporate these goals into their doctoral studies.

“When you are dealing with a problem, it has to be broken down before you can solve it,” said Dennis Bunch, UM associate professor and coordinator of educational leadership. “That’s the valuable part of going through this process as a cohort. Change can be uncomfortable and cohort members get to go through that together and learn how to accomplish their goals as a group.”

The new doctoral program also rethinks the traditional dissertation by requiring doctoral students to complete a “Dissertation in Practice,” which is a major research project focused on solving a real-world problem in Mississippi education. The dissertation will be integrated into the curriculum of the Ed.D. Students will have completed prospectuses (typically the first three chapters of a dissertation) by the end of the second year of study.

Mississippi Excellence in Teaching Program Admits Third Cohort

Prestigious teaching scholarship provides unique opportunities in exchange for commitment to teach in state

UM third METP Cohort (left to right). Back row: Harper Panter, Luke Lee, Alex Battaglia, Bre Comley, Austin Bradley, Abby Ozement. Middle row: Allie Roberson, Katie Simpson, Meg Besaw, Julie Banys, David Hamidy. Front row: Sarah Moncrief, Jenna Antolik, Shevanti Retnam, Allison Herman, Savannah Reeb.

UM third METP Cohort (left to right). Back row: Harper Panter, Luke Lee, Alex Battaglia, Bre Comley, Austin Bradley, Abby Ozement. Middle row: Allie Roberson, Katie Simpson, Meg Besaw, Julie Banys, David Hamidy. Front row: Sarah Moncrief, Jenna Antolik, Shevanti Retnam, Allison Herman, Savannah Reeb.

OXFORD, Miss. – Sixteen University of Mississippi freshmen from nine states joined the student body this week as fellows in the third class of the Mississippi Excellence in Teaching Program, one of the nation’s most valuable scholarships for future educators.

The group possesses an average ACT score of 29 and represents substantial growth for the UM program, which has 46 students enrolled from 13 states.

“You’re part of the UM family already,” UM Acting Chancellor Morris Stocks told the group Aug. 21 during an orientation session at the Lyceum. “This is the largest and brightest freshman class our university has ever seen and you are now part of it.”

The select group includes: Jenna Antolik and Julia Banys, both of Glencoe, Missouri; Alex Battaglia of Bel Air, Maryland; Meghan Besaw of Madison, Alabama; Austin Bradley-Tillett of Burleson, Texas; Breanna Comley of Belleville, Illinois; David Hamidy of Alpharetta, Georgia; Allison Herman of Niceville, Florida; Luke Lee of Madison; Sarah Moncrief of Olive Branch; Abigail Ozment of Iuka; Harper Panter of Saucier; Savannah Reeb of Lawrence, Kansas; Shevanti Retnam of Oxford; Allie Roberson of Canton and Katie Simpson of Madison.

METP prepares top-performing students for careers as secondary English or mathematics teachers and is funded by the Robert M. Hearin Support Foundation of Jackson, which awarded UM and its sibling chapter at Mississippi State University a $12.95 million grant to build the program in 2012.

Ten of the new students will study English education and six will study mathematics education.

“There is no other program like this in the nation,” UM education dean David Rock told the group. “There are programs all over the country that will cover your tuition, but METP provides opportunities that you won’t see anywhere else because bringing students like you into education is just that important.”

The program offers four years of full tuition, room and board, a technology stipend, professional development, study abroad and more. All fellows make a five-year commitment to teach in Mississippi public schools after graduation.

“It’s wonderful to see such talented and passionate young people from across the nation coming here to focus their attentions on education,” said Ryan Niemeyer, METP director. “We’ve maintained the highest standards for METP. Each fellow was selected because he or she holds top credentials and a genuine belief in the important role education plays in our society.”

While most education majors begin education coursework and field experiences during their junior year, METP fellows are immersed in educational issues and theories from their first semester with specialized seminars each year.

“I want to be a teacher because I believe the greatest goal worth striving for is helping others,” said Hamidy, an English education major. “METP provides the very best opportunity for me to one day accomplish my ultimate goal and life purpose: to be a successful and impactful high school English teacher who influences students’ futures.”

Also, METP students from both Ole Miss and MSU come together each semester for cross-campus learning activities at both campuses, allowing them to learn from faculty at both institutions.

“I think it’s great that this is a collaborative program,” said Ozment, a math education major. “All of the plans we have to work together make me think that METP is a program that will have a very positive impact on the state of Mississippi as a whole.”

This summer, UM’s first METP cohort (Class of 2017) will take the program’s first study abroad trip to England and Scotland, where they will visit universities and secondary schools to gain a multicultural perspective on education issues.

UM Launches Online Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Education

Program makes pre-K specialization accessible for educators

Several studies show quality preschool programs can produce lasting gains in academic achievement. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

Several studies show quality preschool programs can produce lasting gains in academic achievement. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi School of Education is offering a new online master’s degree in early childhood education. The Master of Education program is designed to prepare professional educators for a variety of roles within the field.

“If you look at the states leading in education, you will see that they have invested a substantial amount of resources in early childhood education,” said Burhanettin Keskin, UM coordinator and associate professor of early childhood education. “All the research is clear on the long-term value of programs focused on pre-K education.”

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.

The 30-credit degree program includes a program track that leads to licensure from the Mississippi Department of Education. Coursework within the program will cover child development, theoretical foundations, educational research, the integration of arts and play in pre-K learning, contemporary issues and more.

ECE-banner-WhiteBGUM began developing its program in 2013, after the School of Education received $1.1 million in external funding from the Robert M. Hearin Support Foundation to develop both undergraduate and graduate level curricula in the field. Last fall, UM launched a 12-hour undergraduate pre-K endorsement option for elementary education majors.

“Our early childhood faculty have designed a program that integrates sound research with effective practice to provide early childhood educators with a program that will enable them to be experts in the field,” said Susan McClelland, chair of the UM Department of Teacher Education. “Research clearly demonstrates that early interactions between children and teachers focused on creating an engaging learning environment helps children acquire new knowledge and skills and enhances verbal communication. Our faculty have done an exceptional job in designing such a program.”

The online M.Ed. program requires applicants to hold a minimum 3.0 GPA on the last 60 hours of their undergraduate coursework as well as competitive Praxis II content scores or competitive GRE scores. The licensure track requires students to hold or be eligible to hold a teaching license in elementary education.

The new degree program is an opportunity for education professionals to expand their knowledge and skills in way that directly benefits young children and, by extension, Mississippi and beyond, Keskin said.

“Think of early childhood education more about providing optimum environments for children so that they can unfold their capabilities rather than solely ‘educating’ them,” he said. “You can have two identical seeds, but the one that gets the best sunlight and soil and water is more likely to do better than the one that does not.”

UM Center for Mathematics and Science Education Awarded $1.6 Million

Funding for STEM education center renewed for three years

Middle and high school teachers develop hands-on science lessons during ASM Materials Camp, one of many professional development opportunities provided by the CMSE.

Middle and high school teachers develop hands-on science lessons during ASM Materials Camp, one of many professional development opportunities provided by the CMSE.

OXFORD, Miss. – The Robert M. Hearin Support Foundation of Jackson has awarded $1.6 million to the University of Mississippi’s Center for Mathematics and Science Education to support its efforts to improve STEM education statewide over the next three years.

The grant marks the third time Hearin has renewed funding for the influential center, which celebrates 10 years of service in December.

“For us, this is affirmation that our work is having a real and positive impact,” said John O’Haver, CMSE director. “We’re proud and grateful for the Hearin Foundation’s support of our mission to improve the STEM pipeline flowing throughout our state.”

Established in 2006, the CMSE is part of the UM School of Education and provides professional development for more than 1,000 Mississippi STEM educators each year as well as a variety of hands-on STEM education programs for thousands of K-12 students. The CMSE has a direct impact on more than 66 percent of public school districts in Mississippi.

Over the next three years, CMSE staff plan to work more closely with the UM Department of Teacher Education. Through the grant, the center will collaborate with the department’s existing “Grow as a Group” initiative, a study of the professional development partnership possibilities when a school has a mathematics student teacher from UM who is part of its yearlong student teaching program.

The program will help bring professional development opportunities to teachers at schools where student teachers are placed. The development activities will be conducted by UM graduate students working in the field with student teachers. This initiative aims to provide updated skills and knowledge to teachers who do not have time to attend training away from their school site.

The new grant also will help provide scholarships for K-12 students to attend numerous camps and learning activities at UM.

In addition to professional development and K-12 STEM programs, the CMSE has provided valuable research fellowships for graduate students that have helped the university increase the number of earned Ph.D. degrees in mathematics education by 790 percent over the past nine years.

Alumni of the CMSE fellowship program work as faculty members at K-12 and post-secondary institutions across the state and beyond, including Blue Mountain College, Middle Tennessee State University, Mississippi State University, Mississippi College and the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, as well as at Ole Miss.

Other accomplishments by the center include:

  • Redesign of mathematics content courses for UM education majors
  • Introduction of National Science Foundation’s Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program at UM
  • Launch of FIRST Tech Challenge Robotics competitions for middle and high school students statewide, with 975 percent growth over four years
  • Development of a portable planetarium program that has benefitted more than 7,400 students since 2012
  • Establishment of UM’s MathCamp, Engineering Camp, ASM Teacher’s Camp and STEM Competition and Trebuchet Competition
  • Launch of more than 10 major professional development programs for teachers, including UM’s Mathematics Specialist Conference, Project PrIME, the MaPLES Initiative, the DEEP Learning Communities Project and UM Common Core Workshop series.

“From the start, we’ve had this vision of providing good work that benefits the state of Mississippi,” said Alice Steimle, CMSE associate director. “I like knowing that the hard work and the effort that we’ve put in has been recognized and is making an impact.”

UM Prepares Teachers for Emotional Disorder Intervention

Graduate curriculum offers much-needed training for Mississippi teachers

The University of Mississippi School of Education now offers a specialized program to prepare teachers to become skilled interventionists in emotional behavior disorders.

The UM School of Education offers a specialized program to prepare teachers to become skilled interventionists in emotional behavior disorders.

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi School of Education is offering a specialized program to prepare teachers to become skilled interventionists in emotional behavior disorders, or EMD.

The 12-hour EMD Program includes four graduate-level courses and is designed to help meet a rising demand for educators in this area statewide.

“There is a huge need for teachers who are knowledgeable of emotional behavioral disorders and the support services required for success,” said Denise A. Soares, assistant professor and coordinator of special education at UM. “We’re seeking teachers who have classroom experience and want to help children who display at-risk behaviors. Students with emotional behavior disorders have the poorest educational, behavioral, and social outcomes of any disability group. It is imperative that we train teachers how to provide accommodations, interventions and supports for this group of students.”

According to data from the Mississippi Department of Education, the state has experienced a 57 percent increase in students diagnosed with emotional behavior disorders and an 8 percent decline in EMD-licensed teachers since 2009.

The UM program prepares teachers to promote academic success among students who struggle with emotional disabilities, a general term for any number of disorders that can atypically affect a child’s behavior.

Scholarly research shows that students diagnosed with an EMD often have unfavorable academic, behavioral and social outcomes and are more likely to drop out of school or be incarcerated, Soares said.

By using research-based intervention and teaching techniques, educators can help at-risk students improve behaviors in a constructive and healthy way. Educators who complete the program will qualify to receive an add-on license endorsement in EMD intervention from the state.

“Our university is committed to providing quality teacher preparation at all levels,” said Susan McClelland, chair of the UM Department of Teacher Education. “There’s a growing demand for EMD intervention and our vision is to equip teachers with research-based tools to make a positive impact in this area.”

The new curriculum can be completed independently in one year through night and weekend classes or be applied toward a master’s or specialist degree in education at the university. The EMD Program requires the following three-hour courses:

– Education and Psychology of Individuals with Behavior Problems

– Positive Behavior Support

– Applied Behavior Analysis and Management

– Practicum and Field Experiences with Exceptionalities

Offered at UM’s Oxford campus, the program requires a current Mississippi teaching license and two years’ relevant experience for admission. Those seeking to complete the program outside a graduate degree program must apply to the UM Graduate School as a non-degree-seeking student.

“We believe that teachers can have a positive impact in this area,” Soares said. “By providing them with the resources to intervene in a school setting, it can lead to drastically improved circumstances in later life.”

For more information about UM’s EMD Program visit

UM Offers Hybrid Doctorate in K-12 Leadership

Doctoral program designed for working principals, district administrators

Education-CPED-graphic[1] copy

UM School of Education launches a Doctor of Education degree in K-12 leadership in a hybrid format, combining online coursework and traditional seminars.

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi is accepting applications for a new doctoral program specially designed for senior-level K-12 administrators.

In August, the UM School of Education launches a Doctor of Education degree in K-12 leadership in a hybrid format, combining online coursework and traditional seminars on weekends to support the needs of working principals, superintendents and district-level administrators.

“You can think of the hybrid Ed.D. as a terminal degree with a built-in consulting group,” said Doug Davis, associate professor of educational leadership and director of the program. “Each cohort member will have different goals for his or her own school or district. Participants will have access to not only our faculty but other experienced leaders in the cohort who will help each other achieve their goals.”

The Ed.D. requires six semesters of part-time study over three years and all graduates will complete a “Dissertation in Practice,” which will allow doctoral students to align research with the institutional goals of their home school and/or district.

The coursework comprises 57 graduate hours including research methods, program evaluation, organizational leadership, finance, law and more.

“The Ed.D. is an exciting opportunity for education leaders,” said David Rock, dean of the School of Education. “We know that positive change doesn’t happen without quality leadership in schools. The School of Education is dedicated to providing better doctoral programs for these individuals. “

For admission into the program, applicants must hold an advanced degree in educational leadership with a graduate GPA of at least 3.5. Applicants must also possess a competitive score on the Graduate Record Exam, a school administrator’s license and full-time employment in an education leadership position at the school or district level.

Multiple financial aid options are available, including the use of bank hours awarded to schools from UM. Depending on the needs of the program’s first cohort, weekend seminars may be offered at different locations throughout the state.

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 allowing colleges and universities to work together to advance doctoral education designed to affect practice,” said Amy Wells Dolan, associate dean of education, who has worked with CPED as a UM representative since 2011. “Many doctoral students seek out terminal degrees for the purpose of professional practice. This allows us to be more responsive to those students’ objectives.”

The Ed.D. differs from the existing Doctor of Philosophy degree in K-12 leadership, which is designed for full-time study and allows doctoral students to focus more on individual research interests.

For more information about the Ed.D. in K-12 Leadership, visit

‘Pig and Small’ Wins CELI Read Aloud Book Award

UM literacy center honors South African author for tale of unlikely friends

CELI literacy specialist Olivia Morgan reads Pig and Small to children at Willie Price Lab School at UM.

CELI literacy specialist Olivia Morgan reads ‘Pig and Small’ to children at Willie Price Lab School at UM.

OXFORD, Miss. – A children’s tale about an unlikely friendship between a pig and an insect unfolds in the pages of “Pig and Small,” winner of the 2015 Read Aloud Book Award, presented by the University of Mississippi’s Center for Excellence in Literacy Instruction.

South African author and illustrator Alex Latimer created “Pig and Small” in 2013 and the book was released in the U.S. in 2014 by Peachtree Publishers. A committee of UM graduate students, north Mississippi teachers and CELI faculty and staff selected Latimer’s book for the award in May. The book will feature the CELI Read Aloud Seal on its cover.

“Each year we look to honor a book that, when read aloud, provides a positive and enjoyable learning experience for students,” said CELI literacy specialist Angie Caldwell, a member of the committee. “CELI’s Read Aloud seal marks a book that is funny and engaging, while also providing students with important lessons that they can carry with them for years to come.”

Established in 2007, CELI is part of the UM School of Education and provides professional development, research and service to reading teachers throughout Mississippi. The institute has awarded the Read Aloud Book Award since 2010 with financial support from the Robert M. Hearin Support Foundation in Jackson. The goal of the award is to promote reading aloud to young children to cultivate a love of reading and a deep appreciation of storytelling.

A children's tale about an unlikely friendship by South African author and illustrator Alex Latimer.

A children’s tale about an unlikely friendship by South African author and illustrator Alex Latimer.

“This was a great book to teach diversity,” said Kim Homan, a committee member and teacher who shared the book with 22 of her first-graders at Pontotoc Elementary School. “We don’t have to be the same to get along and be friends. The students were quick to pick up on this theme.”

In the text, main characters Pig and Bug constantly run into the same dilemma: they can never quite figure out how to play together. With Pig being too large and Bug being too small, the pair cannot ride a tandem bike or play catch. However, by the tale’s end they do find several activities to enjoy together.

“This has been a favorite in our classroom,” said committee member Sarah Siebert, a preschool teacher at Willie Price Lab School. “We’ve even had parents asking for the title.”

Thirty-four books from seven publishers were submitted for the 2015 award. Latimer’s book received the highest praise from teachers and more than 200 children in north Mississippi. All Read Aloud submission books were later donated to teachers in critical-needs schools throughout north Mississippi.

UM Principal Corps Admits Seventh Cohort

Elite K-12 leadership program expands placements to eastern Mississippi

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 seventh cohort of the Principal Corps (Left to Right): Melanie Wells, Leslie Mikell, Brantley Pierce, Tristal Watson, Brock Ratcliff, Brad Blake, Emma Cornwall, Kristy Dunning and Stephanie Crowell. Stephanie Crowell and Alyson Saucier not pictured. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

The seventh cohort of the Principal Corps (Left to Right): Melanie Wells, Leslie Mikell, Brantley Pierce, Tristal Watson, Brock Ratcliff, Brad Blake, Emma Cornwall, Kristy Dunning and Liz Towle. Stephanie Crowell and Alyson Saucier not pictured. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

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.

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