OXFORD, Miss. – Eighteen teachers from across the state gathered Monday (June 2) at the University of Mississippi to embark on a transformational journey toward becoming P-12 school leaders as new recruits of the Principal Corps.
An elite program for aspiring school administrators, all recruits were nominated by their district superintendents and will spend the next 13 months completing the rigorous program involving coursework at the UM School of Education and two full-time internships supervised by accomplished school leaders. The sixth cohort is the largest class to date, growing from 12 recruits last year.
“This program is the beginning of a new professional life for educators,” said Tom Burnham, interim director of the Principal Corps and former state superintendent of education. “Good leaders must see farther down the road than everyone else, and more importantly, not be afraid to make the hard decisions needed to improve schools.”
Only teachers with a demonstrated passion and potential for leadership are admitted into the program. For the second consecutive year, the Principal Corps has attracted educators from north, central and south Mississippi, showing continued growth and influence. From its start in 2009 to 2012, the program’s reach was primarily in north Mississippi.
The group includes: Joshua Lindsey of the Hancock County School District, Teresa McLeod of Covington County Schools, Clay Garner of the Rankin County School District, Bryan Giles of the Petal School District, Candace Henderson of the Lamar County School District, John Howard of the Coahoma County School District, Wendi Husley of the Gulfport School District, Shamekia Issac of the Natchez-Adams School District, Kristen Langerman of the Rankin County School District, Angela Lowery of the South Pike School District, Danielle Miller of the Ocean Springs School District, Mary Moak of the Petal School District, Tina Temple Moore of the South Panola School District, Carol Davis Smith of the DeSoto County School District, Carrie Speck of the DeSoto County School District, Marcus Stewart of the Holmes County School District, Eric Sumrall of Jackson Public Schools and Trena Warren of the Claiborne County School District.
The program has a close-to-perfect success rate in landing its graduates job offers as principals, assistant principals or educational leaders. All graduates make a five-year commitment to stay in Mississippi education and receive a $10,000 bonus upon signing a contract as a principal or assistant principal and beginning work. With 49 graduates, the ranks of Principal Corps alumni could grow to 67 next year.
“I’ve always enjoyed working with students and helping them realize and achieve their goals,” said Lindsey, a UM alumnus and the 2013 Mississippi Teacher of the Year. “My hope is that as an administrator, I will be able to transfer that ability into leading teachers to reach more students, resulting in an exponential growth in success.”
Above all, the Principal Corps focuses on learning through experience. During full-time internships, recruits work closely with mentor administrators, often acting as the de facto assistant principal at his or her placement site. Many recruits receive job offers from one of their internship sites before graduation.
As one of the most valuable educational leadership scholarships ever offered in Mississippi, the program includes full tuition, books and fees, as well as housing and living expenses while completing coursework at UM. The Principal Corps also provides funding to help recruits maintain their salary during their time in the program.
“For me, this is an amazing opportunity to become an administrator,” McLeod said. “I want to be involved in transforming schools and transforming the lives of students to be successful in a globally competitive environment. I believe the sky is the limit.”
This summer, 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 during the academic year. All students return for final coursework next June and finish the requirements for either a master’s or specialist degree in educational leadership.
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 Mississippi and increase its cohort size.
“When you leave our program, you become part of a new generation of leaders charged with improving schools,” Burnham explained. “If you graduate and you haven’t changed the way you make decisions, then we have not succeeded. Our goal is that whenever people see outstanding new principals in Mississippi, they say ‘he or she must be a graduate of the Principal Corps.’”