Willie Price Students Plant New Learning Garden at UM

Partnerships, volunteers help shape real food curriculum

Parent and volunteer Tess Johnson helps Willie Price Lab School students sow seeds at the school’s new learning garden. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – The seeds are planted for a new learning garden at the University of Mississippi’s Willie Price Lab School, which will allow the pre-K facility to integrate gardening and an understanding of food sources into its curriculum.

Several 3- and 4-year-olds at Willie Price, part of the UM School of Education, recently planted radishes, lettuce, carrots and garlic with the help of FoodCorps service member and parent Tess Johnson and others.

Sarah Langley, director of Willie Price, also partnered with preschool parents, UM Landscape Services, the Office of Sustainability and the Mississippi Farm to School Network to reinstall the garden, which had previously been part of the school’s curriculum.

“Tess became involved with FoodCorps and she approached us about revitalizing the space and has volunteered to lead a parent committee and organize all of the planting and harvesting events for our Willie Price students,” Langley said. “Before, the garden was an amazing space with tomatoes, blackberries, carrots and herbs everywhere, and the children were out there all the time.

“They were working with two gardeners, but for budget reasons, from what I understand, the space became neglected and we were no longer able to maintain that partnership.”

Johnson said that it was her work with Oxford Elementary School students that inspired her to help bring gardening back to Willie Price.

“I’m always blown away when I ask even fourth- or fifth-graders, ‘What’s your favorite food?’ and, if they say French fries, they think they came from McDonald’s or the grocery store,” Johnson said. “They have no idea that someone grew those potatoes and that’s how their food got there.”

Johnson also helped Willie Price students make a healthy snack of homemade hummus with pita chips and carrots on the day of the planting.

“It’s just so important for kids to be outside with fresh air, green space and to know where their food comes from,” she said.

In addition to enthusiastic parents, Willie Price also received a $500 grant from the Mississippi Farm to School Network to reopen the garden.

“We are interested in reaching out to more early child care programs with our school garden grants because we know that the earlier we can reach kids with good produce, fruits and vegetables, the more likely they will be interested in those foods when they are older,” said Sunny Young Baker, co-director of the Mississippi Farm to School Network.

 Langley said she feels there’s a bright future for Willie Price’s garden.

“We are partnering with landscape services, which is awesome because we have the most beautiful campus in the country,” Langley said. “They’ve been coming over to help us and just do as much as they can to help us protect the space.”

Langley also partnered with the UM Office of Sustainability to obtain compost from the university’s compost program for the garden.

Before the installation of the garden, Willie Price students learned about nutritious food and healthy living in a two-week unit on health that concluded with planting seeds in the reopened garden.

The Willie Price Lab School is a preschool facility on the UM campus. It provides opportunities for Ole Miss students and faculty to provide services and conduct research.

CELI, Local Groups Help Little Free Library Program Grow

Partners add six new book exchanges in Lafayette County

Charline Hubbard (center), director of the Mary Cathey Head Start Center, cuts the ribbon on a Little Free Library at the center as Meridith Wulff (left), youth specialist at the Lafayette County and Oxford Public Library, and several students at the center watch. Also on hard are Angela Rutherford (third from right), director of the Center for Excellence in Literacy Instruction; Suzanne Ryals, head of the LOU Reads Coalition; and Nancy Opalko, the library’s children’s librarian. Photo by David Brown/First Regional Library

OXFORD, Miss. – The Lafayette County and Oxford Public Library has teamed up with the University of Mississippi Center for Excellence in Literacy Instruction and the LOU Reads Coalition to install six new Little Free Libraries in Lafayette County.

The small book exchanges, which operate on a “take a book, return a book” basis, are at Lafayette County fire stations in Harmontown and Paris and on Highway 30 East, as well as at Mary Cathey Head Start Center, Gordon Community and Cultural Center in Abbeville and in the Community Green neighborhood.

While three other officially registered Little Free Libraries have been set up in Oxford, including those at Avent Park and the Stone Center, several unofficial libraries exist in town. That’s why the Lafayette County and Oxford Public Library, CELI and LOU Reads chose to focus their efforts on communities in the county.

“We know that it can be much harder for those who live in the outer reaches of the county to make it to the public library, and Little Free Libraries allow us to take a bit of the library to them,” said Nancy Opalko, children’s librarian and assistant branch manager at the Lafayette County and Oxford Public Library.

The libraries were built by Oxford resident and Ole Miss student Harriman Abernathy with materials donated by Elliott Lumber Co. Each library is overseen by an individual steward in that community who checks it weekly to ensure it is stocked and in good repair.

“We are so excited to have a Little Free Library here,” says Harmontown resident and First Regional Library staff member Randie Cotton, who serves as steward of the Little Free Library there.

“People can just grab a book for themselves or their kids on their way to and from work or church and bring them back when they’re done. It doesn’t get much easier than that!”

The libraries are stocked with books for both children and adults. Putting books in the hands of children is a priority for the library, CELI and LOU Reads. All three organizations are part of the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, a nationwide effort that focuses on grade-level reading by the end of third grade, an important predictor of school success and high school graduation.

One of the community’s newest Little Free Libraries is at Mary Cathey Head Start Center. Photo by David Brown/First Regional Library

In Mississippi, 74 percent of fourth-graders and 80 percent of eighth-graders scored below proficient in reading on the 2015 National Assessment of Education Progress.

“The Little Free Libraries make it easy for parents and caregivers to make reading and early literacy skills a fun part of everyday life starting at birth, which is critical to their children’s early development and how they do in school,” said Angela Rutherford, CELI director.

Besides books, the libraries contain information for parents and caregivers about how to use books and other resources to develop children’s early learning skills.

“This library really supplements all we do to promote family literacy every day by putting more books in the hands of our students and their caregivers,” said Charline Hubbard, director of the Mary Cathey Head Start Center. “They love having it here so they can just pick up or bring back a book as they come and go every day.”

Little Free Libraries are a global phenomenon, with more than 36,000 around the world in 70 countries. The Little Free Library nonprofit organization has been honored by the Library of Congress, the National Book Foundation and the American Library Association. Each year, nearly 10 million books are shared in Little Free Libraries.

To learn more, visit https://littlefreelibrary.org/.

UM Creates Department of Higher Education

Interim chair Neal Hutchens plans to launch a new minor and increase campus partnerships

Faculty members serving in the new UM Department of Higher Education Faculty are (from left) Phillis George, Whitney Webb, Brandi Hephner LaBanc, John Holleman, Amy Wells Dolan, K.B. Melear, Neal Hutchens and George McClellan. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi School of Education is home to a new Department of Higher Education, with legal scholar Neal Hutchens as its interim chair and professor.

The new department, which has eight full-time faculty members, several affiliate faculty throughout the university and more than 200 graduate students, was previously part of the university’s Department of Leadership and Counselor Education. It will function as an independent unit within the School of Education.

“To be part of creating a new department is a rare and unique opportunity,” Hutchens said. “We have built a vibrant and expanding team of higher education faculty and students, and this department allows us to be a visible part of the university community and establish an identity in terms of how we serve the university, the state and beyond.”

The creation of a new department at the School of Education follows the recent growth of new online and hybrid degree programs designed for working higher education practitioners.

The department offers four graduate programs including online and traditional master’s degrees in higher education/student personnel, as well as Ph.D. and a hybrid Ed.D., which is a professional doctorate that combines online and face-to-face learning for higher education professionals.

“We are extremely excited to launch our new Department of Higher Education,” said David Rock, UM education dean. “The growth of our new professional doctorate and master’s degrees for working professionals supports the need for this new organizational unit. 

“We are also creating new possibilities for undergraduate courses in the higher education arena that may even expand into a minor in higher education for the entire campus.”

The department serves as the academic unit overseeing multiple undergraduate courses, including EDHE 105, a course taken by hundreds of Ole Miss undergraduates each year and a collaboration with the university’s Division of Student Affairs.

As interim chair, Hutchens hopes to launch an undergraduate minor in higher education, strengthen and build new partnerships with units throughout campus, and implement an outreach and engagement plan to highlight the accomplishments of faculty, students and alumni.

An expert in first amendment and free speech issues, Hutchens joined UM in 2016 after serving as the professor in charge of higher education at Pennsylvania State University. He also held faculty positions at the University of Kentucky and Barry University.

Hutchens earned a Ph.D. in higher education policy from the University of Maryland, a law degree from the University of Alabama, a master’s degree from Auburn University at Montgomery and a bachelor’s degree from Samford University.

“We have a really strong collection of individuals among our full-time and affiliate faculty,” Hutchens said. “They are strong scholars and just really good people. It is an honor to be part of this team and to serve as our new department’s interim chair going forward.”

Math and Science Center Moves into Renovated Facility

Jackson Avenue Center space will allow CMSE to operate more efficiently

The staff of the CMSE is happy to reclaim its offices in the renovated facility. Left to right: E. Paige Gillentine, Julie James, Amanda Pham, Audra Polk, Mannie Lowe, Meredith Miller, Alice Steimle, Whitney Jackson, Ashley Masinelli, April Kilpatrick and Justin Ragland. Photo by Robert Jordan/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi Center for Mathematics and Science Education has moved back into its renovated facility at the Jackson Avenue Center.

The CMSE’s offices were updated over four months after part of the building was damaged in February. The renovated office is upgraded from the original cinder block wall facility and is specially designed for the STEM education center.

“The CMSE has visitors from K-12 schools and universities around the state, nation and occasionally, the world,” said John O’Haver, the center’s director. “At least part of the perception of any organization is its physical appearance.

“The CMSE has grown so much from its origins, adding professional development, robotics and chess outreach and other activities. Having space that can be more efficiently utilized will help the center operate more smoothly.”

The CMSE’s renovations, in addition to improved aesthetics, will provide better sound management with a mix of solid walls and cubicles for individual offices. The new office space also features enhanced lighting with more access to natural light and upgraded heating, cooling and ventilation.

The center, housed within the School of Education, was established in 2006 to improve science and math education in the state but it has grown to be much more. Funded through grants and donations, the CMSE works with schools in the state to promote STEM fields to children through critical thinking activities.

The CMSE also hosts professional development for teachers in STEM fields, offers scholarships for undergraduate and graduate students and hosts camps and competitions for middle and high school students, such as the FIRST Tech Challenge Robotics Competition, MATHCOUNTS, Catapult Competition and more.

During the four months of renovation, the staff occupied a classroom and a conference room in the Jackson Avenue Center.

LOU Community Named All-America City Finalist by Reading Group

Results of literacy collaboration draw national recognition

LOU Reads volunteers deliver free books to children during summer learning activities. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – The Lafayette County, Oxford and University of Mississippi community is among 27 places across the nation designated as an All-America City Finalist by the National Civic League and the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, a national organization dedicated to improving reading proficiency among low-income children.

The finalists were honored in June at the campaign’s national awards ceremony in Denver. Also, 15 other cities were named All-American Cities, an honor that will be awarded again in 2020.

LOU’s designation is the result of work from multiple local leaders within the LOU Reads Coalition, a collaboration established in 2015 that works to improve outcomes for low-income children in four areas: grade-level reading (measure of outcomes), school readiness (measure of preparedness), school attendance and summer learning opportunities.

“Literacy is a measure of a community’s prosperity,” said Suzanne Ryals, the new LOU director of early childhood and reading development and leader of LOU Reads. “We have a lot of great resources and through LOU Reads, we are no longer working in isolation.”

Ryals, formerly principal at Bramlett Elementary School in Oxford, attributes LOU’s success to the work of several local educators and community leaders. In her new role, she hopes to help improve literacy outcomes for children via data collection, assessment and continued parent engagement and workforce development.

The LOU community has some hard numbers to back up its recent honor.

The number of children in the Oxford School District who have the reading skills needed to start kindergarten has risen from 29 percent in 2014 to 50 percent in 2016, according to data from the Mississippi Department of Education.

Some 95 percent of Oxford-area children are reading proficiently by third grade.

“I think there is a lot to be learned from the LOU community,” said Ashley Parker Sheils, director of the Mississippi Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, which works with nine affiliated communities. “The LOU community has really brought people together and formed powerful subgroups around all four of the campaign focus areas.”

One example of the LOU community meeting the grade-level reading challenge can be seen in the attendance category. LOU Reads leaders have built relationships with local parents through outreach programs such as “Breakfast at the Bus Stop,” where LOU leaders bring breakfast foods to children and parents in the morning to discuss chronic absenteeism at local bus stop locations.

By building relationships and community partnerships, the impact for children has been a positive one. Some 47 percent of local second-grade students missed 10 or more days in 2011-15, but this number was reduced to 17 percent in 2016, according to locally collected data.

“(LOU Reads) has definitely moved the needle for outcomes for children in our community,” said Angela Rutherford, director of UM’s Center for Excellence in Literacy Instruction, one of multiple Ole Miss entities that is part of the organization.

“We want to do whatever we can to support LOU Reads’ goal of increasing literacy achievement. In 2020, we want to be an All-American City.”

UM organizations that are members of LOU Reads include: CELI, College Corps, Dr. Maxine Harper Center for Educational Research and Evaluation, Horizons, Jumpstart and the McLean Institute for Public Service and Community Engagement.

Other community member organizations include: Boys & Girls Club of North Mississippi, Excel by 5, Lafayette County Literacy Council, Lafayette Country School District, Lafayette County and Oxford Public Library, Leap Frog, LOU-Home, North Mississippi VISTA Project, Oxford Park Commission, Oxford School District, Oxford University School, United Way of Oxford and the Yoknapatawpha Arts Council.

“This is a community that values literacy and values its children and is actively working to provide the best opportunities it can for its youngest members,” Ryals said.

‘This Book is Not About Dragons’ Wins 2017 CELI Read Aloud Book Award

Teachers help choose winner of UM children's book award

CELI Literacy Specialist Angie Caldwell reads ‘This Book is Not About Dragons’ to children at Willie Price Lab School. Photo by Andrew Abernathy

OXFORD, Miss. – Spoiler Alert: “This Book is Not About Dragons,” by Shelly Moore Thomas, is actually jam-packed with fire-breathing monsters. It’s also the 2017 winner of the University of Mississippi’s CELI Read Aloud Book Award.

Presented annually by the Center for Excellence in Literacy Instruction at the UM School of Education, the annual award honors books designed for children ages 3 to 10. Established in 2010, this is the seventh time the award has been given by CELI, a center that provides curriculum support and training for Mississippi reading teachers.

“‘This Book Is Not About Dragons’ is an excellent book to read aloud to children,” said Angie Caldwell, CELI literacy specialist who oversees the award process. “This book piques children’s curiosity and creates an engaging reading experience.

“Teachers reported that the children bounced with anticipation, chanted phrases and echoed actions in the book while reading the book aloud. Teachers also stated that the children asked for the book to be read again and again.”

This year’s winner was selected from several titles, which were distributed to teachers at multiple north Mississippi schools, including UM’s Willie Price Lab School. Schools that field-tested the book were awarded free copies of the book.

“My class loved this book,” said Willie Price teacher Chelsea Walters. “They begged me to read it again and again and they talked about it all through lunch.”

The plot of the book follows a mischievous mouse narrator who leads the reader on a tour of a countryside that has obviously been ravaged by a fire-breathing dragon. The book is designed to ignite the interest of young students who can start to pick apart the narrator’s false claims that, amid all of the fire and smoke and destruction, there are actually no dragons hiding the background.

“As a teacher, I find enjoyment in observing my students actively engaged in the read-aloud process,” said Candace Gooch, a teacher at Bramlett Elementary School in Oxford. “While reading ‘This Book is Not About Dragons,’ my students were predicting, inferring and simply enjoying the text. They were excited and asked to have the story reread multiple times.”

The CELI Read Aloud Book Award program is partially supported from a grant from the Robert M. Hearin Support Foundation. The goal is to promote reading aloud to young children as a way to teach literacy, reinforce a love of reading and help children understand the deeper meaning behind books. Winning books receive the right to be published with CELI’s Read Aloud award seal on the cover.

Participating teachers were asked to evaluate how well the texts stretch children’s imaginations, capture interest and utilize a rich vocabulary. A committee of UM faculty, staff and literacy teachers considered the results to select the winner.

“This Book is Not About Dragons,” illustrated by Fred Koehler, was published by Boyds Mill Press.

School of Education Honors Practitioners of Distinction

Award recognizes young and mid-career education alumni

The charter class of the School of Education’s Practitioner of Distinction Awards is (from left) Jay Levy, Shelly Clifford, Jessica Ivy and Wanikka Vance. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi School of Education has honored four outstanding alumni as part of its new Practitioner of Distinction Awards.

The school created the award to recognize mid-career educators who demonstrate exemplary work in their field. The 2017 honorees are: Shelley Clifford of Atlanta, Jessica Ivy of Starkville, Jay Levy of Canton and Wanikka Vance of Chicago.

The awards are a counterpart to the School of Education’s Hall of Fame, which honors alumni who have at least 25 years of service in education. The honorees were recognized May 12 at the school’s Hall of Fame ceremony at The Inn at Ole Miss.

Clifford received her bachelor’s degree from Ole Miss in 2003 and was named Graduate Student of the Year in 2004 when she earned her master’s degree in curriculum and instruction. She has served as the head of the lower school at Mount Vernon Presbyterian School for six years in Atlanta.

She previously served as a third-, fifth- and sixth-grade teacher for seven years in Memphis, Tennessee, and Charleston, South Carolina.

“It’s really humbling to be celebrated like this,” Clifford said. “I hope that this will be an opportunity to reconnect with Ole Miss. I would love to come back and spend time with education students.”

Ivy earned three degrees from UM, including a doctorate in math education in 2011. She is an assistant professor of secondary education at Mississippi State University, where she also works with the Mississippi Excellence in Teaching Program.

“Receiving this award sends a message that people are starting to recognize the importance of teachers,” Ivy said. “I’m very honored to have received it and been a small part of the mission to support our educators.”

Levy graduated from the UM in 2011 with bachelor’s degree in English education. During his junior year, Levy was in a car accident that left him paralyzed from the waist down, but he did not allow that to prevent him from pursuing his passion of teaching.

During Levy’s first year of teaching at Pisgah High School, not only did his English students earn the highest pass rate in Mississippi on the state subject area test, but he was also selected as teacher of the year.

“I began wondering if the students would still respond to me the same way since I am in a wheelchair,” Levy said. “I think they respected me more after I told them my story and I was open with them and let them ask questions.

“That’s how I always start class on the first day of school, and I always tell them to wear their seatbelt. It gives me a teachable moment to let them know that life is hard, but it’s possible to move on.”

Vance, who received her bachelor’s degree in elementary education from UM in 2003, has served as a Chicago elementary school teacher for 10 years. In 2011, she founded a school for pre-K to first-graders called Foundations 4 adVANCEment, which focuses on preparing young learners academically and socially to become college- and career-minded from their earliest stages of growth and development.

“This award is a great honor,” Vance said. “Most of the time when you leave your alma mater, you’re just gone. To know that they have actually been following me professionally is a big surprise to me, but also a great honor to be able to realize that the work I am doing is not in vain.”

UM Inducts Third Class into School of Education Alumni Hall of Fame

Honorees commended for teaching, service and leadership

Ann Monroe (right), assistant dean of the School of Education, congratulates (from left) Thomas R. Burke, Robert C. Khayat, Laura Dunn Jolly, Jean M. Shaw, Jacqueline Vinson and Carole Lynn Meadows. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi School of Education recently inducted the third class of alumni into its Hall of Fame.

Collectively, the six inductees have more than 200 years of wisdom, experience and commitment to education and public service in Mississippi and across the country.

The 2017 honorees are: Thomas R. Burke of Kansas City, Kansas; Laura Dunn Jolly of Ames, Iowa; Robert C. Khayat of Oxford; Jean M. Shaw of Oxford; and the late Theopolis P. Vinson of Oxford. Carole Lynn Meadows of Gulfport, the second recipient of the School’s Outstanding Educational Service Award, also was recognized during the May 12 ceremony at The Inn at Ole Miss.

The School of Education Alumni Board of Directors selected honorees from nominations submitted earlier this year.

“The School of Education Alumni Hall of Fame honors those who have made a significant and long-term impact on the education profession,” said David Rock, UM education dean. “These six individuals are the epitome of what the University of Mississippi and the School of Education represents.”

Burke began his educational journey at Ole Miss in 1969, earning a bachelor’s degree in 1970 and a master’s degree in 1972 – both in history – and a doctorate in higher education in 1981. From there, he embarked on a distinguished 39-year career at four community colleges.

Burke progressed in roles at Kansas City Kansas Community College from history professor to dean of instruction to vice president and then president of the institution in 1992, a position he served 19 years until his retirement in 2011. Burke is also a member of the Mid-America Education Hall of Fame and The Thomas R. Burke Technical Education Center was named for him.

“It is certainly a high recognition from the School of Education, which I am honored to receive,” Burke said. “In my career, I learned more from my mistakes than my successes.

“I think the real key is to learn not to make the same mistake over and over again but never be afraid to take action because you might make a mistake.”

Jolly, who is dean of College of Human Sciences at Iowa State University, received a bachelor’s degree from UM in 1977 before completing master’s and doctoral degrees from Oklahoma State University. She has a 38-year tenure with six different institutions of higher learning.

Jolly received a Taylor Medal from Ole Miss in 1977, earned Georgia’s Most Powerful and Influential Women Award from the National Diversity Council in 2011 and was named among “100 Graduates of Significance” by the graduate school at Oklahoma State in 2012.

“I am truly honored,” Jolly said. “As I think about it, Ole Miss was such an important part of my educational foundation. It’s really wonderful to be recognized in this way. I feel very honored and humbled.”

Khayat, the university’s 15th chancellor, earned a bachelor’s degree from the School of Education in 1961. He returned to obtain a Juris Doctor from Ole Miss in 1966 and then a Master of Law from Yale University in 1980.

As chancellor, he transformed the university by raising more than $900 million in gifts, establishing the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College, attracting a Phi Beta Kappa chapter and hosting a presidential debate, among many other accomplishments. He also published a book, “The Education of a Lifetime,” which chronicles his life and times at Ole Miss.

“If teaching is what makes you happy, I doubt you could find a better thing to do that would be more rewarding than teaching,” Khayat said. “I’ve taught eighth-grade science and I’ve taught law school. I’m so thankful my road took me to education and higher education and being able to teach.”

Shaw, who is the first faculty member of the School of Education selected to its Hall of Fame, received an undergraduate degree in mathematics from Bradley University, a master’s degree in mathematics from Northwestern University, a master’s degree in education from UM in 1974 and a doctorate in education from Columbia University.

A math and science educator, Shaw taught students from pre-kindergarten to graduate school for more than 40 years, including 30 years – 1976 to 2006 – at Ole Miss.

“As a teacher educator, I had a lot of opportunities,” Shaw said. “I had the opportunity to meet people, to go to conferences, to speak at conferences, to be on editorial boards and work with very talented people. Working alongside dedicated educators and student teachers was an honor.”

Vinson, the first deceased person to be inducted to the school’s Hall of Fame, earned a master’s degree in 1982 and a doctorate in 1997, both from UM.

A former teacher, he joined the staff of the School of Education in 1989 by serving as director of undergraduate student advising and field experience and assistant dean. He also worked with the Mississippi Teachers Corps, serving in Mississippi’s most critical needs school districts.

Meadows earned her bachelor’s degree in business administration from Ole Miss in 1960 and a master’s degree in business education in 1964.

Meadows has completed 27 years as a teacher, 22 of those at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College. She is co-founder of the nationally renowned Lynn Meadows Discovery Center, the first children’s museum in the state, in Gulfport.

From 2009 to 2012, she chaired the Mississippi Council on Economic Education board, which includes 40 top business executives and is a national leader in providing instruction and curriculum to K-12 teachers so they can teach students to think from an economic point of view.

“What could be better than to be recognized for what you have done all your life with passion,” Meadows said. “We have an enormous role as teachers and educators. We are molding what’s to be.”

The School of Education Alumni Hall of Fame was established in 2015.

UM Inducts Ninth Class into Principal Corps

Twelve women from across state begin career-shaping journey in educational leadership

The ninth cohort of the University of Mississippi Principal Corps is (front row, from left) Mandy Scarpulla, Sandra Oliver, Kewanna Riley, Angela Oliphant, Monica Meredith and Sharon Cooley, and (back row) Robin Auringer, Katie Nelson, Angel Carr, Christine Beeker, Lindsay Starbuck and Marrion Winders. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

OXFORD, Miss. – A dozen women from school districts across the state make up the ninth class of the University of Mississippi’s Principal Corps.

The Principal Corps is the university’s elite program for aspiring educational leaders, and over nearly a decade, it has produced 87 new graduates, 90 percent of whom are serving as a principal or assistant principal in school districts across Mississippi and beyond.

At a May 31 orientation, interim director Tom Burnham and other members of the School of Education faculty addressed the group of aspiring school leaders, the program’s first all-female cohort.

“One of the things we’re most proud of in the Principal Corps is the growth of this program throughout the state,” said Burnham, a two-time state superintendent of education and former UM education dean. “There are a number of you who are coming into the Principal Corps from districts that have never been part of our program before. We’re very proud of that.”

The new recruits are: Robin Auringer of the Gulfport School District, Christine Beeker of the Meridian Public School District, Angela Carr of the Nettleton School District, Sharon Cooley of the Lamar County School District, Monica Meredith of the Senatobia Municipal School District, Kathleen Nelson of the Rankin County School District, Angela Oliphant of the Harrison County School District, Sandra Oliver of the Jefferson County School District, Kewanna Riley of the Harrison County School District, Mandy Scarpulla of the Franklin County School District, Lindsay Starbuck of the Smith County School District and Marrion Winders of the Tupelo Public School District.

Designed to be a transformational journey toward school leadership, the 13-month program prepares teachers for K-12 leadership positions with a combination of graduate coursework and two full-time internships, set during fall and spring semesters, where program participants learn from experienced mentor-principals at internship sites.

The new cohort members possess impressive credentials. Many hold advanced degrees or national board certifications.

Oliphant, a biology teacher, holds an undergraduate degree from the University of Southern Mississippi and a master’s degree from William Carey University, but chose UM’s Principal Corps for its reputation.

“I wanted to learn how to be an effective leader in our schools, and I knew Ole Miss had the best program,” Oliphant said. “The Principal Corps has established a name that speaks for itself.

“The previous cohorts all speak very highly of the instructors and the program.”

The program offers one of the most valuable leadership scholarships in the country. All cohort members receive full tuition, books and housing while at Ole Miss.

It also enables participants to take leave from their home school districts without sacrificing their salary during the program.

Besides two summer sessions, Principal Corps participants come to Oxford one weekend per month for face-to-face instruction during the school year. Each graduate receives a Master of Education or Specialist in Education degree in educational leadership from UM, which, along with passing the School Leaders Licensure Assessment, will qualify them for a state school administrator’s license.

Meredith is a special education teacher at Senatobia Elementary School who started her teaching career 17 years ago via Teach for America. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Princeton University and a master’s degree from UM.

“I saw (the Principal Corps) as an intense and elite program where I could work closely with professors and my classmates,” Meredith said. “I would like to go back to my district and start impacting children’s lives there immediately.

“I’ve taught there, I live close to there – it’s where my heart is.”

Besides earning an advanced degree in educational leadership, graduates receive a $10,000 bonus from the program upon accepting a principal or assistant principal job in a Mississippi public school and beginning work. Each graduate makes a five-year commitment to stay in Mississippi.

The Principal Corps was established in 2009 with funding from the Jim and Donna Barksdale Foundation. The program is also supported with funding from the Robert M. Hearin Support Foundation in Jackson.

“The opportunity that you have to impact the lives of children is going to expand tremendously through this program,” Burnham said at the orientation. “It will expand when you go into schools and start your internships.

“But along with opportunity, we must also embrace responsibility. Where much is given, much is expected.”

First Group of METP Students Graduate from Ole Miss

Fourteen graduates make plans for new teaching careers in Mississippi

The first group of students in the Mississippi Excellence in Teaching Program graduated from UM over the weekend. They are (back row, from left) Benjamin Logan, Jake Wheeler, Kaypounyers Maye and Shelby Knighten, (middle row) Emily Reynolds, Abigail Null, Kaye Leigh Whitfield, Katianne Middleton, Nancy ‘Bella’ Hutson and Jenna Smiley, and (front row) Anna Claire Kelly, Brenna Ferrell, Lydia Hall and Rachel Sanchez. Submitted photo

OXFORD, Miss. – Fourteen seniors who graduated Saturday (May 13) at the University of Mississippi are prepared to make a difference in the lives of students statewide as the first group to graduate from the Mississippi Excellence in Teaching Program.

METP, a highly selective and rigorous teacher preparation program, was established in 2013 to offer full scholarships to the best and brightest students from around the nation to study education and teach in Mississippi.

The 2017 graduates are Brenna Ferrell of Ocean Springs; Lydia Hall of Madison; Nancy Hutson of Liberty; Anna Claire Kelley of Madison; Shelby Knighten of Gautier; Benjamin Logan of Sherman; Kaypounyers Maye of Gulfport; Katianne Middleton of Selma, Alabama; Abigail Null of Corinth; Rachel Sanchez of Southaven; Emily Reynolds of Brandon; Jenna Smiley of Meridian; James Wheeler of St. Johns, Florida; and Kaye Leigh Whitfield of Birmingham, Alabama.

“Five years ago, METP was just an idea,” said Ryan Niemeyer, the program’s director. “Seeing these students walk across the graduation stage will be a moment of great pride for many faculty and staff at the School of Education who have gone to great lengths to make the program what it is today. We have great expectations for the impact they will have on the future of our state.”

METP is a collaboration with Mississippi State University, which celebrated the graduation of its first cohort earlier this month.

Initial funding for the program came from a $12.9 million grant from the Robert M. Hearin Support Foundation of Jackson in 2013, and the foundation reaffirmed its support with a $28 million commitment in January. The two universities split the funding and collaborate on educational opportunities for students each semester.

This first group of students entered UM with a high school GPA of 4.0 and an average ACT score of 28.5. Besides earning full tuition scholarships, the students received monies for housing, technology, professional development and study abroad.

More than 100 students from 18 states have been admitted into the program since its creation. With four classes admitted, the program has an average incoming ACT score of 30.

Graduate Jake Wheeler said he chose METP four years ago over 17 other programs to which he applied because it was the one that provided the most opportunities in a classroom environment.

“I was in classrooms my freshman year,” Wheeler said. “None of the other programs that I applied to put students in classrooms before junior year.”

Wheeler also traveled around the country and to Canada as part of study abroad to learn about national and international education policies during his METP career.

“The most recent and beneficial trip was to San Antonio for the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics annual conference,” he said. “At NCTM, I was able to spend three days in professional development that undergraduate students do not typically participate in, where I learned about cutting-edge tools, technology and resources in math education as well as innovative teaching practices.”

Each student agrees to teach for five years in a Mississippi public school after graduation. Many already have signed contracts to begin jobs as new teachers this fall.

In August, Wheeler is to begin teaching Algebra I at Northwest Rankin High School in Flowood, where two other METP teachers will join him.

“I hope to bring some of the teaching practices I have learned to Northwest Rankin to help my students meet their educational goals,” Wheeler said. “I hope to join or start a strong community service organization at NWRHS to benefit the Flowood community and the Jackson area as a whole. 

“I hope to get myself and my students invested in helping the community become as beautiful and productive as it can be.”

Anna Claire Kelly, another new graduate of the program, always knew she wanted to be a teacher and this program suited her and her goals perfectly. This fall, she begins her new teaching career at Tupelo High School.

“METP was one of the best decisions I could have made during my college career,” she said. “The program expanded our horizons and has given us more opportunities than we could have ever imagined.

“As I begin my teaching career in the fall, I can only hope to impact my students’ lives the way so many of my teachers did mine. I want to be the teacher that doesn’t make school all about academics, but about life, too.”