Eleven Mississippi Educators Join New Class of Principal Corps

K-12 leadership program fast-tracks teachers into leadership roles

The 2019 cohort of the Principal Corps consists of (front row, from left) Betsy Copeland, Michelle Stinson, Summer Rigney, Johnna Henley, Cindy Morris, Regina Humble and Gina Pace and (back row, from left) Mary Alex Thigpen, Xavier Black, Brittaney Boyd and Jennifer Foster. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

OXFORD, Miss. – Eleven Mississippi educators make up the 11th cohort of the Principal Corps, a highly competitive and intensive K-12 educational leadership program offered by the University of Mississippi.

Established in 2009, the program has produced more than 120 graduates, and close to 90 percent of them are serving in leadership roles in school districts in Mississippi and beyond.

The new class of the Principal Corps is: Xavier Black of Holmes County Consolidated School District, Brittaney Boyd of Greenwood-Leflore Consolidated School District, Betsy Copeland of DeSoto County Schools, Jennifer Foster of Senatobia School District, Johnna Henley of Rankin County School District, Regina Humble of Marshall County School District, Cindy Morris of Rankin County School District, Gina Pace of Harrison County School District, Summer Rigney of Madison County School District, Michelle Stinson of Walthall County School District and Mary Alex Thigpen of Jackson Public Schools.

In June, the group gathered for orientation at UM to begin the 13-month journey through the program. The Principal Corps program utilizes both graduate coursework in educational leadership at the UM School of Education and two full-time internships during the fall and spring semesters.

Internships allow recruits to gain leadership experience under the supervision of experienced school leaders. Many Principal Corps recruits serve as de facto assistant principals during this experience.

Black, a fifth-grade science teacher and former U.S. Army infantryman, was attracted to the Principal Corps after working with a recent graduate of the program. He hopes to use this opportunity to serve as an effective school leader in his home district.

“I want to be a school leader because leaders make a difference,” Black said. “I have learned school leaders have a 25 percent impact on student achievement.

“I understand the urgency it takes to make the needed sacrifices and contributions our students need if we are going to develop our human capital for the benefit of our communities, state and nation.”

Many Principal Corps recruits will complete at least one of their internships at or near their home school district. This June, all new members are completing coursework at UM.

During the fall and spring semesters, Principal Corps participants will come to Oxford for one week each month to complete weekend coursework. One of the most valuable education leadership scholarships in the nation, the program provides full tuition, books and housing for cohort members while at Ole Miss.

Rigney, a sixth-grade English language arts teacher in Madison, began her career in education as part of UM’s Mississippi Teacher Corps and learned about the program from a friend who also went through both programs.

“My early impressions are overwhelming in the best way,” Rigney said. “I have been challenged beyond belief.

“I’ve had the honor of getting to work alongside amazing individuals who have the best interest of others in mind. I have been pushed out of comfort zones, and I can only imagine this will only continue.”

Graduates will earn either a Master of Education or Specialist in Education degree in educational leadership. This degree, along with passing the School Leaders Licensure Assessment, will qualify recipients for a school administrator’s license.

Besides earning an advanced degree, each graduate also makes a five-year commitment to stay in a Mississippi public school district.

The new cohort members have impressive credentials and diverse educational backgrounds. Many already hold advanced degrees, national board certifications and/or have already taken a leadership role within their schools.

Before being accepted into the program, all recruits must receive an endorsement from their superintendents.

Thigpen, an Ole Miss alumna who started her career as part of Teach for America, hopes to move into the building level leadership role in Jackson Public Schools after finishing the program.

“I’ve known and worked under alumni of the program and was very impressed with their leadership skills,” Thigpen said. “I also wanted to participate in a program that used a cohort model and one specifically for those who wanted to work in Mississippi.

“Of all the routes to administration in our state, I felt PC was not only the most rigorous but also best prepared participants to become transformational leaders.”

The Principal Corps was created 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.


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