Rethinking Leadership: Fourth Principal Corps Cohort Begins Career-Changing Journey

The fourth Mississippi Principal Corps cohort at the University of Mississippi includes (front row, left to right) Shonda Willis, Cytha Stottlemyer, Cora Bunker and LaMarcus Norman and (back row, left to right) Ashley Bullock, Adrienne Sims, Lisa Attkisson, Dave Miller and Emily Schuler. UM photo by Kevin Bain.

OXFORD, Miss. – Nine Mississippi teachers with aspirations of becoming K-12 leaders make up the fourth cohort of the Principal Corps at the University of Mississippi.

The select group includes Lisa Attkisson and Ashley Bullock, both of Brandon, Cora Bunker of  Hillsboro, Ore., Dave Miller of Los Angeles, LaMarcus Norman of Greenville, Emily Cooke Schuler of Indianapolis, Adrienne Sims of Jackson, Cytha Stottlemyer of Gettysburg, Pa., and Shonda Willis of Clinton.

During the program’s recent orientation, UM educational leadership faculty and outgoing state Superintendent of Education Tom Burnham greeted the group with a challenge to use the 13-month graduate program to evaluate the meaning of leadership and consider the characteristics of effective principals.
“Becoming an administrator is a maturation process – you’re not there yet, but you will be,” said Burnham, who helped found the program during his tenure as dean of education at Ole Miss. “People who move into administration often do what those who came before them have done. Sometimes that’s very good. Sometimes that can be very bad.”

Established in 2009 with a $2 million grant from the Jim and Donna Barksdale Foundation, the Principal Corps has cultivated a reputation in north and central Mississippi for producing ambitious and resourceful principals and assistant principals. The program’s nearly perfect placement history with 29 out of 30 alumni in or set to begin leadership positions is impressive.

As in previous years, 100 percent of the 2011-2012 cohort received principal or assistant principal job offers by graduation day. All eight will receive a M.Ed. or Ed.S. degree in educational leadership this August and a $10,000 bonus check upon signing a contract with a Mississippi school. All make a five-year commitment to stay in the state

“This cohort joins the ranks of some very effective leaders,” said Susan McClelland, Principal Corps director and interim chair of curriculum and instruction. “As educational leaders, we’re here to reach the students and the teachers who are difficult to reach. We want to show the difference that an instructional leader can make.”

Each cohort member receives a full scholarship, a state-funded salary stipend and living expenses while taking classes at UM. Above all, the program emphasizes learning by doing. Besides spending two summer terms completing coursework at Ole Miss, each aspiring leader completes two full-time internships with experienced mentor principals from August to May. The cohort meets in Oxford for three days of class once a month during this time.

“I’m incredibly honored to be given this opportunity,” said Stottlemyer, who teaches math at Tunica Middle School. “At Tunica, I’ve learned incredible lessons in humility, resiliency and the joy of educating children. I look forward to learning and growing as an educational leader.”

The Principal Corps was originally conceived after proponents of education reform in Mississippi observed a need for strong leaders in high-needs schools.

“In 23 years of running the Mississippi Teacher Corps, one of the most common complaints we’ve received is about weak principals,” said Andy Mullins, chief of staff to the chancellor, MTC co-director and a key figure in founding the Principal Corps. “So often they are undertrained, overworked or worse. The Principal Corps is an attempt to improve that situation.”

To meet the call for effective educational leaders, each cohort member is selected based on his or her potential to excel. This fourth cohort comes from a variety of K-12 schools. Some entered education through Teach for America and the Mississippi Teacher Corps. Many already hold master’s degrees. One is a National Board Certified Teacher. All share a passion for improving education in Mississippi.

This year’s class members hail from undergraduate institutions across the country, including Belhaven University, California State University at Northridge, Hanover College in Hanover, Ind., Mary Baldwin College, in Staunton, Va., Mississippi College, Mississippi State University, Jackson State University and the University of Oregon.

“My work has been incredibly rewarding,” said Bunker, who spent the past two years teaching third grade in Hazlehurst with Teach For America and will complete her fall internship at Crenshaw Elementary in Panola County. “I’ve fallen in love with the vast potential my students have not realized. It’s left me with a drive to do more.”

For more information on the Mississippi Principal Corps program, go to