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.”

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