Annual Report 2018

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OUR STORY. Rachel Canter and Sanford Johnson met riding the school bus in elementary school over 25 years ago. They formed a friendship that would last beyond their years as public school students in Starkville, Mississippi. After graduating high school, their paths continued to cross. They both became teachers in the Mississippi Delta, and both later went to school to study public policy—Rachel at the Harvard

Kennedy School and Sanford at the Clinton School of Public Service. While they share many experiences, their strongest commonality is that they have a deep desire to improve education in their home state. This desire led Rachel and Sanford to launch Mississippi First 10 years ago as a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to excellence in education.

OUR MISSION. Mississippi First champions transformative policy solutions ensuring educational excellence for every Mississippi child. We are a leading voice for state-funded pre-K, high-quality public charter schools, commonsense testing policies, and educator pipeline research.


OUR LEADERSHIP. Welcome to our 10th Anniversary Annual Report! Mississippi First launched as a nonprofit on October 15, 2008, with a lot of dreams, a little funding, and a passionate urgency to make education better in Mississippi. What was once just an idea is now a high-performing organization that is changing the lives of students in Mississippi daily. In the past decade, we have passed two pieces of watershed legislation (Mississippi Public Charter Schools Act and the Early Learning Collaborative Act of 2013), become an important implementation partner to education policymakers, published multiple reports, and developed the groundwork for a teen health organization. This year’s annual report celebrates our milestones over the last decade. We wouldn’t be here without the support of so many. We have tried to capture the names of our recent supporters later in the report, but I want to send a special thank-you to our founding mentor Alan Khazei, our founding donor Josh



Bekenstein, Christine Letts and Chris Stone (both of the Harvard Kennedy School), our first Board member Coleman Carlisle, our founding Board, our founding Board Chair Kitty Ramsey, our longest-serving Board Chair Maggie Middleton, all former Board members, our current Board (Matty Bengloff, Brett Harris, Catoria Martin, LaKesha Perry, and Adam Smith), some of our earliest foundation champions Jon-Paul Bianchi and Sherman Whites, wisewomen Marcie Skelton and Lee Ann Mayo, MDE friends Lynn House and Kim Benton, thought partners Bonita Coleman and Krystal Cormack, and my former interns Angela Bass (so glad you’re still with us!), Cortez Moss, Victoria Romano Haberman, Charles Woods, Erika Berry, Benjamin Lynch, Tim Abrams, and Camille Nelson. We would not be the organization we are without you, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart. I am also proud to formally introduce you to Teen Health Mississippi! When we founded Mississippi First, we never thought our project promoting sex education in


RACHEL CANTER Executive Director public schools would grow to encompass five staff members and multiple projects in teen health. Our teen health work has now expanded beyond our mission. At the start of 2019, they will officially be an independent nonprofit. We wish them the best of luck and hope you will continue to follow their work as they too will continue to make Mississippi First in the years to come.




Deputy Director of Policy

Deputy Director of Engagement

Director of Operations & Communications

Angela is responsible for analyzing policy and data, developing policy proposals, conducting advocacy activities directed toward policymakers, leading research projects, writing policy papers, and delivering policy presentations.

Sanford directs all Mississippi First’s community-level policy outreach and advocacy efforts. He engages educators, students, parents, and community members through presentations, trainings, and project facilitation.

MacKenzie is responsible for promoting, enhancing, and protecting our brand as well as a broad range of public relations and operation activities relative to the strategic direction and positioning of the organization and its advocacy agenda.



OUR BOARD. Matt Bengloff, Board Chair Cleveland, MS

LeKesha Perry, Board Member Greenville, MS

Brett Harris, Board Treasurer Laurel, MS

Adam Smith, Board Member St. Louis, MO


Catoria Martin, Board Member Jackson, MS

Thanks to our generous supporters, Mississippi First is able to reach our goals to move Mississippi forward. Thank you for your support and dedication! Advocates for Youth† Alliance for Early Success Anonymous Roderick Allen† Anna Allen Ben Allen Jeremy Barr & Liz Crum Kate Barrett† Maria Barsallo† Angela & Kevin Bass Bill Bennett & Joanne Sveehika† Martha Bergmark† Matty Bengloff* Erika Berry† Rose Bingham† Xavier Bolden Kamara Bonwara† Larry & Florence Box Betty Jo & Bob Boyd Jesseca Boyer Benjamin Brassfield Diana Brent Caitlin Brooking† Courtney Bru Jennifer Bruneau† Melissa Burns Kelly Butler Ruby Canciller† Andrew & Rachel Canter Kim Capella† Rose Carioti† David & Laura Carroll† Kathryn Carroll† Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)† Robby Chamblee

Kelvin Chen Vickie Collier† Krystal & Michael Cormack Carlyn Cornelius Christopher Cox† Hope Crenshaw† Cynthia Crockett† Kamaile Crowell† Mike Cummins Glennis Curry Cory Daise Margaret & Roeland de Koning Julie Ann de Los Reyes† Stacy & Adam Downey† Wayne and Jo Durst Tristan Durst Kirby Eargle Mariesha Eason† Sutton Elyse Alice Emanuel Enterprise Holdings Foundation Emily Feher† Peter & Sheila Feher† Megan Feifer Vanessa Filippini† Katherine Filippini† Kathy Fredrick† Doug Friedlander Jeannette Galey Tanya Gandy† Lynda Garcia† Michelle & David Garraway Jennifer Gilbert† Marjie Gowdy Melanie Grafton†

Grove Foundation† Cytha Guynes Hayden Hall Nicholas Hall Brett Harris* Rachel Harris† Alyne Hazard Stephanie Hebert Amy Hermalik Patrick and Mara Hicks Debra Hicks Ashley & Lucy Hines MacKenzie & Warren Hines Heidi Hoffman† Willi J. Holbron† Helen Homer† Diandra Hosey† Michael Hsu Kendra Isaacson† Reeve G. Jacobs, III† LaShonna Johnson† W.C. & Everlyn Johnson Sanford & Amanda Johnson Erin Jones Jennifer KC Kellogg Foundation Kara Koehrn† Kendra Kosko† Nicholas Krump Sally Laughlin Amanda Layton Jennifer Leeds Simon Joshua Lobert† Catoria Martin* Nicole Marr† *Denotes 2018-2019 Mississippi First Board of Directors Members Helene Mattera † Denotes Donors of Teen Health Mississippi Lee Mayo

Josh & Cassie McCawley† Layli McGee Kris Kramer Melin† Maggie Middleton Jacob Miller† Sara Miller† Laurence Mixson Rufus Morris Virginia Morris Abrams Katie Morrison David & Rebekah Moulder† Scott Mullins Kiley Munger National Alliance for Public Charter Schools Torri Nichelle Joli Nichols Mark Noizumi Reginald Norfleet Andrew Ouart Joi Owens Hunter Pace The David and Lucile Packard Foundation Charles & Lee Parrott LeKesha Perry* Jamal Powell Power to Decide† Chelesa Presley Ellen Range† Mary Rebecca Read-Wahidi† Emily Richardson Dylan Richmond† Natalie Robinson† Debbie Robinson Levi Rogers Zoe Root†

Melissa Rubin Chelsea Rudman† Angela Samuels Soraya Santos Marian Schutte† Chesney Severance Paul Shabsis† Bill Sherman Kat Shields Hester Adam Smith* Philip Smith† Aimee Stachowski† Timothy Sturdivant Elizabeth Suzuki† Paula Tavrow† Nicholas Tew† Texas A&M (ITP3)† Mary Thompson Roderick Thompson† Mary Thompson Kelly Thompson Kristen Tordella-Williams† Kim Triplett Claudia von Wilpert† Marni von Wilpert† Marcus Vowell Ashleigh WashingtonTwyner Joy Wasson Frithiof Waterstrat Julie West Kennisa Wingate Maureen Wiskerchen† Maisie Wright Brian & Meghan Tooke Anja Thiessen Walton Family Foundation





The numbers below reflect our revenue and expenses from July 1, 2017-June 30, 2018.

REVENUE FY 2018 Grants $20,529 Contract Services $106,447 Interest Income $532

Training $1,550 TOTAL REVENUE $1,487,466 Miscellaneous $740 Net Assets Released from Restrictions $1,357,668

EXPENSES FY 2018 Program Services $1,348,194 Management & General $82,985 Fundraising $27,474


HOW WE WORK. Our work is organized into 4 different categories: research and publications, issue education, advocacy, and policy implementation.

Issue Education

We inform stakeholders, policymakers, and the general public how policy solutions can impact children in Mississippi public schools.

Policy Implementation

Once policy is adopted, we ensure new policies are implemented correctly.

Research and Publications

We research and recommend policy solutions for Mississippi’s challenges in education. Our reports provide in-depth analysis of problems and solutions.


We influence education decisionmakers to do what is best for kids in Mississippi based on the findings of our research.




2009 From 2009-2010, we published several papers on how charter school policy could impact education reform in Mississippi.




Mississippi First worked with policy makers to draft and pass the Mississippi Public Charter School Law in 2013.

After passing the law, we turned our focus to implementation and provided technical assistance to the Mississippi Charter School Authorizer Board.

From 2015-2018, we developed materials to educate the public about charter schools and published them to our website.

Today, there are 5 charter schools operating in Mississippi. Three more charter schools have been approved to open in the upcoming years. We will continue to advocate for high-quality charter schools in an effort to grow the sector.

OUR WORK IN CHARTER SCHOOLS. At Mississippi First, we believe that high-quality public charter schools should be a part of our state’s public education reform strategy. We will continue to support policies and practices that strengthen the charter sector as well as all public schools.

Our work during the last year was dedicated to: • Providing technical assistance to the Mississippi Charter School Authorizer Board, which included developing a statewide communications strategy, recommending a closure protocol, and proposing changes to their annual report. • Helping the first charter school in the Delta open their doors in July 2018. • Providing applicant support during the 2017 and 2018 application cycle. • Continuing to closely monitor the charter school funding lawsuit, which received a positive ruling by the Hinds Chancery Court, and is now pending before the Mississippi State Supreme Court. • Helping establish the Mississippi Education Accelerator, a nonprofit dedicated to providing applicant support in the charter sector.

In 2018, we published multiple toolkits to assist communities with developing their own highquality pre-K seats. Our toolkits can be found online at In another big win this year, the legislature increased funding for state-funded early learning collaborative seats to $6.5 million. The Mississippi Department of Education opened a RFP for new communities to apply for early learning collaborative funding. We conducted five trainings across the state with communities interested in competing for state funds and starting an early learning collaborative.





2008 2012



Early education (pre-K) was a founding policy area for Mississippi First. We have worked to provide state-funded pre-K for over 10 years. In 2012, we published two major reports. The Title I Preliminary Report, which highlighted districts using Title I dollars to provide pre-K services, and Leaving Last in Line. These reports served as the foundation for the Early Learning Collaborative Act of 2013.

Mississippi passed its first state-funded pre-K bill, the Early Learning Collaborative Act, which established state-funded pre-K meeting all 10 of NIEER’s quality benchmarks. Just as importantly, the legislature appropriated $3M for the program.

The first 11 early learning collaboratives received statefunding to provide no-cost or low-cost high-quality pre-K seats.

2015 2016 2017


Mississippi First released our first State of Public Pre-K in Mississippi report. The report detailed programmatic and contextual data about public school pre-K programs and the communities they serve. The Mississippi Legislature expanded the Early Learning Collaborative Act by appropriating an additional $1M for the program, making the total appropriation $4M. Mississippi First published the second edition of the State of Pre-K in Mississippi. The report updated our 2015 report on public pre-K and expanded it to include information about licensed childcare centers serving four-year-old children. This report is the first attempting to quantify pre-K access—whether public or private—in every Mississippi community. The Mississippi Legislature expanded the Early Learning Collaborative Act by appropriating an additional $2.5M for the program, making the total appropriation $6.5M.




In 2018, MSF released Understanding District and State Testing in Mississippi. This report uses field research on testing practices in four diverse Mississippi school districts to determine how many tests Mississippi students take and how much time they spend taking those tests. This was our most publicized report ever. It led to the creation of the Mississippi Department of Education's Testing Taskforce.

OUR WORK IN TESTING & ACCOUNTABILITY. Our testing research addressed four questions: How much time do students in each grade in each district spend on district, state, and other significant standardized testing?


What factors, if any, increase the amount of time students are exposed to standardized testing?


What does the data suggest schools should or should not do to maximize the value of standardized testing?


What are teachers’ perceptions of standardized testing?


It also describes common school district testing practices, such as how testing is conducted and how tests are used in the districts. Mississippi First wrote this report to bring much-needed research and analysis to a debate mostly characterized by impassioned anecdotes. The report offers several eye-opening general and comparative findings. Report highlights include the following: • In 2014-2015, students spent an average of 7 hours, 53 minutes—less than 1% of a 180-day school year—taking state tests. • Students took more district tests than state tests in every district we studied, but they sometimes spent less time on district testing than on state testing. • Test completion hours do not reflect all the time schools devote to standardized testing. • Low-performing districts in our sample administered more tests and spent more time testing than high-performing districts. • Low-performing districts prioritized test prep over content instruction for at least 25% of their instructional year.

Read the full report online at 7




OUR PAST. During the past 10 years, the majority of our work has been focused on early education, charter schools, and testing and accountability. Mississippi First sometimes works on pressing issues in education outside of our issue areas. Two of these issues were: state standards and school improvement grants.



In 2010, the Mississippi State Board of Education adopted the Common Core State Standards as Mississippi’s new academic standards in mathematics and English Language Arts. Since then, Mississippi First has championed Mississippi's rigorous standards known as the Mississippi College and Career Ready Standards. Some of our work in this area included leading letterwriting campaigns, conducting advocacy trainings for teachers, and providing issue education to legislators.

From 2010-2012, Mississippi First was proud to collaborate with the Office of School Recovery (OSR), the office within the Mississippi Department of Education (MDE) tasked with oversight of the 1003g School Improvement Grant (SIG), a federal grant program for schools with an unprecedented level of funding and accountability.

Between 2010-2016, our work around academic standards was focused on keeping the Mississippi College and Career Ready Standards in place. The standards describe what our students need to know and be able to do in order to be successful in our economy.

After the re-design of the 1003g funding stream in 2010, Mississippi First assisted MDE in developing the state’s application for SIG dollars as well as designing Mississippi’s application and rubric for local school districts wishing to compete for these dollars. In 2011, Mississippi First helped OSR dramatically improve the grant process for local school districts, including improving the application, rubric, training, and grant review. In 2012, Mississippi First supported OSR in implementation of the policy aspects of this important work.


9 OUR FUTURE. Over the next three years, we will continue to work on early education, charter schools, and standards & testing policy and implementation. We will also deep dive into researching teacher quality in Mississippi, a new initiative for us. EARLY EDUCATION By FY21, at least 35% of children will be in full-time, no-cost, high-quality pre-K seats. In 2019, we will continue to build high-quality pre-K options through research, issue education, advocacy, and implementation work.

CHARTER SCHOOLS By FY21, Mississippi will have 15 approved schools in at least three lowperforming areas, with capacity to serve 17,250. No charter schools will be below a “C” after 3 years. In 2019, we will focus on improving authorizing through strong policymaking and on strengthening the charter sector.

STANDARDS & TESTING By FY21, influence state policymakers to adopt at least two recommendations from our recent testing report. In 2019, we will seek to influence state and district policies based on our findings.

NEW INITIATIVE. ADVANCING TEACHER QUALITY By FY21, Mississippi will increase the percentage of lowincome students served by a highly effective teacher. In 2019, we will launch a new three-year initiative to study the educator pipeline in Mississippi and propose policy solutions that will increase equitable access to quality teachers. The first year of the initiative will be focused on gathering the research necessary to understand the pipeline problem.





Over the last 10 years, Mississippi First has had plenty to celebrate. We have made demonstrable progress in each of our program areas, and we look forward to what we can accomplish in the next 10 years.


14,793 Followers on Facebook and Twitter There are 14 state-funded early learning collaboratives in Mississippi. By the end of 2018, the Mississippi Department of Education hopes to increase this number to at least 18.

14 2

Mississippi First has been recognized twice nationally for our work: first by the Game Changer of the Year Award in 2013 by the Policy Innovators in Education Network and by the Peter Jennings Award for Civic Leadership in 2014.

Mississippi First has published two State of Pre-K reports and we will publish the 3rd generation in 2019.

1 Mississippi First successfully incubated Teen Health Mississippi, a new nonprofit that promotes access to high-quality sex education and youth-friendly healthcare.

$6.5M Since 2013, the Mississippi State Legislature has increased funding for the state-funded pre-K program to $6.5M. Mississippi First was a lead advocate for this funding.

Learn more about our work online at


Mississippi First was instrumental in passing two pieces of watershed legislation in the last 10 years, the Early Learning Collaborative Act and the Mississippi Public Charter School Act.

EIGHT There are currently five charter schools and three more on deck to open in the next two years.

4 In 2014, Mississippi First grew to include four education policy team members. Since the addition of those four members, Mississippi First has published four major research reports which have directly impacted pre-K, charter schools, and testing.


You can donate today at, mail your gift to 125 S. Congress Street, Suite 1510, Jackson, MS 39201, or call our Executive Director at 601.398.9008 for more information on how you can make a difference at Mississippi First.

To stay-up-to-date on our initiatives, follow us on social media or online at