Summer 2021 School Focus

Page 1

School Focus

a glimpse into Mississippi’s K-12 classrooms

Project SEARCH Opens World of Opportunities ����������������������� p. 18 Wingfield, Blue Mountain Target Graduation Rates ����������������������������������������������������������������������� p.


New Educators ‘Finish Strong’ ������������������������������������������������p. 26

Summer 2021 | VOL. 5 | ISSUE 2

School Focus

Summer 2021 | VOL. 5 | ISSUE 2



While some will look back at the 2020-


2021 academic year as one of the hardest

Nathan Oakley

and strangest times in education, I will


remember it as the year our administra-

Jean Cook

tors, teachers and support staff rose to the


challenge and carried the torch of learn-

Carl Smith

ing during inauspicious and difficult days.


As educators across the state prepare to return to the classroom this fall, I want everyone to take time and reflect on the

Heather Craig


Amanda Gronewold


Will Graves Amanda Gronewold Carl Smith Brock Turnipseed

past year. Because of your dedication to your craft and students, you were successful in continuing to support our children in their journey to becoming self-sustaining adults and productive members of society. It is because of your support

All photos were submitted by the MDE or their respective districts unless otherwise noted.

and the support of our entire state that we were able to make sure good, viable public education still functioned as safely


and effectively as possible. This issue of School Focus is all about support. From assisting new teachers as they navigated their first jobs during the age of COVID-19 (p. 26) to ensuring educators have the right tools to address students’ varying needs (p. 8), we here at the Mississippi Department of Education are committed to supporting all who walk into our classrooms. Our cover story (p. 18) highlights Project SEARCH Mississippi, a great partnership between the Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services, local health care providers and participating high schools. By granting internships to a segment of historically underserved students, organizations across the state are providing opportunities that will allow these students to learn new skills that will support them in the future.

Photo by Adam Robison Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal

I hope you enjoy this story and the others in this magazine. There are great things happening in Mississippi’s classrooms,

Shaniya Cook, a Tupelo Public School District (TPSD)

and we here at the MDE are glad to have you alongside us

graduate, works with students in 2020 at the North

supporting children through education.

Mississippi Medical Center Child Care Center where she

Thank you for all you’ve done this past year for your students.

interned through Project SEARCH Mississippi, a program that helps students with disabilities receive on-the-job training. Cook is one of three TPSD graduates and Project

Dr. Nathan Oakley

SEARCH Mississippi completers hired by the hospital to

Chief Academic Officer

full-time positions this academic year. Read more about

Mississippi Department of Education School Focus

Project Search on p. 18. 2

Summer 2021

Visit us online at

TABLE OF CONTENTS Focused Help ������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� 4 Wingfield, Blue Mountain Improve Graduation Rates

A Guide for All ���������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� 8 ‘Access 2.0’ Updates Target Wording, Organization

Pearson, Taylor Selected for U.S. Senate Youth Program ���10 Report: Mississippi in Top Six States for High‑Quality Pre-K �������������������������������������������������������������������������11 Advocating for Success ������������������������������������������������������������������������12 Columbus Special Education Teacher Overcomes Obstacles, Works Collaboratively To Serve All Students



Teng, Yin Named 2021 Presidential Scholars ��������������������������15 Schools Earn AP Computer Science Female Diversity Award �����������������������������������������������������������������������16 An ‘Unsung Hero’ �������������������������������������������������������������������������������������18 Partnership Provides Job Skills to Underserved Students

Foster, Chapman Named National Cyber Scholars ��������������21 Layers of Support �������������������������������������������������������������������������������������22 Meridian Begins Instructional Transformation



Strong Finishes �����������������������������������������������������������������������������������������26 Conference Supports New Teachers During Difficult Year

Legislature Passes Teacher Pay Raise, Increases Funds for Educational Priorities ��������������������������������29 Math, Science Teachers Named PAEMST Finalists ����������������30



Summer 2021


School Focus





Wingfield, Blue Mountain Improve Graduation Rates Brock Turnipseed


lthough Jackson Public Schools’ (JPS’) Wingfield High School (WHS) and South Tippah School District’s Blue Mountain School (BMS) differ greatly in their student

populations, they recently shared a common issue: a need to boost slumping graduation rates. Both were among schools identified for the Comprehensive Support and Improvement (CSI) designation by the Mississippi Department of Education (MDE) in 2018 — through an Every Student Succeeds Act requirement — for having graduation rates that were less than or equal to 67%. Although the schools’ graduation numbers are vastly different — WHS averages 150 to 170 graduates per year, while BMS averages 18 to 20 students — the commitment of their principals and support from MDE’s Office of School Improvement (OSI) helped both campuses improve graduation rates and exit their respective CSI designations. “As leaders, BMS Principal

Left: Plants grow in Wingfield High School’s (WHS’s) aquaponics lab.

Kelly Gates and WHS Principal

Right: Recent WHS graduate Gregory Sampson tends to plants growing in the school’s aqua-

Roderick Smith have demon-

ponics lab. The school uses its agricultural science department to engage students and encour-

strated an openness to learning

age them to graduate.

School Focus


Summer 2021



that creates and fosters the conditions

transformation, was an eye-opening

aren’t alone in this fight, and it helps

for improved student outcomes,” said

experience for Smith that showed the

a lot.”

Dr. Sonja Robertson, the OSI's exec-

principal he needed to examine the

utive director. “They have worked to

school’s leadership team.

stay focused on their goals and ensure

CSI helped WHS administrators think outside the box when creating


their improvement plan, Smith said.

they align to the support that has been

Academy, he put people on it who

The school increased the amount of

provided on the evidence-based driv-

were going to be open, honest and

dual-credit classes available for stu-

ers — organizing adults, teaching and

truly share with him what needed to

dents, developed a partnership with

learning, students at the center and

be done,” Green said. “He had employ-

Hinds Community College to assist

postsecondary pathways — that are

ees from every facet of the school as

students struggling with state assess-

central to the work of the Everyone

part of the leadership team and had

ments and transitioned from an

Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins

more individuals engaged and directly

A-B block schedule to a traditional,

University (JHU).”

involved in the school-improvement

eight-period day to increase the



From left: •

Dr. Curt Green, Mississippi Department of Education school improvement coach

Roderick Smith, WHS principal

Dr. Deowarski McDonald, Jackson Public School District manager of school support

WHS Increases Student Engagement Smith recognized improvements in student engagement and focus were key to meeting areas of deficiency — attendance struggles, a lack of needed Carnegie Units and the inability to pass state assessment tests, for example — that contributed to the school's CSI designation. The support and guidance provided through CSI helped the fourth-year principal realize he could not spark

process. Everyone played a part, every-

frequency of classroom instruction

one knew what the school was going

with teachers.

to do in terms of the plan and everyone was empowered to be part of the process.”

Instructors also focused on students’ interests, such as the school’s agriculture science department and

The Transformation Academy and

partnerships with Jackson’s Foot Print

additional CSI convenings also helped

Farms and Alcorn State University, to

Smith and his team realize they were

keep them engaged and expose them

not alone in the process. They commu-

to postsecondary options.

nicated with others and implemented external ideas into their own improvement plan.

“They found a niche that the students had an interest in, and they expanded more to keep that student

“When you're conversing with peo-

interest and attract even more inter-

ple at schools where proficiency is

est,” said Dr. Deowarski McDonald, JPS’

Dr. Curt Green, an OSI school

up and attendance is up — all of the

manager of school support. “I think

improvement coach who worked

things that we are really struggling

that is an area we can possibly attri-

with WHS, said the Transformation

with — you're able to actually be able

bute to keeping the students in school,

Academy, a professional learn-

to have a lot of good conversations,”

keeping them engaged, helping them

ing program designed to help CSI

he said. “It's been good collaborating

graduate and providing a postsecond-

principals jump-start instructional

with the other schools. You notice you

ary career path for them.”

improvement alone. He needed a strong support system in place.

Summer 2021


School Focus



K e l ly

G a t e s,


Mountain School (BMS) principal

Left: BMS teacher Jessica Paseur watches as students dissect a frog in the school’s science lab. The district placed a focus on

learned through CSI will be critical for

to 57.8% and the school was identified

exploring those postsecondary oppor-

the school as it works to regain its pre-

for CSI.

tunities with students when they tran-

COVID-19 momentum and upward

sition to the ninth grade, he added.

trajectory that saw the school’s grad-

“They have early conversations with incoming ninth graders around what it will take for them to graduate in four years,” McDonald said. “They talk to them about the different supports and resources the school offers and also about exploring postsecondary opportunities.” As it did with all schools, the onset of COVID-19 presented challenges for educators with keeping students engaged virtually when, as McDonald said, “the needs at home tended to outweigh their education.”

uation rate increase to 72.3% following the 2019-2020 school year. “We couldn't do it without the help of everyone,” Smith said. “This is not something that I was able to do. This

Gates, who joined the K-12 school two years ago as its assistant principal, said although the CSI designation was disheartening, it allowed leadership to conduct self-examination and planning. It also provided the funds to execute those plans.

is something that Wingfield was able

Green worked with BMS this year

to do. I have a great set of teachers and

and commended Gates for “picking

staff members here who all share the

up the ball and running with it, con-

same vision of making sure that every

tinuing the momentum that previous

student is successful.”

administrators started.”

BMS Targets At-Risk Students Early

School officials recognized a need to identify at-risk students early, which is made easier by having K-12 located on the same campus.

Having a 1-to-1 device initiative in

With a smaller student population,

the school’s improvement plan prior

BMS can direct more 1-to-1 support to

“We feel like by the fifth and sixth

to the coronavirus outbreak and offer-

students; however, losing one or two

grades that some kids have made up

ing flexible learning schedules for stu-

students can significantly affect the

their mind either they are going to

dents helped during the pandemic, but

graduation rate, which happened in

graduate or drop out,” Gates said. “It is

Smith noted what WHS administrators

2018 when the graduation rate dipped

really important at that early or upper

School Focus


Summer 2021



The BMS plan worked. The school jumped from an F to a B in the Mississippi Statewide Accountability System, and its graduation rate eclipsed 86% and is projected to surpass 90%. As BMS continues implementing its improvement plan, Gates said he envisions creating a possibilities lab that exposes students to STEM and the area’s five industry clusters. It is one of the areas where Gates said he feels the school can grow, and it might not have been possible without the supports provided through CSI. BMS teacher Beatrice Mitchell assists sixth graders with My Mississippi, a project-based learning assignment.

“Whether that’s revamping our master schedule to offer more electives or looking at how we’re going

elementary level for us to determine

to the finish line during the pandemic

to meet graduation requirements for

who's at risk.”

when it became difficult to keep them

all our students, CSI has been really

engaged virtually.

good,” he said.

The school implemented an early warning system to identify those

“We started reaching out to par-

at-risk students. A plan is developed

ents saying, ‘Hey, we’re noticing these

for those students that includes

issues, and we’re giving them until the

access to mentors provided through the school improvement funds.

end of the term to turn this around.’

Green said Gates wears many hats at BMS, but CSI helped administrators realize it takes a community effort to impact students.

Some did, but a lot had to return to

“Students know we're going to

Guidance Counselor Cheryl Bass

school,” Knight said. “That constant

check on them. They know we're going

said the mentor program, which

communication with the parents and

to call parents, and if we can't get par-

stemmed from participation in MDE-

the students is how we’ve combated

ents, we're going to the house,” Gates

hosted convenings and JHU’s Cross



States High School Collaborative, provides students access to tutoring, social and emotional support and any additional guidance needed stay on track for graduation.

Bass noted how important communication with parents was during the school’s CSI designation.

As WHS’ and BMS’ CSI journeys come to an end, Robertson said she is eager to watch Smith and Gates continue growing their schools.

“We’ve had to be more of a team

“It has been both exciting and

Having mentors allowed a campus

with the parents and be on the same

encouraging to interact with the lead-

the size of BMS the ability to provide

page. That has been lacking in the

ers our team has supported in our CSI

personalized attention that larger

past because there were times parents

high schools,” she said. “It has been a

schools might not be able to provide.

didn’t know what needed to be done

great experience sharing in this jour-

That benefited Ben Knight, the school’s

and didn’t know what their students

ney with their teams, and I look for-

first-year assistant principal and grad-

were doing. They got behind and fell

ward to the continued progress that

uation coach, as he tried to get seniors

between the cracks,” she said.

will take place in their schools.”

Summer 2021


School Focus



Guide A


‘Access 2.0’ Updates Target Wording, Organization Will Graves


his summer, the Mississippi Department of Education (MDE) will publish the

Access for All Guide 2.0, an updated version of the helpful document that will provide more clarity and addi-

tional resources for general education teachers. The guide is intended to provide educators with evidence-based tools they can implement in the classroom

The new version replaces accommo-

educators with four specific types of

to improve every student’s ability to

dations and modifications with adapta-

adaptations that address four select

learn through different adaptations.

tions. The change came about because

student populations.

MDE and staff from the Mississippi

accommodations and modifications

State University Research and

are more commonly associated with

Curriculum Unit (RCU) began the

special education. The intent of the

in your classroom that are available to

process of updating the original doc-

guide is to be a resource for teachers

every child,” said RCU Project Manager

ument last fall with the goal of replac-

to meet the learning needs of all stu-

Ginny Sanders. “By providing the four

ing key terminology with language

dents, not just one group.

types of adaptations for the four

“There are many things you can do

that will provide general education

To encourage further use of

select student populations, we have

teachers with a better understanding

these classroom adaptations for

been able to take the suggestions for

of how the document can aid in pro-

all students, not only those with

instruction and align them with the

viding quality classroom instruction

Individualized Education Programs

specific classroom adaptations teach-

for all students.

(IEPs), the new document provides

ers can use.”

School Focus


Summer 2021







Adapt what is taught.

Adapt how it is taught and how learning is demonstrated.

Adapt the setting.

Adapt the delivery to online and hybrid.

The adaptations outlined in the Access for All Guide 2.0 are divided into five categories: curricular, instructional, environmental and virtual. These adaptations direct teachers to online resources to help students struggling in academics, physical, speech, social emotional, behavioral and/or organizational deficit areas.


guide would be a great resource to

“My teachers really wanted to do

help those teachers get their students

something to help their students, and

reaccustomed to the learning pace

they were very open to learning about

and environment of the classroom.

the guide,” she said. “With COVID-19,

“With all of us coming back from

we knew it would be a tough year.

the pandemic and having to deal with

After my teachers were so welcoming

so much learning loss, I gave a presen-

to the idea of using it for their own

tation to my general education teach-

students and had success, my hope is

ers to explain what the guide is and

that more general education teachers

The guide’s adaptations and sug-

how they could use it to help students

across the state will take advantage of

gestions for instruction are beneficial

who are struggling,” Crawley said. “So

this resource and feel more comfort-

for teachers to help students succeed

many times, we think of accommo-

able with using it.”

both academically and socially — two

dations as something we do only for

areas where many students struggled

special education students, and the

throughout the past year.

teachers didn’t realize there were tools

As learners made their way back into classrooms after extended peri-

available that can be used with struggling general education students.”

New Albany School District (NASD) Special Services Director Kristen Richey said the guide is an impactful tool that helped teachers in her district meet the learning needs of every

ods of at-home education due to the

Crawley’s presentation was a suc-

pandemic, many teachers noticed stu-

cess and led to general education

dents had difficulty keeping up with

teachers implementing adaptations

“Our teachers have not had such a

objectives and meeting benchmarks.

in their own classrooms. After return-

comprehensive tool at their fingertips

After hearing general education

ing to school, many students struggled

until the guide was created,” she said.

colleagues discuss these concerns,

with reading and comprehension les-

“Our motto at NASD is: Preparing all

Mandy Crawley, a third grade spe-

sons, so teachers began making adap-

for success. The guide provides strat-

cial education teacher at New Albany

tations that ultimately improved their

egies for instruction, as well as adap-

Elementary School, said she knew the

reading scores.

tations to the instruction, to help us

Summer 2021



School Focus



meet every student's need and work

robust color-coded organization and

language,” Richey said. “The updated

toward our school district's vision.”

the addition of resource links.

language, along with the online acces-

MDE will publish the new guide

“I am extremely excited about the

as a digital document. Although the

updated guide. Because the use of

useful section tabs for deficit areas in

accommodation and modification were

the printed publication will no longer

so prevalent, many educators, with-

be part of the document, teachers will

out meaning to, associated it with

possibilities this opens for the stu-

be excited about the new document’s

special education due to the common

dents of Mississippi.”

sibility, will make the guide more userfriendly and broaden its availability to educators. I am excited to see all the

Pearson, Taylor Selected for U.S. Senate Youth Program Two Mississippi high school students represented the state during the 59th annual U.S. Senate Youth Program (USSYP) this March. Jacob Pearson of the Alcorn School District and Weston Archer Taylor of the Petal School District were selected from among the state’s top student leaders to be part of the 104-student national delegation who will each also receive a $10,000 college scholarship for undergraduate study. The program’s alternates are Flowood residents Cass Rutledge, who attends Jackson Preparatory School, and Vaibhavi Mahajan, who attends Northwest Rankin High School (Rankin County School District). “I congratulate the delegates and alternates on their selections to this prestigious program. These outstanding students have been recognized for their hard work both inside and outside the classroom, and their families and schools should be proud,” said Dr. Carey Wright, Mississippi’s state superintendent of education. Pearson, a senior at Alcorn Central High School, serves as president of the Student Council. His high school career includes several leadership roles including the Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) president, Beta Club president, National Technical Honors Society president and senior class vice president. He was recognized for many academic core subjects and outstanding awards, including becoming a Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership student ambassador. He is an active member of the Community Connections Mentoring Program, an opportunity for high school students to interact with intellectually and socially challenged children in the community. His other volunteering endeavors include the Rotary Club Food Drive and student poll worker in 2019 and 2020. Jacob plans to attend Mississippi State University, where he will study political science, and law school. Taylor, a junior at Petal High School, serves as the president of the National Honor Society and as a representative on the Mississippi Superintendent Student Advisory Council. He also was selected to serve as a U.S. Senate page. He participates in multiple clubs involving government and business, including the Vox Populi (Voice of the People) club and the FBLA. He volunteered with the Edward Street Mission, Backpack Club and the Petal Education Foundation Ambassadors. After graduating high school, Taylor plans to attend the U.S. Air Force Academy and major in astronautical engineering, intent on becoming an Air Force test pilot. His plans include a run for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

For more information, visit:

School Focus


Summer 2021

Report: Mississippi in Top Six States for High‑Quality Pre-K MISSISSIPPI'S

Early Learning Collaborative 2019-2020


The National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) recognized Mississippi in its latest report on pre-K quality as one of only six states whose state-funded pre-K program meets all 10 quality standards for early childhood education. The latest ranking is published in the NIEER report, the

8 4-year-olds,

State of Preschool 2020. The annual survey provides an

up from 5% in 2018-2019

spending and 10 policies that support quality education.


which are partnerships among school districts, Head Start agencies, child care

% of

% of 35 4-year-olds

attended public early childhood education programs

in-depth look at state-funded education for 3- and 4-year-

Dr. Carey Wright

olds nationally and in each state with a focus on enrollment,

NIEER evaluated Mississippi’s Early Learning Collaborative (ELC) programs, centers and nonprofit organizations. There are currently 18 collaboratives serving more than 3,000 children. Because of the quality of the ELCs, Mississippi is consistently one of only several states meeting all original NIEER standards. “Mississippi sets an example of policies to support high-quality preschool, but funding is too low to allow programs to implement those policies well,” said Dr.

Steven Barnett, NIEER’s founder and senior codirector, who is pushing for more federal funding for high-quality pre-K. “Increased funding is needed to ensure quality and expand access to more children who can benefit from the program.” The Mississippi Legislature passed the Early Learning Collaborative Act in 2013, which provided $3 million to establish a limited number of ELCs in underserved areas throughout the state. Funding increased in subsequent years based on the program’s immediate success. During the 2021 legislative session, funding doubled to $16 million, which will serve approximately 6,000 pre-K children. “Research consistently shows how high-quality early childhood education has a profound impact on children throughout their lives,” said Dr. Carey Wright, Mississippi's state superintendent of education. “High-quality pre-K leads to increased school readiness, reading proficiency by third grade, higher graduation rates and even less crime.” The Mississippi State Board of Education has made increasing access to high-quality early childhood education one of its top priorities. The Mississippi Department of Education partnered with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to build the state’s early childhood education infrastructure through coaching and professional development and by providing guidance and support to school districts. Mississippi’s ELC program served 8% of 4-year-olds in 2019-2020, up from 5% in 2018-2019. When combined with Head Start (22%) and special education pre-K programs (5%), approximately 35% of the state’s 4-year-olds attended public early childhood education programs in 2019-2020. Mississippi ranks 39th in the nation for pre-K access for 4-year-olds and 42nd in state spending per child.

Read the 2020 State of Preschool Report at Summer 2021


School Focus

f feature

Advocating SUCCESS for

Columbus Special Education Teacher Overcomes Obstacles, Works Collaboratively To Serve All Students Amanda Gronewold


very child can learn, regard-

“I got my first pair of hearing aids

less of the challenges they

when I was in the fourth grade,” she


said, “and it was just something that I

This philosophy guides Kristin

Johnson, a special education teacher

learned to adapt to.” Adapting as a teacher means Johnson positions herself so she

who knows firsthand about powering

can read the speaker’s lips. She also

colleagues and administration have

through difficult circumstances in the

reminds people to speak more loudly

been understanding.

classroom. The inclusion teacher at

as needed. The face masks neces-

“I've done it so many times my

sary during the COVID-19 pandemic

entire life that I don't even think [of

hindered lipreading, making com-

it as] compensating or accommodat-

Columbus Municipal School District’s Sale Elementary School (SES) has

munication in the classroom even

ing myself. It just becomes natural

dealt with chronic hearing loss since

more challenging. Johnson said it

for me,” she said. “[During mandatory


has been a struggle, but her students,

mask-wearing phases last academic

School Focus


Summer 2021



Opposite page: Kristin Johnson, a special education inclusion teacher at Columbus Municipal School District’s Sale Elementary School (SES), reviews number identification with a kindergartner attending school virtually. Left: Johnson transformed part of her classroom into a calming corner where overwhelmed students can go to regain their composure.

professional who is genuinely concerned about students’ well-being. One way Johnson stands out among her peers, Lee said, is with her ability to assume a collaborative role with lead teachers when working with students in an inclusion setting. “One of the struggles we often find with inclusion teachers is that in special education, some inclusion teachers really only tend to focus on the students that are on their caseload,” a practice, Lee said, that can cause year, there were] several times where

Johnson said the communication

I asked the kids just to go over to the

frustrations she has experienced

other side of the room, pull down their

helped hone her patience and relate

mask so that I can read their lips and

with her students, who often feel frus-

then had them pull it back up and

trated when struggling to grasp con-

come back.”

cepts. She stresses to all her students

at putting this into action with her fel-

it is OK to need help and ask for it.

low instructors. Lee even encourages

Despite the communication challenges, growing up with hearing loss helped Johnson develop advocacy skills advantageous to her teaching career and beyond. “I know how to advocate for people with disabilities because I have one,” said Johnson. “It's been my lifelong

“I'm hoping that teaching them at that young age to advocate for them-

inclusion students to be stigmatized. Lee encourages the school’s general population and inclusion teachers to employ a coteaching strategy when working together, and Johnson excels

other SES teachers to observe her in the inclusion setting.

selves will help them once they get

“She's not just helping the students

older, when I may not be there to

that she's assigned on her caseload,

advocate for them anymore,” Johnson

but she's also interacting with the


teacher in the lesson or paraphrasing or rephrasing things that the teacher

goal to continue to learn how I can

Dr. Aaron Lee, the principal of SES,

says in the lesson so that all students

serve the students and adults, too, so

vouched for Johnson’s dedication,

can get a better understanding,” he

I can be their voice.”

describing her as a hard-working


Summer 2021


School Focus

f feature

Left: Johnson (standing) helps two second graders with addition and subtraction through regrouping exercises. Above: An SES second grader writes out long vowel sounds in shaving cream.

Marilyn Chandler, a fellow SES

escape when feeling stressed or trig-

of her physical classroom. These stu-

teacher, also commended Johnson’s

gered. There, in a portion of the room

dents struggled to focus, Johnson said.

collaborative approach to inclusion

separated from the rest of the class-

To hold her students’ attention, she

teaching and her passion for students.

room by sheer curtains and lit softly

added interactive elements to her vir-

“That's her greatest strength,” said

with string lights, students can play

tual lessons.

Chandler. “She'll just take over, read

with items and toys designed to help

and let me go do something else. She

them mentally unwind.

“I made PowerPoints with silly sentences and funny pictures,” she said.

doesn't mind working with the entire

“It's just a safe place,” Johnson said.

“They tried to figure out what the sen-


The lighting quality in Johnson’s

tences say through the pictures.”

Johnson also goes the extra mile in

whole room is important to her. It

Johnson said building relationships

her classroom by creating an atmo-

came equipped with standard flu-

with her students is her favorite part of

sphere that, based on students’ needs,

orescent lighting, which can cause

teaching. Working at a smaller school,

can provide either calming or stimu-

problems for children with autism. To

she said, facilitated those bonds.

lating reactions. She allots most of

combat this, she installed overhead

“I get to have several of the same

her supply budget to providing flexi-

light filters. She also tries to rely on

kids for multiple years, so I'm able

ble seating options, including stools,

just natural light as much as possible.

to see their growth,” Johnson said. “I

blow-up chairs, exercise balls and even

During the outbreak of the coro-

enjoy developing those relationships,

navirus, some of Johnson’s students

and that helps me to be able to help

She also installed a calm-down cor-

attended school virtually and did not

them grow in ways that other places

ner this year for students to have an

have access to the helpful amenities

may not have.”

a pool float.

School Focus


Summer 2021

Teng, Yin Named 2021 Presidential Scholars Two Mississippi students are among the 56th class of U.S. Presidential Scholars, which recognizes 161 high school seniors for their accomplishments in academics, the arts and career and technical education (CTE) fields. The Mississippi scholars are Oxford High School (Oxford School District) senior Emmanuelle Teng and Madison Central High School (Madison County School District) senior Matthew Yin. The White House Commission on Presidential Scholars selects scholars annually based on their academic success, artistic and technical excellence, essays, school evaluations and transcripts, as well as evidence of community service,

From left:

leadership and demonstrated commitment to high ideals.

(Oxford School District)

“Mississippi’s Presidential Scholars have demonstrated an extraordinary commitment to academics, leadership and community service during an extraordinary time,” said Dr. Carey

Emmanuelle Teng, Oxford High School

Matthew Yin, Madison Central High School (Madison County School District)

Wright, the state superintendent of education. “Their achievement shows how Mississippi’s public schools can help students reach their highest dreams.” Of the 3.6 million students expected to graduate

“Their achievement shows how Mississippi’s public schools can help students reach their highest dreams.” Dr. Carey Wright, state superintendent of education

from high school this year, more than 6,000 candidates qualified for the 2021 awards determined by outstanding performance on the College Board SAT or ACT exams or through nominations made by Chief State School Officers, other partner recognition organizations and the National YoungArts Foundation’s nationwide YoungArts program.

As directed by presidential executive order, the 2021 U.S. Presidential Scholars are comprised of two students from each state, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and U.S. families living abroad, as well as 15 chosen at-large, 20 scholars in the arts and 20 scholars in CTE. Created in 1964, the U.S. Presidential Scholars Program has honored more than 7,600 of the nation’s top-performing students. The program was expanded in 1979 to recognize students who demonstrate exceptional talent in the visual, literary and performing arts. In 2015, the program was again extended to recognize students who demonstrate ability and accomplishment in CTE fields. The members of the class of 2021 will be recognized for their outstanding achievement this summer.

Summer 2021


School Focus

Schools Earn AP Computer Science Female Diversity Award Six Mississippi schools earned the College Board

“Today’s students need the power to shape technology,

Advanced Placement (AP) Computer Science Female

not just cope with it,” added Stefanie Sanford, the College

Diversity Award this academic year for achieving high

Board's chief of global policy and external relations. “Young

female representation in AP Computer Science A (CSA)

women deserve an equal opportunity to become the next

and/or AP Computer Science Principles (CSP). Schools

generation of entrepreneurs, engineers and tech leaders.

honored with the award have expanded girls’ access to AP

Closing the gap in computer science education empowers

computer science courses.

young women to build the future they want.”

Out of 20,000 institutions that offer AP courses, these six schools are among 1,119 to achieve either 50% or higher

In 2020, 39,570 women took the AP CSP exam, nearly three times the number who tested in 2017.

female representation in one of the two AP computer science courses or a percentage of the female computer science examinees meeting or exceeding that of the school’s female population during the 2019-2020 school year. Columbia High School (Columbia School District), Northwest Rankin High School (Rankin County School District), Ocean Springs High School (Ocean Springs School

The first year of AP CSP in 2016-17 attracted more stu-

District), Ridgeland High School (Madison County School

dents than any other AP course debut, and participation is

District) and William B. Murrah High School (Jackson Public

on the rise. In 2020, more than 116,000 students took the

Schools) were recognized with an award for CSP, while Pass

AP CSP Exam — more than double the number of exam-tak-

Christian High School (Pass Christian School District) was

ers in the course’s first year and a 21% increase from the

recognized with CSP and CSA awards.

previous year. In 2020, 39,570 women took the AP CSP exam, nearly three times the number who tested in 2017.

A analysis of 2017 Bureau of Labor Statistics data finds women represent just 24% of the 5 million people in computing occupations.

Female students who take AP CSP in high school are more than five times as likely to major in computer science in college, compared to similar female students who did not take CSP.

“During an unprecedented year, Mississippi female students have demonstrated perseverance and dedication in their study of AP Computer Science,” said Dr. Carey Wright, the state superintendent of education. “We could not be

Providing female students with access to computer sci-

prouder of Mississippi’s female students for staking their

ence courses is critical to ensuring gender parity in the

claim as the next generation of STEM and computer sci-

industry’s high-paying jobs and to drive innovation, cre-

ence professionals. We can’t wait to see their passion for

ativity and representation. The median annual wage for

next-generation technology lead to lifelong success.”

computer and information technology occupations was

School Focus


Summer 2021

$88,240 in 2019. However, a analysis of 2017 Bureau of Labor Statistics data finds women represent just 24% of the 5 million people in computing occupations. That’s why new College Board research about AP CSP is so encouraging. According to the data, female students who take AP CSP in high school are more than five times as likely to major in computer science in college, compared to similar female students who did not take CSP. The study also finds AP CSP students are nearly twice as likely to enroll in AP CSA, and that for most students, AP CSP serves as a stepping-stone to other advanced AP STEM coursework.

Computer Science Principles Award • Columbia High School Columbia School District • Northwest Rankin High School Rankin County School District • Ocean Springs High School Ocean Springs School District

AP CSP students are nearly twice as likely to enroll in AP CSA.

• Ridgeland High School Madison County School District

These findings make it even more imperative that schools nationwide achieve gender parity in AP Computer Science classrooms. The 1,119 schools that receive this year’s AP Computer Science Female Diversity Award should serve as inspirations and models for all American high schools, where overall, female students remain under-represented in computer science classes, comprising just 34%

• William B. Murrah High School Jackson Public Schools

Computer Science Principles Award and Computer Science A Award

of AP CSP participants. There is a long way to go to achieve equal gender representation in the field of computer science. Currently, less than half of the nation’s high schools teach foundational computer

• Pass Christian High School Pass Christian School District

science, a clear opportunity to be addressed by strong partnerships between policymakers, the tech industry and educators. @MissDeptEd Summer 2021


School Focus





Partnership Provides Job Skills to Underserved Students

Above: Leah Coleman, a Tupelo Public School District (TPSD) graduate, scans leg pumps in 2020 at North Mississippi Medical Center (NMMC) as part of

Carl Smith


Project SEARCH Mississippi student

lifetime of success can

students so they can successfully

internships. Coleman is one of three

come down to whether

transition into adulthood.

TPSD graduates recently hired by the

someone has access to

the right skills and opportunities, and a partnership between the Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services

hospital for full-time positions. She preSince its 2018 launch at Jackson’s University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC), almost 100 participants with disabilities or other special

(MDRS), local health care providers

needs have graduated from Project

and numerous schools across the

SEARCH Mississippi, a nine-month

state is providing employment skills

employment preparation program

and workforce opportunities to a seg-

that immerses learners in workplace

ment of traditionally underserved

internships at seven local hospitals.

School Focus


viously completed an internship in the hospital’s sterile processing division. Photo by Adam Robison, Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal

Summer 2021



Left: Mikel Mallard, a former TPSD special education student, processes packages as he works in NMMC's distribution and receiving area in 2020 as part of a Project SEARCH Mississippi student internship. Photo by Adam Robison, Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal

Right: Shaniya Cook, a TPSD graduate who completed Project SEARCH Mississippi, works in NMMC’s laundry services. Cook is one of three TPSD graduates hired to full-time positions by the hospital this academic year.

While at their local facility, students continue their traditional studies — classroom space is provided — and rotate through different worksites and tasks, thereby diversifying their hard and soft skill sets in a bid to make them more competitive for jobs after high school. The work is paying off. Of the

“They’re walking out shaking hands and getting employment — it totally changes their whole outlook on life.” Faye Culpepper, MDRS division director

completers, about 60% have gained employment. For example, three Tupelo High School students from the

Services, praised the program for not

“For us, it was a win-win. It’s a great

school’s last two graduating classes

only providing the hospital a direct

way [for students] to get critical work

gained full-time jobs at the same local

pipeline of workers, but also helping

experience and to understand some of

hospital, North Mississippi Medical

the group fulfill its mission: improving

the expectations of work.

Center (NMMC), where they previously

the lives of its community members.


“We are the largest employer in the

“I think Project SEARCH Mississippi

area, so I think we have some expec-

Sondra Davis, the chief human

is an unsung hero in terms of giving

tations about how we can help provide

resources officer for NMMC’s parent

traditionally underserved students a

opportunities in several areas,” Davis

organization, North Mississippi Health

chance at being successful,” she said.

added. “Conversations about diversity,

Summer 2021


School Focus



equity and inclusion aren’t just about race or ethnicity — they should also include those individuals who might have disabilities. We’re improving the lives of these students by bringing them in and helping them learn skills. Whether they come to work for us or find roles at other places, we’ve improved their life.” For Faye Culpepper, an MDRS division director who oversees the implementation of Project SEARCH Mississippi across the state, the evidence of the program’s impact is clearly shown on participants’ faces. “We have students who come into the program and do not make eye contact with others, have no smiles on their faces and have a limited vocabulary. After nine months, they walk out of here with their heads up while waving at and having conversations with everyone,” she said. “They’re

Ryan Bullock, a TPSD graduate who completed Project SEARCH Mississippi, works in

walking out shaking hands and get-

NMMC’s division of food and nutrition services. Bullock is one of three Project SEARCH

ting employment — it totally changes

graduates hired by the hospital for full-time positions this academic year. He previously

their whole outlook on life.

completed a rotation at the hospital’s biomedical services division before a full-time

“It’s not just about providing work

position in food and nutrition opened.

skills; it also helps them socially. They come out of their shell,” Culpepper added. “We have parents who tell us they didn’t know their child could achieve these types of goals. Project SEARCH Mississippi gives these students purpose.” Davis encourages all businesses and industries — not just health care-related providers — to seek out Project SEARCH Mississippi graduates for employment.

beings, and they just need a chance,”

District), Kosciusko’s Baptist Memorial

Davis said.

Center-Attala (Kosciusko and Attala

Project SEARCH Mississippi cur-

County school districts) and NMMC in

rently operates at Jackson’s UMMC

Tupelo (Tupelo Public School District).

(Rankin County School District) and

Future Project SEARCH Mississippi

Mississippi Baptist Medical Center (New Summit School and Clinton Public School District), Forrest General Hospital in Hattiesburg (Hattiesburg, Petal and Lamar County school dis-





Brookhaven, Greenwood, Ocean Springs, Oxford and Philadelphia. The




tricts), Laurel’s South Central Regional

expected to partner Viking Range LLC

“For us, there wasn’t a downside,

Medical Center (Jones County School

with local students and offer a non-

even if we had to provide a little extra

District), Merit Health River Region in

hospital setting for learning and skill

time and training. These are human

Vicksburg (Vicksburg Warren School


School Focus


Summer 2021

Foster, Chapman Named National Cyber Scholars Two Mississippi high school students earned the coveted title of National Cyber Scholar this spring after winning a rigorous 48-hour competition designed to evaluate aptitude in combating cyber threats. The winning students are Bridget Foster from Gautier High School (PascagoulaGautier School District) and Zachary Chapman, who is homeschooled. More than 30,000 high school students across the country sought to qualify for this year’s competition, and only 5,000 advanced to the first round. Of those students, only 600 nationwide performed well enough to earn the National Cyber Scholar title. These students each won a $2,500 scholarship and an invitation to participate in the Cyber Foundations Academy (CFA), a multiweek training and

Bridget Foster

certification course. Cybersecurity is a critical issue facing this country with the potential to impact government, defense, communications and financial systems. According to recent studies, the U.S. needs to train more than 3 million cybersecurity professionals to properly defend the country’s infrastructure. The scholarship and competition are designed to attract and incentivize more students to enter the field. “This scholarship recognizes high school students who have demonstrated exceptional cybersecurity talent,” said David Brown, the executive director of the National Cyber Scholarship Foundation (NCSF). “The NCSF’s mission is to help close the critical cybersecurity skills gap by identifying and developing the next generation of cyber professionals. Each and every student who participated in this competition has the potential to develop their skills and build a successful career in cybersecurity.” There are several qualification pathways for the National Cyber Scholarship Competition (NCSC) including CyberStart America, a free online program that helps students discover their interest in cybersecurity and develop their talent and skills. The NCSC offers 600 college scholarships to top-ranking competitors. Additionally, National Cyber Scholars, along with the competition’s 1,000 finalists, are invited to participate in the CFA. The NCSF is a national nonprofit whose mission is to identify, nurture and empower the next generation of cybersecurity experts and eliminate the cybersecurity skills gap in the U.S. The organization aims to support the entry of thousands of talented students into the cybersecurity industry by providing enrichment opportunities, world-class training and scholarships to fund degree-level study. CyberStart America is a free national program for high school students, aiming to uncover hidden cyber talents and identify and develop the next generation of cyber superstars. CyberStart’s immersive gamified learning platform can take students from no cybersecurity knowledge to possessing the skills necessary to compete in a national-level Capture the Flag challenge in a matter of weeks. Students new to the field with a strong aptitude, as well as students with existing interest in the field, can use the platform to train and qualify for the NCSC, allowing them to compete for life-changing college scholarship opportunities.

Summer 2021


School Focus





Meridian Begins Instructional Transformation Brock Turnipseed


eridian High School

Dr. Joe Griffin, MHS’ first-year prin-

average gap-to-goal and in the lowest


cipal, is trying to build a similar foun-

quartile of three-year improvement

archery team in January,

dation for future success with teachers

toward gap-to-goal closure.

and newcomers to the sport first had

in a school identified for the Targeted

to learn how to shoot a bow and arrow.

Support and Improvement (TSI) des-

Those with a subgroup meeting all

They hit the target at their first event,

ignation in 2018 by the Mississippi

three of the criteria are ranked annu-

but they got closer to hitting the bull-

Department of Education (MDE)

ally by an overall accountability index,

seye with each following competition.

through an Every Student Succeeds

with the bottom 5% of those not iden-



The team finished the season

Act requirement.

tified for CSI being identified as TSI.

ranked third in the state — a finish

Schools are identified for TSI

that showed students they, along with

because their subgroup is in the lowest

Through TSI, MDE administrators

the right guidance and support from

50% of overall accountability index,

support schools as they uncover areas

leaders, can accomplish big goals.

in the lowest quartile of three-year

of deficiency and start making strides

School Focus


Summer 2021



Opposite: From left to right, Meridian High School (MHS) seniors Demarcus Naylor, Jairus Carlisle, Nicholas Alford, Calvin Hicks and Omarion Wheaton display the Class of 2021 signs they received during a drive-thru ceremony that was part of the Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) initiative. Top: MHS students participate in a kickoff celebration for the GEAR UP initiative. The Meridian Public School District is one of three school districts in the state receiving assistance with staff professional development and student academic preparation for college through the national program. Bottom: MHS student Jalen Gillespie proudly displays his Class of 2021 yard sign. toward instructional transformation that affects all students. “The value schools place on discovering the root causes of the challenges

For Griffin, laying that foundation of instructional transformation began with creating a positive culture.

a positive culture through positive interactions.” Entering his first year, Griffin knew

“You want to set the tone for cul-

the school was trying to raise its aca-

ture. You want to be visible and inter-

demic performance and address defi-

active so people can understand

ciencies. He said the school improve-

in the school regardless of subgroup

where you're coming from,” he said.

ment plan has targets in place to

assignment,” said Dr. Sonja Robertson,

“Ultimately, the teachers are going

address several areas, including

the executive director of MDE’s Office

to eventually take on the attitude of

mathematics and special education

of School Improvement.

their leader, so you want to provide


their learners encounter is vital to improving outcomes, not only for one student subgroup, but for each child

Summer 2021


School Focus



MHS Counselor Tiffanie Roberts (right) presents KeXavious Burton a Class of 2021 sign. Robertson commended MHS for devoting support to students with disabilities, saying, “If you look at the most recent statewide data for students with disabilities as a student group, it is not difficult to understand why the MDE is working to ensure that supporting our students in this subgroup is high priority.”

which get to the heart of teaching and learning.”

processing and data management.

Addressing the deficiencies in special education instruction was a very important piece of the school’s improvement plan. One of the ways educators addressed those deficiencies was by reassigning some teachers to areas in which they might be

She added: “Dr. Griffin and his

“They help quite a bit with data


They are also a big help with lesson planning, coaching teachers on instructional practices, delivering and following up with information and helping the teachers get organized for state testing,” Griffin said. Kelli Speed, the Meridian Public School District (MPSD) director of fed-

team’s intentionality on how their plan for supplemental funds has been

The district also used school

eral programs, said academic coaches

developed to support their students

improvement funding to identify a

evolved from a deep examination into

with disabilities in the area of math

math academic coach who, like the

what led MHS to be identified for TSI.

demonstrates that they are framing

school’s English language arts coach

As administrators asked what could

their support for learning around

provided by separate funding, can

be done to improve the situation and

instructional transformation and

share knowledge and support to the

help the students, they realized more

culture shift, two key domains from

school’s general and special education

professional development was needed

our school improvement framework


for the teachers.

School Focus


Summer 2021



“Achievement will improve as instructional practices improve. The only way to address instruction is to focus on the teachers.” Kelli Speed, MPSD director of federal programs “Achievement will improve as

“There are many parts to GEAR UP

two years of the Leader in Me culture

instructional practices improve,” she

that will benefit our students now

and experience with them. We’re hop-

said. “The only way to address instruc-

and in the long run,” Griffin said.

ing this is going to be the next piece

tion is to focus on the teachers.”

“We’re going to take advantage of

that’s going to assist the high school.”

Griffin said he hopes to implement more professional development opportunities in the school’s improvement plan after COVID-19 forced some shifting to occur. He also said he believes MPSD's designation as one of three districts in the state to receive assistance in staff development and college preparation through the Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) initiative administered by Mississippi State University (MSU) will offer additional supports and resources as the school continues to navigate TSI. Through a partnership with Get2College, the Woodward Hines Education Foundation, ACT and

the ACT opportunities, and students have the opportunity to go to Meridian Community College for free if they choose to do so. There are many positives to GEAR UP.” The first students supported in

While not part of MHS’ TSI improvement plan, the Leader in Me program is another piece that can supplement the school’s efforts to change its instructional foundation.

2019 by GEAR UP were eighth graders

Griffin is excited to put more of

in the district. As rising sophomores,

the improvement plan into action

those students are now part of MHS’

following the challenges presented

TSI plans.

by COVID-19. He said it is going to

Those students went through the

take repetition, accountability and

district’s Freshman Academy, and

patience. Based on his previous expe-

Speed said an emphasis is placed on

riences, he said he is confident the

accountability at the elementary and

school can keep getting closer and

middle school levels to help the transi-

closer to hitting the bullseye.

tion to high school, which led the district to implement the Leader in Me program.

“You have to continue to be positive, push forward and do what works,” he said. “We’ve seen progress. We know

“So many kids want out because

that we have a way to go, but we have

school has not been successful for

Mississippi Public Universities, GEAR

implemented some of the founda-

them. The classroom has always been

UP, which is housed at MSU’s Research

a struggle, and they just need some-

tional pieces that we’ll be able to build

and Curriculum Unit, strives to

where and something to be proud

increase academic performance and

of,” she said. “MPSD has been putting

preparation for postsecondary oppor-

emphasis on K-8 to give MHS an even

pieces are “loving to instruct, loving

tunities, the rate of graduation and

stronger student through the Leader

what you do daily and loving to be

enrollment in postsecondary edu-

in Me initiative. We will continue that

at work so the students can feel free

cation and students’ and their fam-

implementation by doing a soft roll

and learn in a positive environment.

ilies’ knowledge of postsecondary

into the high school. As our eighth

The students are going to follow the


graders transition to MHS, they bring


Summer 2021


off moving forward.” He added: Those foundational

School Focus



Finishes STRONG

Conference Supports New Teachers During Difficult Year Carl Smith


f you ask a veteran educator what it was like to teach during the 2020-2021 academic year, they

will likely tell you they used their years of experience to get themselves and their students through one of the most challenging years in the recent history of education. If you ask the

From left:

same question to a teacher whose first

Shanequa Robbins, West Point Consolidated School District (WPCSD)

year leading a classroom was during

Kristina Livingston, Mississippi Department of Education (MDE)

this past academic year, they might

Jennifer Sykes, Aberdeen School District

say the experience left them rethinking their career path and seriously doubting their future in education. For those new teachers and oth-

the Oxford-based North Mississippi

semester. The first-year teacher said

Education Consortium (NMEC), mar-

she felt lost at times during the year

ried a pre-COVID-19 goal of the MDE

ers with few years of experience, the

and was so overwhelmed when the

— provide targeted support to new

Finish Strong 2.0 spring conference

event was about to start, she mulled

teachers to keep them in the profes-

offered outreach, support and guid-

sion and cultivate a new generation

ance many participants said helped

of experienced educators — with the

them end the school year on a posi-

specific task of supporting teachers as

like I went to church that day. All of

tive note and reaffirmed their commit-

they navigated the first full academic

the speakers were like the preachers,

ment to education.

year during the pandemic.

and they hit on everything I felt like I

not attending. “I equate it to others like this: I feel

was dealing with and even some of the

Approximately 220 teachers joined

For Jennifer Sykes, an English

together — albeit virtually — for the

Language Arts teacher at Aberdeen

issues, problems and feelings I didn’t

April event. The conference, a part-

School District’s Belle/Shivers Middle

know I was dealing with until they put

nership between the Mississippi

School, the conference’s support and

them into words,” she said. “I let out a

Department of Education (MDE) and

outreach came at a pivotal point in the

sigh of relief. It was truly that good.”

School Focus


Summer 2021



Teachers from across the state joined the MDE and North Mississippi Education Consortium professional development facilitators for the Finish Strong 2.0 virtual conference in April. Approximately 220 educators came together for the two-day event that many attendees said left them feeling reinvigorated after a trying academic year complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

‘We want you to love teaching’

long time. We want them to have an

“We all know what it’s like to be a

Dr. Jimmy Weeks, the NMEC direc-

impact on so many lives. We want

new teacher, but we don’t know what

tor, knows how important the first

them to stay in the profession and

it’s like to be a new teacher during a

years of a teacher’s career are.

feel like they’ve been supported and

His dissertation covered teacher retention and mentoring, and the data Weeks collected for it showed the majority of teachers who would eventually leave the profession did so within three to five years. “If those are the statistics and you also have people retiring, who is going to be there to teach our children and grandchildren? It’s a scary thought,”

guided the whole way through.”

pandemic. This was a whole new ballgame,” she said. “A lot of these brandnew teachers didn’t get to finish stu-

Dr. Kristina Livingston, MDE’s lead

dent teaching [as education majors in

professional development coordinator,

college], or they might have taught for

said she knew her organization had to

only a month and a half [before COVID

step in and specifically assist inexperi-

hit]. The flexibility these teachers had

enced teachers following the outbreak of COVID-19 and subsequent school shutdowns. If administrators already struggled to retain these young educa-

to have is unlike anything our teachers have ever experienced.” In organizing the conference, MDE staff and conference facilitators asked what teachers needed the most in

said Susan Scott, a NMEC project

tors, she asked, how many more could

coordinator who helped facilitate the

walk away because of the additional

sional development tracks and ses-

conference. “We want them to begin

stresses and uncertainty caused by

sions along the event’s theme: Think

teaching and to love teaching for a

the pandemic?

strong. Be strong. Finish strong.

Summer 2021


terms of support and planned profes-

School Focus



Specifically, organizers touched on numerous key topics — social and emotional needs, high-quality instruction, student engagement, classroom culture and motivation and general ways to help struggling students, among others — that covered both general and special populations. At its core, the conference focused on learners’ and educators’ mental health — the most important shortterm need of all those involved in education. “In every session, we wanted to be very intentional about preparing teachers to teach the whole child — socially, emotionally and academically,” Livingston said. “There has been such a stigma around mental health support in the past, but, if anything, this pandemic has made us more understanding about what it means to deal with depression and anxiety, among other things. We also wanted to be intentional about giving teachers an outlet and sessions they could attend to help them better cope with the stresses of the year.” Jeremy Anderson, a motivational speaker who gave the conference’s keynote address, “spoke to attendees’ minds, souls and hearts,” Livingston said. One of Anderson's messages left a profound impact on Shanequa Robbins, a two-year assistant teacher in the West Point Consolidated School District who will lead her own classroom for the first time in the new academic year: Teach by faith, not by sight. “Sometimes you must meet children where they are.

Robbins, a two-year assistant teacher who will take on her own

They might not have the grades they’re able to have at

classroom assignment for the WPCSD in the coming academic

that moment or maybe they’re having behavior issues —

year, works on multistep math equations with eighth grader

the important thing is to speak life into your students,”

Abigail Young (right) during the spring semester. Robbins said

she said. “You don’t know the circumstances they’re going

the Finish Strong 2.0 conference reaffirmed her desire to be a

through. As an educator, we can be a light and a positive

positive influence and a guiding light for her students.

influence for them because we might be the only source of stability they have.” Like many of the attendees who left feedback for NMEC

“They felt like when they left, they were rejuvenated,”

facilitators, both Sykes and Robbins said they took away

Livingston said. “We’re trying not to lose teachers. We want

numerous strategies that helped them end the year on a

them to feel and know there’s a reason they’re here and

high note and many encouraging supports that reaffirmed

a reason they’re doing this, and they can, in fact, finish

their desires to be teachers.


School Focus


Summer 2021

Legislature Passes Teacher Pay Raise, Increases Funds for Educational Priorities The Mississippi Legislature made significant investments in public education during the 2021 legislative session, including a statewide teacher pay raise and millions allocated for Mississippi State Board of Education (MSBE) priorities such as early childhood education, instructional coaches, teacher supply funds and the Mississippi Student Information System (MSIS). Teachers early in their careers will receive a $1,100 raise in the new school year, and all other teachers and teachers’ assistants will receive a $1,000 pay increase. Funds for the state’s early learning collaboratives doubled to $16 million, which will serve Dr. Carey Wright

approximately 6,000 pre-K children. Lawmakers funded new instructional coaches, allocating $5 million for math coaches and $1.5 million for early childhood education coaches. The new coaches will bolster Mississippi’s team of Literacy-Based Promotion Act (LBPA)-funded literacy coaches, who help educators become more effective teachers of reading. Since the passage of the LBPA in 2013, Mississippi has become the No. 1 state in the nation for gains in reading.

Rep. Richard Bennett

“Mississippi students and teachers deserve all the support the state is able to provide so they can continue making historic gains.” House Education Committee Chairman Richard Bennett Other public education allocations include $20 million for the teacher supply fund, up from $12 million the previous year, and $7.6 million to modernize the MSIS. Teacher supply funds go directly to teachers to buy classroom materials. Funding for the MSIS, which was created in the 1990s, will update the system for the modern technological era. “Students and teachers statewide will benefit from these new investments that advance the State Board of Education’s goals,” said Dr. Carey Wright, the state superintendent of education. “The state has put in place proven strategies that have significantly improved student achieve-

Sen. Dennis DeBar

ment, and these investments will help students and teachers build upon their successes.” The state board’s strategic plan prioritizes access to high-quality early childhood education;

data-driven decision-making; student growth and achievement; all students having effective teachers, leaders and schools; and all students graduating prepared for college and career. “Mississippi students and teachers deserve all the support the state is able to provide so they can continue making historic gains,” said House Education Committee Chairman Richard Bennett. The Legislature also allocated $1 million to help districts pay for advanced learning assessments including Advanced Placement and the ACT WorkKeys, and $1 million for career and technical education grants to districts. “Our additional investments in public education will support teachers and have a direct impact on student learning in the classroom,” said Senate Education Committee Chairman Dennis DeBar. Summer 2021


School Focus

Math, Science Teachers Named PAEMST Finalists Six Mississippi teachers were named 2021 state-level finalists for the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST). The PAEMST program is the nation’s highest honor for teachers of mathematics and science, including computer science. Awardees serve as models for their colleagues, inspiration to their communities and leaders in

"Mississippi’s PAEMST state-level finalists are committed to excellence and are leaders among their colleagues.”

the improvement of mathematics and science education. “Mississippi’s PAEMST state-level finalists are committed to excellence and are leaders among their colleagues,” said Dr. Carey Wright, the state superintendent of education. “I congratulate them

Dr. Carey Wright, state superintendent of education

as they vie for the highest honor in their profession.” The PAEMST program, established in 1983 by the White House, allows each state to select up to three state finalists in mathematics and up to three state finalists in science. One of the state finalists in each content area may be selected as the Presidential Awardee for the state, which is the highest recognition that a kindergarten through 12th grade mathematics or science teacher may receive for outstanding teaching in the United States. National winners are announced approximately a year after state-level finalists are identified.

Dr. Trisha Gilbreath Grades 10-12 mathematics teacher Northwest Rankin High School, Rankin County School District

“I want my students to leave my classroom with three important lessons: they are loved, their ideas are valuable and they can achieve far more than they ever expected.”

Jaqueline Lewis Grade 9 mathematics teacher; grades 11-12 computer science teacher Enterprise High School, Enterprise School District

“While varying and evolving instructional strategies are important, they are all secondary to the need to motivate, inspire and build a desire in students to want to learn and to excel in the implementation of what they have learned.”

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Treasure Lynch Grade 10 mathematics teacher Gulfport High School, Gulfport School District

“True learning is determined by comprehension and application rather than memorization and demonstration.”

Kenneth Peagler High school science teacher Brandon High School, Rankin County School District

“Teaching is not about finding or creating the most rigorous and/or entertaining tasks; instead, it’s about using your content to build engaged students that love to learn and that can take any task and will think, persevere and exceed any goals set for them.”

Christina (Tina) Walters Grades 10-12 science teacher South Jones High School, Jones County School District

“My goal is to create a safe learning environment where risk-taking is commonplace and problem-solving is encouraged in an effort to foster love of learning independent of ability level.”

Ashley Elizabeth Webb Grades 10-12 science teacher DeSoto Central High School, DeSoto County Schools

“All students deserve a welcoming, engaging and challenging classroom culture that fits both their emotional and academic needs.”

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The Mississippi Department of Education does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age or disability in the provision of educational programs and services or employment opportunities and benefits. The following office has been designated to handle inquiries and complaints regarding the nondiscrimination policies of the Mississippi Department of Education: Director, Office of Human Resources, Mississippi Department of Education, 359 North West Street, Suite 203, Jackson, Mississippi 39201. 601.359.3511 Produced by the Mississippi State University Research and Curriculum Unit