Mississippi State University-Meridian is playing a pivotal role in a new teacher training program that is the first state-run initiative of its kind in the United States.

With first-year funding of more than $198,000 from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, MSU is welcoming 12 teacher assistants from the Jackson Public Schools this fall for participation in the Mississippi Teacher Residency (MTR) program, administered by the Mississippi Department of Education.

With the state’s steady decline in the number of teacher licenses awarded, three other underserved school districts are participating along with JPS in MTR cohorts across Mississippi and include Sunflower County, Gulfport and Ocean Springs. In 2018, there were more than 2,100 teacher job openings and only 1,624 initial licenses awarded. In 2011, the state issued 3,626 initial licenses, according to MDE.

The free, two-year program is designed to recruit underserved students to complete a Bachelor of Science in elementary education, which then makes the new college graduates eligible to teach any subject in kindergarten through 6th grade; English, mathematics, science and social studies in 7th and 8th grade; and special education in kindergarten through 8th grade.

Brandi Sumrall, MSU-Meridian MTR co-director of special education, said, “The beauty of this initiative is that students will have a comprehensive understanding of research-based theory and practice for both elementary and special education. Special education has been a critical shortage area for decades in our state, and through this program our students will be licensed in both areas.”

Jeff Leffler, co-director of elementary education for the MTR program, said MSU-Meridian is in a distinctive position to aid in this first-ever initiative because of its current offering of the Professional Advancement Network for Teacher Assistants program, or PANTA.

PANTA uses a blended delivery format that allows working adults to participate in either face-to-face instruction or remotely when they are unable to attend class,” the MSU-Meridian assistant professor said in discussing the critical need to fill the state’s elementary teaching positions with permanent hires.

“Last year, more than 200 teachers working for JPS were emergency hires, meaning they could only serve as teachers for one year without a degree or alternate route teaching certificate,” he said. “In order to keep a paying job after that one year, they continue with the district as substitute teachers at a dramatically lower salary when they should be gaining the skills they need to obtain a four-year degree, pass the PRAXIS exam and enter the classroom as a licensed teacher.”

MTR hopes to graduate approximately 150 new elementary teachers over the course of the four-year grant program at MSU-Meridian and the two other training sites at William Carey University in Hattiesburg and Delta State University in Cleveland. Through the grant, these sites will receive funding for four years with each graduating three cohorts of students in pursuit of an elementary education degree. This year’s program candidates from each of the four participating school districts were selected by MDE, with each currently holding an associate’s degree or 60 or more hours toward a degree program.

The nonprofit National Center for Teacher Residencies developed the program that requires participants to commit to teaching for three years in their respective underserved school district.

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