From 'Failing' to 'Successful'
By Edwin Smith
For Jarvis Harris, a senior at North Panola High School in Sardis, the past four years have brought a wonderful transformation at his high school.
"I'm used to us being a terrible school," Harris said. "For us now to be a successful school is almost indescribable."
Lead teacher Patrick Lassiter understands Harris' comment. Just four years ago, Lassiter was a first-year teacher in the Mississippi Teacher Corps program at the University of Mississippi. The University of Notre Dame grad from Valdosta, Ga., remembers teaching history to NPHS freshmen as being a major challenge. Observing their growth and achievement has been especially rewarding for him.
"It fills my heart to see how well we've done, the strides we've made," Lassiter said. "Having those gains recognized across the state is very fulfilling."
Andy Mullins (left), director of the Mississippi Teacher Corps and UM chief of staff to the chancellor, talks with Jamone Edwards, principal at North Panola High School. With help from the Teacher Corps, NPHS has moved from 'Failing' to 'Successful' in the Mississippi Department of Education rankings.
In 2007, the school was scraping the bottom of the barrel in academic achievement, as measured by Mississippi Department of Education rankings. Poor student performances on state math, English, science and history exams contributed to its then-"Failing" status and the school being put under MDE conservatorship in 2008.
Through teamwork, strategic planning and a concentrated effort to improve, NPHS has achieved "Successful" school status in this year's rankings. MDE officials annually evaluate K-12 school systems throughout the state. Criteria include accreditation status, graduation and completion data, state exam and ACT scores, expulsions and out-of-school suspensions. Labels from lowest to superior are: Failing, Academic Watch, Low Performing, Successful, High Performing and Star. Since 2008, six courses at NPHS and junior high school have been taught by Teacher Corps teachers. Subject areas taught by Corps teachers include Algebra I and II, English II and III, Biology and U.S. History.
"Before I started here, I remember thinking to myself, 'How hard could teaching be?'" said Golda Sharpe (BA 09, MA 11) of Clarksdale, who is in her third year as an Algebra I teacher. "That first year was more challenging than I ever imagined it could be. My second year was much better. My expectations for my students grow each year.
"I've realized that North Panola can be a great school. We have great students who just need to realize their own potential. To have been a part of the school's success to this point is something I'll never forget. I've developed professionally and grown as a person."
Having mastered the dynamics of classroom management and content, English III teacher Brent Bonds (BA 03) seeks to make students comfortable with taking tests and confident that they know the material.
"There is no ceiling to what I think our students and our school can do," said the UM alum. "I'm excited about working with Mr. (Jamone) Edwards (NPHS's new principal). Under his leadership, we're definitely making progress, and I want to remain a part of that movement."
The Mississippi Teacher Corps was created in 1989 by Andy Mullins, now UM chief of staff to the chancellor and associate professor of education, and Amy Gutman. At the time, Mullins worked at MDOE, and Gutman was a journalism student at Harvard University interning at the Greenwood Commonwealth.
While brainstorming ideas to help fill the impending teacher shortage in the Mississippi Delta, Gutman and Mullins came up with the program—founded on the ideals of the Peace Corps—in which recent college graduates from all over the U.S. would come teach in Mississippi. Participants complete a master's in curriculum and instruction while in the program.
Since 1989, more than 500 participants have taught in critical-needs school districts, reaching an estimated 100,000 students.
For more information, visit http://mtc.olemiss.edu.