Mullins: Education reform must continue

By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal

OXFORD – Education reform is never finished, said the man who helped bring significant reforms to Mississippi’s schools more than 30 years ago.
Andy Mullins is retiring at the end of this month from his position as chief of staff to University of Mississippi Chancellor Dan Jones. It will mark the end of more than 40 years in education, including work as a special assistant to two governors and three state superintendents of education and as a member of the Ole Miss administration since 1994.
As Mullins nears retirement, the Daily Journal interviewed him about his many efforts to improve public education in Mississippi. A transcript of that interview can be found on Page 10A.
After teaching and coaching at St. Andrew’s Episcopal School in Jackson, Mullins was a member of the “Boys of Spring,” a nickname given to staff members of former Gov. William Winter who helped get the 1982 Mississippi Education Reform Act passed. It created public kindergartens, funded teachers’ aides to help teach reading and changed the way schools were evaluated, among other actions.
Mullins spoke about the legacy of that act – which he said brought the topic of education into the political limelight – and about today’s reform efforts, but said the job never ends.
“Education reform is not something you do today that is over,” Mullins said. “It is something that takes constant care, constant work, constant putting it out front and dealing with it and wrestling with it.
“And in Mississippi, we have to deal with that poverty issue all of the time and the effect that it has on education. And we also have to deal with what Governor Winter clearly was right on and that is the issue of race. That is our legacy.”
Mullins also spoke about lessons learned from working with the Legislature, the greatest challenges of improving education in Mississippi and what he would do if he had a “magic wand,” and the comparisons between this year’s reform efforts and those from 1982, among other topics.
“I told Governor Bryant, I applaud him for keeping education in the forefront,” he said. “…It is important he would keep education in the forefront and have discussions on it. Back-and-forth discussions are useful for yielding good programs.
“Eventually you have to take a stand on funding.”
Mullins co-founded the Mississippi Teacher Corps program, which recruits top college graduates from across the country and places them in high-needs Mississippi classrooms.
At Ole Miss, he has worked with three chancellors during a period of significant enrollment growth, dramatic changes in the funding of higher education and the university’s biggest public event ever, the 2008 Presidential Debate.
Mullins’ efforts will continue after his retirement. In October, he will return to the university and will continue to teach courses in the School of Education and to help with the Teacher Corps program.
He also will join an education foundation board, remain on the Mississippi Humanities Council board and perhaps participate on other foundation boards.
He plans to pursue hobbies: visiting historic sites and hiking in the mountains.
“I love the state of Mississippi,” he said. “I love it despite its many foibles…
“I’ve turned down various opportunities to leave because after working with Governor Winter, I said my career is trying to make changes in education that will benefit the students of Mississippi.”
chris.kieffer@journalinc.com