Universities collaborate on new teacher training program

By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal

Mississippi’s two largest universities announced on Tuesday they will collaborate on a program designed to attract the state’s top students into the teaching profession.
Leaders from Mississippi State University and the University of Mississippi have been working together for about two years to develop the Mississippi Excellence in Teaching Program. It will create the equivalent of an honors college for education majors at each university and will provide participants with full scholarships that include the cost of room and board, books, supplies, technology and travel opportunities.
The program will be funded for five years by a $12.9 million gift from the Robert M. Hearin Support Foundation in Jackson.
“Both institutions recognized we need to have a better system of education for Mississippi from K-12 through the university system,” said Mississippi State University President Mark Keenum. “One thing we knew we could do working together was to highlight the importance of teaching as a profession and attract some of our best and brightest students in Mississippi to choose teaching as a profession.”
Participants must be selected into the honors college at each university. The program will begin this fall, and both universities hope to recruit 20 students at each campus each year. Participants will make a five-year commitment to teach in Mississippi after graduation.
“We believe this can be a beginning point for people seeing the teaching profession differently in our state,” said Ole Miss Chancellor Dan Jones. “We believe it is important to raise the expectations and raise the prestige for the profession, and giving these full scholarships and establishing these honors programs in our schools of education will be a way to do that.”
This collaboration between the rival universities emerged from a task force organized by the CREATE Foundation in 2010 to bring the two schools together to benefit Northeast Mississippi. Jones called this program “the most significant and the most visible thing” that has thus far emerged from that effort. It will also have a statewide impact.
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“I think the main thing is that they are working together at high levels at the two universities, and we will see more and more positive results come out of that collaboration,” said CREATE Senior Vice President Lewis Whitfield.
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The program’s initial goal will be to attract high-ability students who want to become math and English teachers and to help meet the needs of the new Common Core standards Mississippi is implementing.
Students in the program will visit top-performing schools across the country and around the world. They also will make visits to each university’s campus for various seminars.
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“It is truly a partnership,” Keenum said.
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Each university will hire additional faculty members and staff for the program.
“We intend to change the perception of teaching as a profession, and we know we can be more successful by combining the expertise available at both universities,” said MSU Education Dean Richard Blackbourn.
Added Ole Miss Education Dean David Rock: “I’m as excited as I’ve ever been… What I think this program will bring to the table is we are creating an honors college for teacher education that is second to none.”

chris.kieffer@journalinc.com