Jackson State receives $2M in grants from MDE to train more teachers in elementary and secondary education graduate degree programs

Latoya byline


Jackson State University’s College of Education and Human Development has been awarded $2,038,589 in grants from the Mississippi Department of Education (MDE) through its Mississippi Teacher Residency (MTR) program. The grants will cover tuition and expenses for individuals seeking a graduate degree in elementary and secondary education. Additionally, graduate students will participate in a blended, rigorous full-year internship paired with an experienced mentor classroom teacher.

Jackson State administrators and faculty responsible for securing this grant include: Tracy Harris, Ed.D.,co-principal investigator and interim dean for COEHD; Gwendolyn Williams, Ph.D., co-principal investigator and interim associate dean for COEHD; LaKeshia Opara-Nadi, Ed.D., contributor, assistant professor in the Department of Elementary and Early Childhood Education and interim director for the Center of Teacher Quality; and Patricia Kennedy, Ed.D., contributor, assistant professor and assistant department chair in the Department of Elementary and Early Childhood Education.

“I am so excited about this program and its importance for teacher education and engagement with our community and district partners,” said Williams.

Pictured from L to R: Patricia Kennedy, Ed.D.,  Gwendolyn Williams, Pd.D., and Lakeshia Opara-Nadi, Ed.D.

Pictured from L to R: Patricia Kennedy, Ed.D., Gwendolyn Williams, Pd.D., and Lakeshia Opara-Nadi, Ed.D.

“This grant will help those individuals reach their milestone of achieving a teacher’s license,” said Opara-Nadi. “A standard professional license will allow them to remain in their current position and not have to go year-to-year every three years and go through the process of trying to secure a job.”

“This program will also provide integrated coursework and activities resulting in a dual master’s degree in Elementary Education K-6 and Special Education K-12,” Williams said. “Furthermore, it will increase opportunities for teacher development and licensure in Mississippi critical shortage areas.”

MDE awarded four other universities with grants totaling more than $9.8M for up to 240 individuals.

“Not only will this initiative impact teacher quality, but it will whole heartily benefit so many children who need teachers who are day one ready and prepared to teach,” Kennedy said. “This initiative will afford students the opportunities to earn a dual graduate degree in Elementary Education K-6 and Special Education K-12, gain in-depth evidenced-based and culturally relevant pedagogy, that contributes to diversifying teacher education.”

MDE utilizes the American Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds to cover the grants.

The MTR will provide grants to the university educator preparation program to enroll diverse participants to work toward their graduate degree and Mississippi teacher certification. MTR will also include training alongside a mentor teacher, testing support, professional development, ongoing assessment, and a commitment to teaching in a geographical critical shortage school or district serving low-income children, racial/ethnic minorities and children with disabilities disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.

MTR is one of the state’s strategies to address the national teacher shortage. An MDE survey to all public-school districts in the state, from Aug. 21 to Oct. 11, 2021, to assess educator shortages, showed 3,036 certified teacher vacancies in Mississippi.

Due to the pandemic and closure of testing sites for licensure examinations, in March 2020, Mississippi’s State Board of Education (SBE) temporarily waived many of the licensure exam requirements for new teachers and test score requirements for students entering teacher preparation programs.

Data indicates the waivers for program entry contributed to an overall 143% increase in the total number of students entering teacher preparation programs. The waiver period from March 2020 through summer 2020 was a major factor in more than doubling the number of admitted candidates from 1,427 in 2018-19 to 3,468 in 2019-20.

“With that waiver expiring, I’m excited that we have some other supports in place to help those who would like to be teachers,” Opara-Nadi said.

MDE’s Office of Teaching and Leading has operated MTR since 2018 to increase the number of qualified teachers entering and remaining in the profession. MTR is part of a statewide strategy to expand and diversify the teacher pipeline, so all students have teachers who are well-prepared, appropriately licensed and can serve as role models.

The project is funded by a $4.1 million grant from the Kellogg Foundation. Individuals accepted into the program will receive full scholarships, testing fees, books and mentor stipends. Applications will be available on MDE’s website by April 2022.

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Media Contact: LaToya Hentz Moore, latoya.c.hentz@jsums.edu