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UM Principal Corps Admits Eighth Cohort

Members of the Mississippi Principal Corps 2016 cohort work through team-building exercises at he Rebel Challenge Course. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications
Members of the Mississippi Principal Corps 2016 cohort work through team-building exercises at he Rebel Challenge Course. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Communications

Seventeen educators from across the state gathered June 1 at the University of Mississippi to begin orientation for the eighth cohort of the Principal Corps, the university’s elite program for future school leaders.

The transformative, 13-month program prepares Mississippi teachers and school counselors for future roles in P-12 administration, typically as principals or assistant principals. The Principal Corps awards its graduates with a master’s or specialist degree in educational leadership from UM.

All Principal Corps recruits make a five-year commitment to stay employed in Mississippi schools after graduation and receive a $10,000 bonus upon signing a contract as a principal or assistant principal and beginning work.

“The No. 1 impact factor in any school anywhere in this nation is a great leader,” said David Rock, dean of the UM School of Education, during the event. “As school leaders, you have a chance to make great and dramatic change one school at a time, and it’s a huge commitment.”

The group includes Crystal Brown of Republic Charter Schools, Rhonda Carter of Gulfport School District, Donald Clause of Pascagoula-Gautier School District, Aaron Diaz of Stone County School District, Mary Kate Diltz of Meridian Public School District, Jason Frazier of Lincoln County School District, Michelle Harrison of Gulfport School District, Kimberly Herbert of Ocean Springs School District, Lisa Leatherman of Lee County School District, Arias Melvin of Rankin County School District, Wyn Mims of Petal School District, Jamie Parker of Biloxi Public School District, Katherine Patridge of Harrison County School District, Avery Peagler of Mississippi School of the Arts, Milton Ray of Harrison County School District, Nichole Robinson of Rankin County School District and Heather Rowland of Columbus Municipal School District.

Established in 2009, the program has a near-perfect success rate in ushering graduates into leadership opportunities. Close to 99 percent of graduates receive job offers following graduation.

The rigorous program combines graduate coursework with two full-time administrative internships at school districts across the state. During these internships, recruits work closely under veteran principals, often serving as assistant principals. Principal Corps graduates emerge with a year of full-time experience and often receive job offers from their internship sites.

“When you leave here in June of 2017, you will not be the same person,” said Tom Burnham, interim director of the Principal Corps and two-time state superintendent of education, during the orientation. “You will become true leaders as you go through this program.”

As one of the most valuable educational leadership scholarships in the nation, the program includes full tuition, books and fees, as well as housing and living expenses while completing coursework at the university. The Principal Corps also allows recruits to maintain their regular salaries during the program.

All new recruits must receive an endorsement from his or her district superintendent before being considered for admission.

“I was attracted to this program because of the internship experience,” said Mary Kate Diltz, of the Meridian Public School District. “This internship experience will allow me to practice what we learn in class and see my growth as an educational leader while learning from the some of the best educational minds in the state.”

The Principal Corps was originally funded with $2 million in startup money from the Jim and Donna Barksdale Foundation. In October 2012, the Robert M. Hearin Support Foundation awarded the program $1.5 million in new funding to expand placements across the state.

“When a family member asked me what I was most excited about, I explained that if I were going to school to be a surgeon, I’d want to learn from the greatest surgeons in the nation – that is how I feel about the Principal Corps,” said Michelle Harrison, of the Gulfport School District and the 2015 Mississippi Counseling Associations’ Mississippi School Counselor of the Year.

“We are being taught by the best of the best. What an honor it is to listen to Dr. Burnham speak about effective school leadership.”

By Olivia Dear and the Ole Miss News Desk 

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