January 26, 2022

MDE awards Jackson State $2M in grants to train more teachers in graduate degree programs

Therese Apel

Dr. LaKeshia Opara-Nadi

By Latoya Hentz-Moore, Jackson State University

The Mississippi Department of Education, through its Mississippi Teacher Residency program, is awarding $2,038,589 in grants to Jackson State University to cover tuition and expenses for individuals seeking a graduate degree in elementary and secondary education.

“This grant will help those individuals reach their milestone of achieving a teacher’s license,” said LaKeshia Opara-Nadi, Ed.D., assistant professor for the Department of Elementary and Early Childhood. “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.”

MDE awarded four other universities with grants totaling more than $9.8M for up to 240 individuals. MDE is utilizing the American Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief 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 teach 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 there are 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 the summer of 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. The project is funded by a $4.1 million grant from the Kellogg Foundation. 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.

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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