Sunday, July 30, 2006

MTC Film

“Why do they call it a war? Wars end.” Quote from The Wire.

“The Wire,” a TV cop show on HBO, is, in my humble opinion, the best TV drama of all time. The quote above refers to the War on Drugs. The Mississippi Teacher Corps deals more with the War on Poverty, but I think it is just as applicable.

Amy Frazier, a filmmaker from Memphis, just finished a 10-minute short documentary for MTC about poverty in the Delta, specifically in Hollandale, which is where I lived and taught. Perhaps the most impressive feat of the film is that Amy made me sound halfway intelligent.

Amy is now moving on to make a much bigger, longer film about MTC in general. She will follow five first-years over the course of their two-year experience in the Teacher Corps.

Amy estimates that this project will cost about $20,000. If you would like to support this project please do so here. Under "Special Instructions" please indicate that the gift is for the "Mississippi Teacher Corps." All donations are tax-deductible.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Define Poverty

So how do we define poverty?

Is it subsistence? Do I have access to enough food to survive?

Is it the basics? Do I have access to housing and shelter?

Is it income? Do I have disposable income?

The measure the U.S. uses is based on a formula devised by Mollie Orshansky in 1963. Basically, it states that a family of three that spends at least 1/3 of their income on food is living below the poverty line.

Mollie felt that this definition was excluding a great number of people who live in poverty but the U.S. government adopted it anyway. 43 years later, with essentially no changes, it is the formula we still use. It doesn't take into account the cost of housing, the cost of heating, regional differences in cost of living, etc.

Everyone (including Mollie) agrees that it is an inaccurate definition of poverty. And yet we still use it. Why?

Because politicians, on both sides, are scared of what we would learn if we accurately defined the number of people living in poverty in the United States. With the exception of John Edwards when is the last time a politician made poverty a central aspect of his or her campaign?

Think about it. How many people in the U.S. are living in poverty? It is a question few people want answered.

In related news, last night the House of Representatives passed a bill that linked raising the minimum wage to the permanent cutting of the estate tax, a cut that would favor the richest .01% of the country.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Level One to Level Four

Here's a 2004 article about another Delta school that jumped up a few levels (hat tip to Cathy Hayden).

School rebounds 3 levels in 1 year

·Maintaining staff key to staying at Level 4, says Ruleville principal

By Cathy Hayden

RULEVILLE - Test scores at Ruleville Central Elementary in Sunflower County made an impressive rebound in just one year, going from rock bottom to just one rating from the top.

But maintaining the high scores will depend on the school's ability to retain its staff, said eight-year veteran Principal Bessie Gardner.

In 2002-03, "we had three people quit in fourth grade," she said of the school that had respectable but not stellar test scores until spring 2003. "That's what caused us to go on probation. It wasn't that teachers weren't teaching, but it was instability in the grades where we really needed it.

"We corrected that. ? If we get stability, we'll be able to maintain" Level 4, she said.

Scores in reading, language and math at the 400-student school were so low in spring 2003 the state rated it among the 10 worst-performing schools in Mississippi.

After spring 2004 state tests, the school is now rated exemplary and is no longer pegged to get intensive state guidance and extra federal dollars.

Making such a change is a difficult task for many schools in the Mississippi Delta, where keeping teachers has been a chronic problem for many years.

"The turnover of teachers and changes in staff can make a big difference," said Susan Rucker, associate state superintendent.

A number of schools across the state had stellar gains in state accountability levels this year.

Three former priority schools - Ida Greene Elementary in Humphreys County, Nichols Middle in Canton and Quitman County Elementary - rose from Level 1 low performing to Level 3 successful status. Greenwood's Davis Elementary, last year Level 2 under performing, jumped to Level 5 superior-performing.

"It goes to show you what can happen when a school and a community are committed and are motivated. They can jump that much," Rucker said.

Ruleville Central Elementary fifth-grader Sarah Williams, 10, said she can tell a difference in the school's teachers.

"Before last year, they didn't give us as many problems," she said. "They kept pushing us to do more and more and more."

Hattie Jordan works at the Double Quick gas station around the corner from the school. Her five children went through Ruleville schools and six of her 17 grandchildren are at the elementary school.

She calls it an "excellent" school but says she was worried about the test scores last year. "The kids weren't learning, and the teachers probably weren't pushing it," she said.

And now, "everybody is probably just working harder," she said.

The no-frills Ruleville Central Elementary building is sandwiched on the same campus between Ruleville Central High and a boarded-up, dilapidated elementary wing. Because the schools are boxed in by houses, teachers must park wherever they can find a place, including on the street.

The school has a high poverty rate, with about 93 percent of the students eating a free lunch. Researchers say student poverty is often closely tied to test scores, although schools such as Ruleville Central Elementary can and do break out of that mold.

Ruleville, population 3,500, is surrounded by cotton fields and catfish farms.

Many of the parents don't have jobs and the ones who do work at Tunica County casinos, in nearby factories or at the State Penitentiary in Parchman, also in Sunflower County.

A lot of the teachers don't live here; they drive in from surrounding towns, such as Drew, four miles away.

Kindergarten teacher Marcia Hargett drives eight miles from Cleveland.

An 18-year teaching veteran, she credits the state-sanctioned America's Choice reform model - with its heavy emphasis on reading - and a new reading program called Trophies with the rise in test scores.

"We never started them with these books this early," she said, holding a board book with two- or three-word sentences on each page.

When Gardner started using America's Choice last year, she still kept elements of a 1999 "brain-based" program that advocates encouraging students to drink plenty of water, getting physical activity, playing classical music in classrooms and grouping them at tables instead of individual desks..

To ensure that the school has enough teachers, Ruleville has had to rely on programs such as Teach for America, a national program that recruits college graduates and gives them enough training and mentoring to take on a classroom.

Gardner is no fan of the program, despite her past dependence on it to keep classrooms staffed.

Teachers come without any experience, stay long enough to get it and then leave. "It messes up your program," she said.

Matt Thomas, 23, a Pennsylvania native in his second year of teaching at the Ruleville school, is a product of Teach for America.

Thomas is considering staying a third year, but his commitment expires this year.

Because of his training at Ruleville, Thomas said he thinks he is a far better teacher than he was last year. He was among the teachers state evaluators put on a plan of improvement.

"I didn't think it was a bad thing. I definitely needed" a plan of improvement, he said. "I didn't know how to control them (students). I've been a lot more consistent and clear in my expectations."

Although some of his fifth-graders are still reading on a second- or third-grade level, he says he can see a marked difference in the caliber of the fifth-graders he has this year compared with the ones he had last year. "The kids are a lot more invested this year in improvement," he said.

Test Scores

Interesting article in today's Clarion-Ledger, by Cathy Hayden, about the schools in North Bolivar improving dramatically.

One of our teachers, Mason Cole, teaches at North Bolivar. His blog is here.

Here is a blog by a TFA teacher at the elementary school.

Thursday, July 27, 2006


I've been doing some research on poverty for a presentation in the fall and I have come across some depressing statistics. Here are three: one local; one national; and one global.

Local: The per capita income in Arcola, MS is $6,827. This is roughly $12,000 below the national poverty line.

National: In 1970, the number of people living below the poverty line in the U.S. was 12.4%. In 2004 (the latest year we have numbers) it was 12.5%. In 34 years we have made no progress.

Global: 1.1 billion people live in extreme poverty, defined as "living" on less that $1 a day. Yes, that is billion with a "B."

Still Hungry in America

In the last post I touched on the difference between poverty in a mid-sized city like Jackson and poverty in the Delta.

Here is a great, two-part, NPR story on Belzoni, Mississippi.

Accompanying article written by Anderson Heston, MTC Class of 2005, here.

You can read my profile of Hollandale, Mississippi, a town 30 miles to the west of Belzoni, here.

The original basis for "Still Hungry in America" was a hearing on poverty in Jackson. Marian Wright challenged Senator Bobby Kennedy to tour the Delta, which he did the next day. Upon returning, he said, "How can a country like this allow it? Maybe they just don't know."

Unfortunately, more than 40 years later, people still don't know...

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Seperate But Unequal

Watched NBC's special on Lanier High School on Sunday evening. I was struck by one comment in particular. An African-American woman from Jackson, who graduated from Harvard 30 years ago, said something to the effect of, "I never imagined, 30 years later, we would still be dealing with the same problems."

I thought NBC did a good job, and clearly Mayor Frank Melton needs to have his own reality series, but I also felt that NBC missed an even bigger opportunity. Tom Brokaw said, at the end of the broadcast, that they could have picked any mid-sized city in the country and the story would be the same. He's right. However, just 90 minutes away lies the heart of the Mississippi Delta. The poverty and inequality in the Delta is both severe and hidden.

People across America are at least aware of the problems and challenges of inner-city life. When it comes to the Delta, no one knows...

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Summer School Evaluations Part Three

What advice do you have for our new teachers?

• Thank you for helping me pass summer school.
• Keep doing what you doing they can teach
• Do what you do
• Just help all the students more.
• They were some very interested teachers and the taught a lot of math. Keep it up!!!
• Keep teaching because are great teachers. Just loosen up a lil bit.
• Great job keep up the good work!
• Keep up the good work
• Yall some good teachers
• Keep on teaching math!!!
• Just give the kids work and then hep them and teach them things that they don’t know
• Keep on going
• Keep up the good work
• Don’t let none of the future students of summer school get by with anything. Make sure they are giving you their undivided attention.
• That thay need to teach at our school
• Keep doing what you do.
• Teach us very well and help us if we need it
• To keep doing what they are doing because they did a good job. And they were not her for the money.
• It take hard work to teach a class, so I think they did good.
• You are great and excellent
• Thank you very much I needed the help you guy gave me.
• To be like the others
• They have done a very excellent job in teaching me, and now I hate that today is 6/30/06 because I have really enjoyed the help I have gotten.
• Nothing but their were good teachers
• Nothing because they was all great to
• Keep doing that they are doing because, it’s well.
• Keep up the good work that these teachers did.
• Keep during a good job
• Be the same as our summer school teachers.
• Keep up the good teaching
• I don’t have any but Mrs. Bowens you are a great teacher!
• I had a nice time with all of yall. I will miss yall. You help me a lot.
• They were great I like them they really made me a better student. I thank them.
• Keep on Keeping no and I love you all than you.
• I have good advice, that they really help me in school and did really good.
• Thanks
• You all were good teachers
• Let kids talk in the cafeteria
• I will sit back and Learn something.
• Just be on your best.
• Hopefully you’ll enjoy the learning experience.
• Don’t get too mad at your students
• Good teaching methods
• You all were great! Good Luck!
• I would like to say that you guys are excellent and really great teachers
• Continue doing wat ya do!!!
• Beware of some of the students.
• Stay doing what you do, be positive and keep your smartness up on point, because you all really helped me a lot. Thanks a lot!!!
• “Don’t give up because of a few bad students.”
• Have control!!!
• Keep doing what you do
• Have fun
• Just teach
• Keep teaching the way you do
• They did a great job
• Just remember we are going to be kid and don’t catch on attiue so quick
• Don’t be mad get glad
• Be yourself don’t try to be mean and let your students have fun at times
• I had a lots of respect.
• To just keep up the good work!!!
• Lighten up and do things that are fun, and still be able to learn at the same time.
• Stop being so hard on the students
• Just be yourself and treat with respect.
• Keep doing what you doing
• Keep up the good work.
• Keep on helping the community
• Keep kids from having any argument because it will lead them to fighting
• Keep trying
• Don’t give out a lot of work
• Great job and work hard
• My advice to the teachers as to keep up the good work and keep on helping people out in school.
• Work hard and try your best
• Don’t worry school won’t last too long.
• To do there best and just go with the flow
• Mr. Zarandona needs to have funnier jokes next year.
• Don’t make every assignment bookwork!! No one will do it
• They did good and keep up the good work.
• Don’t give up on your goals or quit trying.
• Its easier for students to connect with you if you aren’t up tight you can joke around.
• Stay on top of things and don’t let the student drive you crazy. Ha Have a nice and safe life you guys and girl.
• Be a good teacher at all times.
• Just be patient with the students and gives us time and we will give you time
• Be prepared
• Have fun
• Nothing really
• Keep up the good work!
• Just have fun and relax with your students
• Keep up the good work and good luck
• Loosen up and have fun
• Remain flexable
• Please don’t give a lot of class work
• That they do better than the teachers at regular school.
• Hope they teach as well they teach us
• I like them they are very, very nice
• The teachers makes school very interesting. Keep up the good work.
• Great job and keep it up.
• Don’t let me see you creepin in Holly Springs 4 REAL
• Thank you good luck
• Promise pizza party
• That some of them did a great job teaching us.
• I like my new teachers. They were so helpful and I’m happy that we had new teacher. I would love to have them back. They did a wonderful job.
• Treat people like you would want to be treated. Nothing really
• Keep doing what your doing
• None
• “I hope don’t have to see you next year.” Sincerely I believe the will have as much fun as the students
• Keep doing the same
• Good Luck in the future with your life
• Watch out for me, I’ll be your worst student. Keep your head up because when its down I’ll clown.

Summer School Evaluations Part Two

What changes would you like to see made in the summer school:

• That thay would not see me at summer school no more.
• Just let us take our skill from our test and les us on out of summer school
• Nothing it was fine
• If the class was longer
• More and more of work in the summer school program
• I would like to see everybody go to their next grade.
• Nothing really everything is just fine the way it is. I want to keep my same teachers
• I would like to see any changes because summer school is fine the way it is right now.
• There should not be any changes
• It is ok now
• What can you change they are here to learn
• I like it just how it is.
• Nothing
• More time to study for test
• I would like for the Dismissal 2 be a little more earlier
• The time in summer school
• The changes I would like to see made is the detention stuff cause it stupid. And you have to raise your hand for everything
• Nothing
• Nun because it was good program.
• I like the way it is.
• More of the teacher I have in my class.
• No changes should be made
• Some changes I would like is to be a longer period of time such as till 1:30 pm and till July 20th
• Nothing
• Nothing I like it the way it is.
• Nothing really
• I learned more than I though I was going to learn.
• Longer breaks, more fun and mot a lot of stress on the students.
• None
• No teacher
• Nothing
• The teachers
• It should stay the same.
• NONE! Cause if I have to go to summer school next years I would want to have the same teachers!!
• More fun with the teachers
• Nothing I think all the teachers is doing good and the discipline is fair enoght.
• No change
• None
• None
• All that writing we use to have to write paragraphs in one night for Homework. That just wasn’t cause for
• Not a lot of homework.
• Nothing.
• If you made all that money you should get put to the next grade.
• No changes should be made
• More freedom
• None at all, just stay the same
• n/a
• None
• None
• They were great! Nothing needs to be changed.
• To keep these wonderful summer school teachers
• Nothing
• None
• I would like summer to be a more exciting place to be
• Wrong thinking! The changes I overcome was learning new things. I love the way the teachers teach they should become real teachers they made me understand that a whole lot from what I knew at first.
• I think summer school was good. I don’t think I would change anything.
• It don’t need to be a month.
• None
• None because I’m never going back.
• N/A
• None
• Everything was OK. I’m really glad that I’m about to get out.
• My learning and my grade
• Longer breaks maybe
• All teachers are good not just 2 like my class, and better lunches
• The amount of hours.
• The hours we stay in summer school.
• Everything was actually okay to me.
• Have teachers who would do things right, and wouldn’t do things and give things that are inappropriate and don’t make sense whatsoever.
• Nothing really
• I would say I was taught things that I was not taught during the school year but I now I am glad that I have learned that I did know. Excellent
• We get to do some fun stuff, but it can still can be on our lesson.
• Nothing. It is good As it is.
• Changes I would want is to let it go by faster.
• Nothing it’s going well for me.
• None
• Shorter classes
• Better food
• The change about tardy and Detention.
• The food
• The teachers should be a little more relaxed
• Nothin really all of this has helped me a lot
• Summer these to go a week long.
• Is to pay attention more in class
• Nothing
• More fun activities need to be provided and given
• Do not say: 10 seconds left to do your work…its annoying
• Being able to leave after all my classes are over
• The raise your hand to answer a question rule, I think that crazy. If we are having a class discussion the class should be able to talk about it w/o get warnings (2-page, etc.)
• Nothing. Everything was perfect.
• The tardy rule.
• Nothing
• I really don’t mind what you need changed I am planning on not extended summer anymore
• Nothing
• Nothing
• None just more students participating
• None
• More time for break, sit at the table with friends at lunch
• To have pizza, KFC, and Sonic everyday. Also I would like to stay a little longer
• That it need to be a little bit longer
• Like everything
• Dress code
• Nothing at all
• We need more breaks
• When we hand in work they need to keep up with it cause we are not going to do it over
• Getting out early if we pass the class
• Better lunch
• Changes that cut the detention out. All students should pass.
• Nothing really. It’s okay the way it is.
• N/A = no changes…
• We need to go on trips and short summer school period
• None
• None Actual I believe that Ole Miss students did an wonderful job this summer! Well the teachers I had.
• Everything can stay the same
• N/A
• Nothing it’s cool to me
• Nothing it was perfect failing or not.
• For us to use caculators because, we use them at school why we can’t use them here
• This summer school was cool I liked everything about it accept that we can’t go upstairs
• Nothing
• Nothing

Summer School Evaluations Part One

We gave all the students at the MTC/Holly Springs Summer School an anonymous evaluation. Here are selected comments from the "Strengths of the Summer School" question:

Strengths of the summer school:
• The summer school was fun but I don’t want to come to summer school no more cause I will pass next time.
• It was good and I enjoyed every bit of it and my teachers who helped us along the way.
• It helps gives you a second chance at what failed
• They have good people here
• I really think that the teachers were really helpful in everything we went over.
• They all meant business! They also made sure it was taught in a long period.
• The teachers
• I think that it was a real good summer school program for me.
• The teachers in class are the best.
• It was OK, and helpful.
• To help me with the work I didn’t know how to do.
• I had fun
• The good thing is I know I did my best and all the teachers did good also.
• Writing and Literature
• To learn
• I think summer school was fun and I learn something and we had a good time.
• Helps you a lot
• Helps you learn more
• Learned more here than I did in school
• I learned much, much, more than regular school!!
• They helped me learn a lot. More than I learned in a whole school year!
• That they teach well and will help you with problems that you have.
• The Great teachers especially Ms. Bartlett
• Learning what I didn’t get to learn.
• The strengths of summer school was to help us with the things we didn’t know.
• Help you learn something you didn’t learn before
• I have learned a lot in Algebra I like slope intercerpt, poloniams monomials, and more.
• I give summer school a 86/100
• I learned things that I could’ve learned during regular school, but my teachers gave me a better understanding of it.
• It was OK. I would give a A+ to 2 of my wonderful teachers. I was kind of sleepy but I hung in there.
• This helped me a lot in my english and how to act
• Group work was really good. It helped us be able to do our work without being bored.
• Extra credit and sometimes you learn more.
• They teachers taught us a lot in such a short amount of time.
• I have learned everything that I was supposed to
• Learning, and getting a better understanding
• The teachers know what they was teaching and found easy ways for us to learn the assignments
• Looking at the fine teachers
• Learning more about the class I failed than in school

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Holly Springs Summer School Article

OXFORD, Miss. - For years, students in the Holly Springs and Marshall County public schools who needed summer school classes faced a tough choice: take classes at another school system or go without them. Unable to afford travel and tuition costs, many students chose the latter, and failed to advance to the next grade level.

But this summer, 176 students from the two districts received the classes they needed at Holly Springs High School, thanks to the Mississippi Teacher Corps program at the University of Mississippi. The Teacher Corps provided 32 teachers for the effort, allowing both school systems to afford summer school for the first time in 15 years.

"The Teacher Corps program has given Holly Springs a wonderful and unique opportunity to provide a summer school program for our seventh through 12th grade students," said Irene Walton, interim school superintendent. "Since the start of summer school, I've heard nothing but positive comments from students, parents and those in the community. We're already in discussions for continuing the collaboration next year and into the future."

Historically, Teacher Corps trainees generally serve in schools where the majority of students are black. According to Holly Springs School District officials, only eight of this summer's students are Caucasian. Officials also estimated more than 100 students needed courses to be promoted to the next grade level.

"I know that my son certainly wouldn't have been able to pass without it," said Dorothy Buck of Holly Springs.

Other students participated for their own academic enrichment.

"Taking this English II class has really prepared me for this fall," said Crishun Moore, a junior at H.W. Byers High School in Sand Flat. "Mr. (Joel) Hebert taught me several interesting things I hadn't known previously. It was quite fun, actually."

The Mississippi Teacher Corps is a two-year program that recruits college graduates to teach in critical-shortage areas of the Mississippi Delta in exchange for scholarships to earn master's degrees in curriculum and instruction from UM. Founded by Amy Gutman, a Harvard University graduate student, and Andy Mullins, former special assistant to the State Superintendent of Education, the program has trained more than 350 participants, benefiting an estimated 70,000 public school students since its inception in 1989.

"This is the largest class we have ever had," said Ben Guest, program manager of the Corps. "We received over 400 applications for 32 spots." This year's group includes five participants from Williams College, four from Ole Miss, three each from Harvard University and Amherst College and two from Brown University, he added.

In Holly Springs, the teachers are leading classes in biology, math, English, French, Spanish and social studies. Second-year participants serve as mentors for first-year Teacher Corps members.

"This collaboration is a win-win experience for everyone involved," said Germain McConnell, the program's co-director. "Without the Teacher Corps, the Holly Springs and Marshall County schools wouldn't have been able to have summer school due to a lack of certified teachers. Through this effort, the critical needs of these students are being met with excellent instruction, our first-year teachers are being mentored and our second-year teachers are gaining valuable teaching experience as well."

McConnell said the support of administrators, staff and parents has been an important factor in the summer school's success.

"We preach to the teachers that they must establish boundaries that will create an environment conducive to learning," McConnell said. "With everyone buying into that vision, classrooms are quiet and instruction remains consistent."

Local school and Mississippi Department of Education officials are enthusiastic about the program.

"This has been a huge benefit to the students in Marshall County schools," said Jerry Moore, director of Instructional Services for Marshall County Public Schools. "I've seen our students definitely learning and benefiting from what's taking place here. As long as the Teacher Corps is willing to work with us, I'd love to see us have a long-term relationship."

"The Mississippi Teacher Corps has always provided tutors to assist in-house teachers in providing summer school programs when necessary," said Wesley Williams II, director of MDOE's Mississippi Teacher Center, the legislatively created department charged with teacher recruitment and retention for the state's schools.

"What current program participants are doing in Holly Springs is giving them an excellent work experience before they begin their regular assignments in August," Williams added.

A 1996 alumnus of the teacher corps, Williams said the program provides "a wonderful alternative route" to educators desiring certification and placement in Mississippi's schools and in other states.

Joel Hebert, a second-year teacher who taught last year at Simmons High School in Hollandale, agrees.

"This summer has surpassed all of my expectations," Hebert said. "To have six teachers in the same classroom who share a common thread of expectations and procedures is truly a luxury."

A Williams College graduate and Vermont native, Hebert said he was drawn to the Mississippi Teacher Corps as an alternate route to teacher certification.

"I saw there was a need for teachers in the Mississippi Delta, and I wanted to be a part of the solution," Hebert said. "I would tell anyone this is a program for people who have a strong commitment and will see things through."

Elizabeth Savage, another second-year teacher, said she felt "very lucky" to be in Holly Springs this summer.

"This is not a glamorous job, but just making the connection with the kids means so much to me," said Savage, who will return to Gentry High School in Indianola this fall. "Even the smallest interactions can lead to profound changes in students' behaviors. Seeing hope come alive in them as they succeed at things they thought that they couldn't do is so fulfilling."

A native of Portland, Ore., who spent two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Cameroon, Savage said joining the Teacher Corps was "the next logical step" in her desire to continue doing things that are worthwhile. She has plans to remain in the state as a teacher for at least another four years.

Holly Dawson of Birmingham also volunteered with the Peace Corps in the Philippines. Following this summer in Holly Springs, she will spend her first year in the Teacher Corps program at Calloway High School in Jackson.

"Teaching these kids is a wonderful experience for me," she said. "I'm learning as I am being taught and putting theories into practice. The feedback from the more experienced teachers is great."

Landon Pollard of Birmingham recently earned his bachelor's degree in English from Ole Miss. His faculty advisors in the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College recommended that he apply for the Teacher Corps.

"Being in the Teacher Corps has made me realize how noble the teaching profession really is," Pollard said. "I never expected the kids to make such a profound impact upon me, but in the four weeks I've been here teaching, I've already come to love them."

Story by Edwin Smith

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Holly Springs Conclusion

Many of the first and second-years have written about their individual summer school experiences in their blogs. I’ll leave the day-to-day challenges and triumphs to the teachers who were actually there, putting in the hard work. Instead let me write about the overall impact.

Every student in every MTC Summer School class was given a pre and post-test to assess the “Teacher Corps impact.” The impact would be measured in one month of schooling equal to four months of regular school as the kids had four classes a day.

Each group of classroom teachers was responsible for creating the pre and post-test. Many simply used the state-tests available on-line. Some devised their own based on the subject and grade level (because we had different teachers creating different tests the final numbers don’t give us a statistically sound measure of the effect of Teacher Corps. Hopefully, next year we will have a validated assessment tool for each class so we can have reportable data.) On the last day we calculated the average percent increase on the post-test for each class and also for the student body as a whole.

In four weeks the impact of Teacher Corps on the student body as a whole was an average 79% increase from the pre-test to the post-test.

79%. In one month.

A few kids did worse, a few did better, but most did much better. One girl made a 0 out of 60 on the biology pre-test and a 30 out of 60 on the post. In my limited understanding of math I believe this indicates an infinite percent increase (to actually calculate her increase we assumed she made a 1 out of 60 on the pre-test, which would have given her a 3000% increase.)

79%. In one month. It blows my mind. What would happen if we had three months?

And that brings me back to Wade’s question: “Why doesn’t Teacher Corps place 25 teachers at one school?”

While it is a good question I think I now have a better one:

Why doesn’t Teacher Corps run our own school?

Holly Springs Part Eight

I want you to imagine something. I want you to imagine 176 middle and high school students who failed. Now I want you to imagine a school filled only with these students. 176 kids, many of whom were a discipline problem, making up the entire student body. What would that school look like? What would it sound like?

Now I want you to imagine the hallways completely empty during instructional time. There are no roamers, no arguments, no fights. In every classroom every single student is working. Every single teacher is teaching. At break time students hustle back to class a full minute before the bell rings. At dismissal 176 kids leave the building in an orderly fashion.

One hundred and seventy-six students, many of whom were targeted as problem students during the school year, having an engaging, positive, school experience. You don’t need to imagine anymore. It’s a reality.

Sure, there were some problems. We ended up sending four kids home. Once that was done it set the tone for the entire school.

Joe Sweeney did a yeoman’s job of stepping up and serving as an MTC administrator, something that he was under no obligation to do. Overall, things ran incredibly well.

The biggest compliment about the MTC Summer School I received was from Mr. Chase, the Holly Springs High School principal. He said that one day during break he was talking to a student who had been a serious discipline problem during the school year. As Mr. Chase asked him how school was going the student said, “Mr. Chase, I’d love to talk to you but I have to get back to class. I don’t want to get a tardy.”

Mr. Chase shook his head while sharing this story, as if he couldn’t believe it. “This is giving me a vision for how normal school can run,” he said. “We’ve never had anything like this…”

Holly Springs Part Seven

In the days leading up to the first day of summer school it looked doubtful that we would get the minimum of 100 students needed. The only hope was that once summer school actually started word-of-mouth would spread and we would have kids registering after the first day or so.

Summer school started on Tuesday, June 6th with about 100 students. By Friday, June 9th (the last day of registration) we had 176 students.

The first two days were a little rocky, especially when we showed up at 7:30 AM on Tuesday, along with about 100 kids, and the class rolls weren’t ready. The students sat in the cafeteria, getting nosier and nosier, while our first-years seemed to get more and more uncomfortable. The tension built as time stretched on.

“As long as a fight doesn’t break out this is prefect,” I said to Joe Sweeney, the MTC alum hired to observe all of the first (and second) years. “Even when it is bad it’s good for us because it’s real.” All of the MTC alumni who have had to keep homeroom for hours on end will know exactly what I mean.

Finally, about 9:30, the rosters were ready and the students were called out by class. The MTC Summer School had finally become a reality. Now all we had to do was uphold our end of the bargain and provide quality instruction…

Holly Springs Part Six

We were proposing was a four hour summer school broken down into four fifty-minute “periods” with a five minute break in between each lesson. We would have two or three second-years and two or three first-years in each room. One of the second-years would teach one fifty-minute lesson once a day and the rest of the periods would be taught by the first-years (after the first few days, of course.) This solved all of the problems that I previously listed. It was real critical-needs kids in a real school setting with excellent MTC teachers modeling good teaching and providing continuous feedback to the first-years.

I had another meeting with the teachers at the end of April. While they could see all of these potential benefits many were wary of participating. However, we made some concessions that helped ease the wariness. First, we rearranged the schedule so that they could take the computer class as an online course during the summer. This allowed us to keep the second-years from attending Saturday classes in the spring. Two, we arranged with Holly Springs to pay the second-years a small stipend. Three, we said that it was very likely that they would all get laptop computers (which now looks like it, unfortunately, won’t happen.)

Once that fire was put out we turned our attention to the students. To make it work we needed 100 students. The Friday before summer school we were 30 kids short...

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Holly Springs Part Five

It was the end of a long day of classes towards the end of a long school year in early April when I stood in front of the soon to be second-years and excitedly told them of the great change we were making to the program. Instead of taking classes in June, the second-years would teach summer school in Holly Springs and mentor the incoming group of first-years. In my excitement over the past few months of making this idea a reality I had assumed that the teachers would be just as excited as I was. Of course, we all know what happens when you assume.

The next few weeks I received many angry calls and emails and several people threatened to quit the program altogether. Even some of the people who never complain about anything called. A few, most notably Dave Molina who had complained about everything else, sent emails in support of the idea.

The problem, I believe, was this: everyone could see that MTC running our own summer school would be a tremendous benefit both to the teachers in our program and the children of Holly Springs. However, the second-years simply didn’t want the change to start with them, especially after being told in the beginning of the year to never teach summer school.

They had a point. I think some of the second-years still don’t understand how, as a program, we encourage our teachers not to teach summer school and then, later in the year, require them to teach summer school. Let me explain:

Summer school at most Delta schools is an eight-hour day with 30 kids and one teacher in one room. The kids have all failed, most have likely been a discipline problem, and the principal is around even less than usual because it is the summer. Furthermore, the kids’ parents have paid money for summer school and fully expect their children to pass. And in most Delta summer schools all the kids pass. Teaching that type of summer school will take years off of your life. What we were proposing was radically different…

Holly Springs Part Four

A few weeks later Germain and I set up a meeting with Irene Walton, the interim Superintendent at Holly Springs. After having spent many mornings driving to and from Holly Springs we asked that they travel to Oxford. We felt that the summer school was now a longshot and, if they were really interested, they would make the drive. Not only did the administration from Holly Springs make the drive, they continually reiterated how much they wanted to continue with our proposal.

At this point he big question became, “How many kids will attend?” We had calculated that with the number of first and second-year teachers we would need a minimum of 100.

Several people at the School of Education felt 100 students was unrealistic. I’ve been told many an idea wouldn’t work (a summer intern, an MTC Reunion, 400 applications, to name just a few.) Sometimes it seems that all I do is listen to someone tell my why something won’t work. As all of these ideas did indeed work I did what I always do: put my head down and keep going.

The more immediate problem was convincing the soon to be second-years, who all this time had been expecting to take courses at Ole Miss during June, to buy into the idea of an MTC summer school. The initial meeting I had with them did not go well…

Monday, July 03, 2006

Holly Springs Part Three

“We’d love to,” said the Holly Springs Superintendent (who shall remain nameless for reasons soon to come), when she heard our idea about MTC basically running summer school with our first and second-year teachers at Holly Springs High. “We’ve been wanting to run a summer school for years but could never get enough teachers.”

After the meeting Germain and I stopped at a gas station near the district office to buy soda pop and congratulate ourselves. It was 10:30 in the morning and there was an inebriated man at the counter buying two more bottles of beer. As we stood there in our suits he turned and looked at us.

“You’re not from around here, are you?” he asked.

We smiled and told him we were from the University of Mississippi.

He said, “Look at y’all, you don’t have any grease on you or anything.”

After we left the gas station Germain and I drove back to Oxford bouncing ideas back and forth. We spent the next few months laying the groundwork for the MTC Summer School. It was slow going, meeting with the Dean and Dr. Mullins, meeting with the various faculty at the School of Education, discussing how to change or shift the second-years' course schedule, getting approval from everyone, and continually meeting with Holly Springs. Finally, on a Wednesday in late March, Germain and I planned to drive up to Holly Springs the next day to officially sign a contract to run summer school. The meeting was abruptly canceled. The next day (the day we were supposed to sign the contract) we found out that the Superintendent had been fired for embezzlement.

All the groundwork was down the drain. And we had no backup plan…

Holly Springs Part Two

Holly Springs is a critical-needs school district located about 35 miles north of Oxford. In the past five years we have placed six teachers there. Two, Richard Campbell ‘03 and Monica Govan ’04, are still there.

Oxford is home, of course, to the University of Mississippi, where both of our first-year and second-year participants take courses and complete their training as part of the Teacher Corps. In previous summers the second-years took Ed Law and Ed Research while the first-years did their initial teaching at Oxford High School, under the supervision of whatever veteran teacher the MTCer was placed with.

There are a whole host of reasons why this is problematic but I’ll just run through the major ones:

1) Kids from Oxford are nothing like kids from the Delta. Most of the kids in the Oxford school system are middle-class, white, and come from a home with two well-educated parents. Basically, kids from a typical university town.

2) Summer school at Oxford is one long 8-hour block. First-years observe in the mornings, about four hours at a time. It is nothing like real school with bells and periods and students entering and exiting every fifty minutes.

3) The veteran teacher was a question mark. Sometimes it was a kid fresh out of the School of Education who had never taught before. Sometimes it was a grizzled veteran who told our teachers to sit in the back and watch for the entire month. Sometimes it was a lazy teacher collecting a paycheck who shuffled all of the work onto our teachers. Mostly though, you had average teachers who would teach a little bit and then use the two or three MTCers to tutor one-on-one or in small groups. In any event, rarely was it a dynamic teacher with outstanding classroom management skills who modeled good practices to our teachers and then had them teach lessons once a day for fifty minutes.

4) First-years and second-years rarely spent time together. While MTC has almost always had a strong camaraderie within each group there has never been a great first-year/second-year bond.

In November, after kicking the idea around for a while, Germain McConnell and I set up a meeting with the Holly Springs School District. Basically, we said we had an enrichment program they might be interested in. As we drove to Holly Springs in the university van Germain and I had no idea if they would be receptive to what were really going to propose: an MTC Summer School based at Holly Springs…

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Holly Springs Part One

“Why don’t you place 25 teachers in one school?” Wade Chambers ‘96, MTC Reunion

At the MTC Reunion last July, during one of our open forums for MTC alumni to discuss topics and ask questions, Wade posed the one above. It immediately struck me as both brilliant and impossible. Brilliant because it solves one of the two biggest problems MTC teachers face: the quality of our individual teachers is diluted by the many mediocre teachers the kids have had before and will have after. While there are certainly some outstanding teachers in the Delta (and I worked with several of them) the majority are mediocre, at best (The other biggest problem we have is that our teachers often work for incompetent administrators.)

The idea is probably impossible though (in the way that Wade phrased it) because rarely, if ever, will a school have 25 openings at once. Simmons High School, where I taught, had only about 15 full-time teachers.

But the question nagged me in the weeks after the Reunion, and continues to nag me still. We may have found a solution, or at least the beginnings of one. While placing 25 teachers at the same school will probably never come to pass, this summer we got to see what would happen if, for a month, MTC ran their own school. The results were incredible…