2 Coast districts have a new way to battle Mississippi’s teacher shortage

Mississippi is battling a teacher shortage, as fewer and fewer people apply for certification and school districts struggle to fill vacancies.

But a new program aims to help get people from different backgrounds into classrooms. It provides a more affordable path for earning teacher certification and an undergraduate degree.

Four districts across the state — Biloxi, Ocean Springs, Jackson and Sunflower County — are participating in the new Mississippi Teacher Residency Program.

It’s funded by a $4.1 million grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. The goal is to narrow gaps in high-poverty, high-minority schools as well as schools that lack a diverse teaching staff, according to the Mississippi Department of Education.

The teaching candidates will be members of AmeriCorps, a national service organization whose goals include increasing academic achievement, mentoring youth and fighting poverty.

Each participant will get free tuition at an undergraduate teacher education program for two years, as well as living expenses paid through AmeriCorps. But they must teach in the school district for three years if a teaching position is available.

They will learn from a mentoring teacher, who will get $5,000 each year.

Increasing shortage

The state only got 700 applications for teacher certification in 2017, compared with 7,000 applications a decade earlier, MDE said.

“Unfortunately, the last 10 years has seen a sharp decline in the number of individuals looking to enter the teaching profession, said Ocean Springs Superintendent Bonita Coleman.

Next year, she hopes to fill about 40 certified positions, which is about 9 percent of the district’s teaching jobs.

“We know there are many candidates who would make excellent classroom teachers,” Coleman said. “Our mission is to identify these potential teachers and place them in our classrooms.”

Of vacant teacher positions statewide, about 31 percent are in elementary schools, Coleman said. Nearly half of those are in grades 4-6. Special education positions have 12 percent of the vacancies statewide.

Different backgrounds sought

Ocean Springs is looking for teacher residents from different backgrounds, said Catherine Melchi, Ocean Springs human relations director.

“Our goal will be to identify and recruit academically talented candidates from a diverse background — men and women of color, Armed Forces veterans, junior college graduates — and transform them into exemplary, highly qualified teachers who can capably meet the needs of children and youth attending OSSD schools,” Melchi said.

“Many of the teachers who leave our profession leave within the first three years due to lack of support. OSSD mentors our new teachers, encourages them, and helps them refine practice. This mentoring is crucial to the success of new teachers.”

For more information on a resident position in Ocean Springs, call Melchi at 228-875-7701.

The personnel office at the Biloxi School District can be reached at 228-374-1810, ext. 1122.

Recruitment starts next spring for the 2019-20 school year.

Robin Fitzgerald, 228-896-2307, @robincrimenews