Bridging the Gap: MSU steps up to solve Mississippi’s teacher crisis

Ms. Brandi SumrallDr. Jeffery LefflerContact: Lisa Sollie

Story by Camille Carskadon

STARKVILLE, Miss.—Mississippi State University’s College of Education is serious about helping find people to “answer the call” at a time when a statewide teacher shortage is at a critical juncture. Before the 2020-21 academic year even started, the Mississippi Department of Education reported critical teacher shortages in 89 of the 151 school districts in the state.

In addition to several innovative ideas developed on the Starkville campus, two programs administered through MSU-Meridian open degree possibilities for teacher assistants – the new Mississippi Teacher Residency program and the Professional Advancement Network for Teacher Assistants initiative.

A first of its kind in the United States, the residency program is designed to help classroom assistant teachers complete a bachelor’s degree.  The program will graduate approximately 100 new elementary teachers for four underserved central Mississippi school districts over the course of the four-year grant.

“The Mississippi Teacher Residency program provides students with the best of both worlds,” explained Brandi Sumrall, co-director of the program. “Students complete the program with a degree in elementary education and an endorsement in special education. As a special educator and as a teacher educator, I know the importance of having qualified teachers working with students with exceptional abilities.”

She went on to add that the Mississippi Teacher Residency program allows her to work with elementary education majors to provide a knowledge base for working with students with disabilities and teaching students who are at-risk academically and behaviorally.

“The combination of both the elementary education degree and the special education endorsement makes graduates of the program highly marketable to school districts because of their certifications and their diverse abilities as teachers,” said Sumrall.

The program pairs with the Professional Advancement Network for Teacher Assistants initiative, which aims to help teacher assistants in the Meridian Public and Lauderdale School districts complete the requirements to become licensed teachers. PANTA’s blended delivery format allows students to participate in either face-to-face or remote instruction, making it ideal for working adults.

“After watching school districts across the state struggle to place certified teachers in their classroom, a group of Meridian professors realized that there was a pool of people who already had years of experience in the classroom and a likelihood of remaining in those communities that they served in as assistant teachers,” explained Jeff Leffler, MTR and PANTA program co-director. “This led to us creating the PANTA program that allowed us to make MSU-Meridian’s teacher education program more accessible to teacher assistants.”

As they began to see individuals successfully complete the program, Leffler and Sumrall became even more passionate about expanding that initiative to meet the needs across the state. Like most states, Mississippi has experienced a shortage of certified teachers that has become more acute in recent years; added to that is a lack of diversity in certified teachers with over 75% of teachers nationally are white women.

“We wanted to be a part of a solution that created additional pathways to teacher certification while also preparing a more diverse population that more closely matches the student populations they will be teaching,” said Leffler.

According to Kim Hall, head of the Division of Education at MSU-Meridian, being able to offer initiatives like the Mississippi Teacher Residency program and PANTA initiative has allowed faculty to truly “do what they love,” and she knows that is making an impact in the community and the state. 

To learn more about MSU-Meridian’s Division of Education, visit

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