Broadening the Special Education Options Available in Mississippi
As of the 2012-13 school year, Mississippi was home to 151 school districts and nearly 448,156 students. Of those students, 53,836—12 percent—were categorized as children served under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). During that period, the largest percentage of special needs students were categorized as struggling with:
- Language/speech impairment
- Specific learning disabilities
- Other health impaired
- Developmental delay
- Mental retardation
- Emotional disturbance
- Educable mental retardation
In 2015, the Mississippi Legislature enacted the Equal Opportunity for Students with Special Needs Program, which allowed parents of special-needs students to use a percentage of the money their children would have been allotted in public school settings on education alternatives instead.
Mississippi parents eligible for this program can use the money to send their kids to private schools and provide them with private tutoring and other outside educational resources.
Special education teachers in the public schools often communicate with parents of special needs children to determine how and if IEPs (Individualized Education Programs) can be revised to help the children succeed. If it is determined that the district cannot provide all of the services needed for the child, some parents may choose to apply for the grant money to send the child to a private program.
Mississippi’s Office of Special Education helps local school and districts provide effective educational programs to students with disabilities, ages 3-20, who need special education and related services.
Recruiting Special Education Teachers in Mississippi
It’s no secret that Mississippi continues to struggle with educator recruitment, particularly in rural parts of the state. In fact, nearly one-third of all districts in the state have been identified as critical needs districts—defined as districts with at least 10 percent of the educators not properly licensed for the subject they are teaching and districts where at least 30 percent of the teaching staff is eligible for retirement.
Along with math and science, the Mississippi Department of Education has identified special education among its critical shortage subject areas due to faculty vacancies.
Two organizations working hard to fill teacher vacancies in Mississippi are Teach for America (TFA) and the Mississippi Teacher Corps (MTC), both of which work on placing high-achieving college graduates into rural and low-performing Mississippi schools. TFA has more than 300 teachers working in schools across Mississippi, while MTC has 65 first- and second-year teachers in the state.
Another recruitment effort, the Mississippi Excellence in Teaching Program, is a teacher preparation program designed to attract top students to needy districts by providing full scholarships to honors-college caliber students who major in education and teach in Mississippi for at least five years.
Three Master’s-Prepared Special Education Teachers Who Are Making a Difference in Mississippi
Special education teachers in Mississippi making a difference in the lives of Mississippi’s special needs youth often receive recognition for their commitment to the success of their students.
For example, two teachers named as finalists for the Mississippi Teacher of the Year (2015-16) award are involved in special education.
Paula Whitaker, a special education teacher at Oxford Elementary, holds a bachelor’s degree in elementary and special education and a master’s in early childhood education. She is also working to become a Certified Academic Language therapist. Paula has led staff development in a number of areas, including Autism in the Classroom. She is a fierce advocate for students with disabilities and strongly believes that every student deserves a chance to be successful.
Anna Morris, a second grade teacher at Oak Grove Lower Elementary in the Lamar County School District, earned a BS and an MS in Elementary Education, with a concentration in mild to moderate disabilities, as well as Teaching English in a Foreign Language (TEFL) certification.
Stacey Todd, another master’s-prepared special education teacher, earned the prestigious Mississippi Teacher of the Year award in 2012. Stacey is a special education teacher at Oak Grove High School, where her philosophy is that every student can learn, but every student does not learn the same way. Stacey has a desire to bridge the gap between mainstream students and those with disabilities.