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Released January 21, 2004

By David Tisdale

HATTIESBURG - Founded nearly 100 years ago as a teacher's college, The University of Southern Mississippi continues its commitment to providing superior training for students seeking rewarding careers in education with the formation of The Leadership Institute of the New South.

The institute, headed by two members of the Southern Miss College of Education faculty, will provide leadership education and training for aspiring and current school district superintendents, principals, and other school administrative staff.

"Effective leadership is the cornerstone of the success of any organization, and it is even more crucial now for educational systems that are required to meet new and challenging accountability standards," said Dr. Ron Styron, who along with Dr. David Lee serves as co-director of the institute.

Established in 1910 as Mississippi Normal College, with the primary mission of training teachers, Southern Miss is now a comprehensive university that continues to honor its roots by offering undergraduate and graduate degrees in education, both for teachers and those seeking specialized training as school administrators.

Styron sees the institute as a continuation of that tradition, and a way to provide schools with leadership that can make a difference in the lives of its students.

"There are no great schools that don't have a great principal and superintendent," he said.

The three components of the institute include the Leaders of Leaders Institute, the Principal's Academy and the Aspiring Superintendents Institute. Styron said the institute will focus on working with superintendents and central office personnel, principals and aspiring principals, and aspiring superintendents on leadership issues. Application of best leadership practice, communication skills necessary to work with school and community members to achieve common goals, and helping school districts develop programs to meet curriculum and standard achievement requirements are among the many services provided by the institute.

Hattiesburg Public School District Superintendent Dr. James Davis said the formation of the institute is timely as school administrators face demanding new challenges. "There's a great need to begin to improve the capacity for the effectiveness of educators," Davis said. "We are challenged like we've never been challenged before, and the only way to meet these challenges is to have the opportunity for training to improve our skills and our capacity to be better."

One of the biggest challenges for school leaders now, Styron said, is the federal "No Child Left Behind Act."

The act's goals include requiring school districts to meet new standards for reading and mathematics for students in grades 3-8. Annual assessment and progress objectives are implemented with the goal of assuring that students reach proficiency within a 12-year period. Schools that fail to meet proficiency objectives are subject to corrective measures to achieve the act's goals.

Styron said that Southern Miss has a wealth of expertise and resources to help school districts meet new accountability standards. "We have tremendous untapped resources that we could use to help school districts," Styron said, citing the Southern Miss Department of Reading, among others. "Our challenge is to connect with school districts in such a way that will serve their needs."

A mentor program, where superintendents or principals are paired with aspiring administrators, will also be a key service offered by the institute, Styron said.

Portia Hull, principal of Hawkins Elementary School in Hattiesburg, said the institute's mentor program will be a great way for those interested in moving into school administration to get a clearer picture of the responsibilities and challenges involved through shared knowledge from veteran school leaders. Hull said she would be willing to share what she's learned in her five years as an administrator with institute participants.

A common misperception, she said, is that a school principal deals almost exclusively with discipline. There are many other responsibilities, she said, including oversight of curriculum and staff development, among others.

"A mentor provides an aspiring administrator with the knowledge base of what their job will entail," she said. "They can give you a true picture of what a school principal actually faces, based on their experience. Otherwise, you don't really know until you get into it."

Lee and Styron would like to see the institute become a regional resource for administrators, as a well as a clearinghouse for school systems seeking candidates for leadership positions. The institute will feature some of the education field's top administrators as presenters to share their expertise and experience with institute participants. In addition, the institute provides aspiring school leaders with interview process training and assistance in producing quality resumes that can help them achieve their career goals.

Lee said the institute also provides Southern Miss an opportunity to help place graduates of its educational leadership programs and others who participate in the institute with school districts seeking applicants for administrative positions. Many school districts, he said, are having difficulty obtaining enough applicants for vacant principal and superintendent positions.

"In talking with some of the larger (job placement) firms, they're telling us there's not enough applications submitted," Lee said. "We want to expose our graduates to the top (placement) agencies across the country, and use our contacts with these people to make Southern Miss tops on their list when they're looking to fill these positions."

With an ongoing wave of retirement among school administrators, the institute plays a vital role in preparing a new generation of school leaders, said Dr. Willie Pierce, interim dean of the Southern Miss College of Education and Psychology.

"We have a whole group of administrators, not just in Mississippi, who are reaching retirement, which is also a problem we're having with teachers," said Pierce. "So we need to work with (new) administrators as they move into these positions to provide them with the kind of practitioner's view of how to integrate theory into the classroom."

Pierce said that like Southern Miss' academic programs in education, the institute will help produce "not just building administrators, but educational leaders."

"This is another resource for them, and we're excited about the university being a key player in providing resources to administrators to help us have better schools," Pierce said.

Lamar County School District Superintendent Glenn Swan said he's interested in taking part in the institute's Leaders of Leaders Institute, and said he and some of his administrative staff plan to participate.

Leadership is an issue that Swan said he's put a special focus on during his career as a school administrator. A longtime educator from Purvis, Swan was recently elected to his second term as superintendent.

"I think leadership is critical," he said. "Anything a school leader can do to enhance his or her skills to be a better leader, I'm for that. You can't just say, 'I'm the perfect leader' and that's it. It's something you have to work on all the time throughout your career as an administrator. In our school district, lifelong learning is a part of our mission statement, and we have to be lifelong learners as educators, too, whether we're administrators or teachers. That includes undergoing continuous leadership training."

Together, Lee and Styron bring more than 50 combined years of experience as both teachers and administrators to lead the development of the leadership institute. Lee is in high demand as a motivational leadership program presenter, and has served as a teacher, coach and administrator at all grade levels, with more than 30 years experience. Lee has also served as a deputy state superintendent and is currently serving as a school board member.

Styron has served as a U.S. Dept. of Education field grant administrator and has 25 years experience as an administrator and teacher in public schools. Styron has been named a principal of the year by educational and civic organizations, and has also been honored as principal of a National School of Excellence, Blue Ribbon School.

Dr. Tim Hudson, provost of Southern Miss' Hattiesburg campus, said Styron and Lee's efforts to focus on leadership training in education administration is a great service to school districts and to the profession.

"Dr. Styron and Dr. Lee are to be congratulated for addressing this critical issue of leadership for our schools in such a creative and inclusive manner," Hudson said. "This institute combines the strength of Southern Miss' legacy in the field of education with a fresh approach to providing the one essential element that can spark achievement -innovative leadership."

For more information about the Leadership Institute of the New South, contact Dr. Styron or Dr. Lee at (601) 266-4580 or visit


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April 20, 2004 4:09 PM