Mississippi College

Mississippi Congressman Bennie Thompson Visits Mississippi College

June 17, 2008

America needs to step up its investment in education and consider sending students to school year-round, 2nd District U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson said Monday at Mississippi College.

Other nations are sending their children to school six days a week, Thompson noted as he spoke to the MC education leadership summer luncheon. "We should have that option on the table."

The Bolton Democrat said he wants to join other members of Congress to "fix" the No Child Left Behind law that's put a heavy emphasis on student test results. Thompson also would like to see more attention paid to the challenges of adequate education in Mississippi. Costs per student vary widely from $4,000 in some rural Delta districts to up to $12,000 annually for some suburban districts south of Memphis, he said. Meanwhile, it costs $30,000 to incarcerate a prisoner for a year.

A former teacher who earned $2,600 per-year in Franklin County when beginning his career in 1968, fresh out of Tougaloo College, Thompson spoke to MC graduate students in the masters in educational leadership program. At the time, his wife earned $2,400 as a teacher.

Today, Mississippi teacher salaries remain among the lowest in the nation. "You don't get paid enough," Thompson told the audience of MC graduate students, with a number of them expecting to receive their degrees in August.

A former Hinds County supervisor and once mayor of Bolton, Thompson has a good grasp of the issues, said Ron Howard, vice president for academic affairs. "There are few if any congressmen who appreciate the importance of education as much as Bennie Thompson," Howard said. "He understands the issues that challenge both students and teachers today." It is "a joy to have him on our campus," the MC administrator added.

Others looking on included MC President Lee Royce, School of Education Dean Don Locke, Graduate School Dean Debbie Norris, Johnny Franklin, education adviser to Gov. Haley Barbour, Dr. Tom Williams, chairman of the education leadership department, and education faculty members.

One of the graduate students in the audience introduced the congressman on the day after Father's Day. Doing the honors was Bendalonne Thompson-Griffith, the congressman's daughter. She teaches in the open doors program at Johnson Elementary, part of the Jackson Public Schools. Thompson-Griffith is working on an education specialist degree after getting her masters here. "I love it," she said of her MC studies on the Clinton campus.

Londra Hunter, 35, who is working on a master's degree in educational leadership, hopes it gives him an edge as he considers long-term plans to become a principal and superintendent. He is now a Career Discovery teacher and coach at Whitten Middle School in Jackson. Being part of MC's program for the past two weeks, he said, has been a plus. "We can pull from each others' strengths."

At Monday's program, MC's family gave a special salute to the work of professor Doris Smith, the former Winona public schools superintendent. She is "the glue" that holds together the educational leadership master's program, said professor Gerald Hasselman, one of her longtime colleagues.

Much of the success of the program comes from its hard-working students. "We have a fantastic group leaving and another good one coming on," Smith said. "They will be prepared."

At the luncheon, dozens of students in the educational leadership program also showed off their other talents. Many joined their voices in song with a rendition of "I Believe I Can Fly."

Thompson, who serves as chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, encouraged the MC students to stay involved with their communities and learn to try new things on the job. "You will have to dare to be different."

PHOTO (left to right): Dean Don Locke, Congressman Bennie Thompson, and Dr. Lee Royce

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