MSU, local school district partner to revolutionize rural education


Aunique concept will allow Mississippi State University to make a groundbreaking difference in education in its home state and shape education for future generations of the world’s population. On the horizon for the institution is a pioneering approach to rural education in the southern portion of the United States.

Mississippi State is poised to make a greater impact than ever on education locally and globally with the launch of a new Partnership School in conjunction with the Starkville Consolidated School District. The school will be a true model of excellence for education in Mississippi and surrounding rural education systems and an epicenter of activity for the entire university to come together and work on complex education issues and research for many disciplines.

“It is the perfect time to pursue the opportunity for a Partnership School with recent legislation leading to the formal consolidation of the Oktibbeha County and Starkville School districts beginning in academic year 2015-16,” said David Shaw, MSU vice president for research who is leading the planning and implementation. “Mississippi State can become a frontrunner in rural education, which will be a win-win for our university and our state since more children in our geographic region attend rural schools before gaining entrance to our university.”

The Partnership School, created with a combination of state and private funds, will be a first-of-its-kind and a model for rural education that creates hands-on learning experiences for students in MSU’s College of Education and current educators. The research that can be conducted about teaching in rural areas will be invaluable. The Partnership School will also be instrumental in creating new policy and educational reform that is needed in Mississippi and nationwide. The school and research center will be the site of internships, observations, demonstrations, research and of course, learning.

The U.S. government defines areas as rural based on both the density of the population and distance from a metropolitan area. Starkville and Oktibbeha County are both categorized as rural, and the entire state of Mississippi is classified as a high priority state for rural education.

“Fifty percent of districts in the nation are rural districts. Nationwide, one in five students lives in rural areas, but the proportion of students from rural areas is much, much higher in the south, especially in Mississippi,” said Devon Brenner, professor and department head of Curriculum, Instruction and Special Education in the College of Education at Mississippi State, who is a driving force for MSU in this arena.

Brenner continued, “Most policy research takes place in other areas because things like transportation and isolation are hurdles that exist in rural schools; however MSU is gearing up to do its part in changing the educational climate in Mississippi because we can bring the funds and resources needed in the form of grants and private gifts that are often lacking in rural areas.”

Historically, Mississippi State has graduated more teachers into the Mississippi workforce than any other university in its home state, and positively impacted Mississippi in other areas, from pre-school education through the Early Childhood Institute in the MSU College of Education to K-12 education in school systems across the state. Building on this success, the university believes the Partnership School will serve as a tremendous model for rural education and rural teacher education.

In opening the Partnership School, Mississippi State launches a three-prong purpose-–educate students well in the consolidated district, utilize the building that will house the school for education of future teachers and education personnel through field experiences and collaboration with K-12 teachers, and pioneer a research center for rural education research.

The keystone of the Partnership School will be a new building for sixth and seventh grades, which research identifies as a key time in education. These are also grades that will experience the most crowding when the Starkville and Oktibbeha County schools consolidate next summer. Anticipated enrollment for the Partnership School will be about 450 sixth graders and 450 seventh graders. The students themselves will benefit from modern and cutting-edge teaching strategies that will better prepare them for the remainder of their schooling, which hopefully will include Mississippi State.

“There will be a transition plan to have the students housed probably in an existing city or county structure by the 2015-16 school year. However, future plans include having the school located on the MSU campus,” said Shaw.

He added, “The Partnership School will free space between the elementary and high school levels in the district and we will build to capacity of 1,000 students, taking into account some growth over time.”

The Partnership School will be utilized as a teaching preparation site that will create better teachers and rural education practices for Mississippi’s future. It will involve Mississippi State elementary, secondary and special education majors. Student teachers and teachers enrolled in both undergraduate and graduate programs at Mississippi State will engage in field experiences in the school to observe firsthand the instructional practices they are learning in their coursework.

By participating through observations at the partnership school, MSU students will master effective teaching practices they can then carry to schools across the state upon graduation. In addition to the impact this model will have on our campus students, teachers and administrators from across the state will have the opportunity to engage in observations and internships.

“We want to make this school very interactive with rotating classes which challenge the students and give them hands-on learning. Also, by having many MSU faculty available to teach classes the students will be challenged daily,” Brenner said. “At some point in time, we envision all students from the newly created district and many attending our university will be touched by the Partnership School.”

Besides the Partnership School, Mississippi State is taking its strides in rural education a step further. A Research Center for Rural Teaching and Teacher Education (RTTE) will be created to involve faculty from the College of Education and the entire MSU community in research projects on rural education and rural teacher education.

Projects within the RTTE will bring about strategies for preparing rural students for careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields and teach them to be creative problem solvers. Strategies will also be developed for recruiting, retaining and supporting elite educators in rural areas. These and other research projects will strengthen teaching and learning in schools across the state.

“Our university is already known as a leader in teacher education, so the RTTE will allow MSU to lead with research pursuits in rural education as well,” said Brenner, who is a 15-year MSU faculty veteran.

With generous funding for the Partnership School and the RTTE, Mississippi State can serve as a model for rural education across the nation.
“We can make a statewide difference on education and the economy––not just locally, but ripple out over time since as schools improve, it is proven that economic quality goes hand in hand,” said Shaw.

Alumni and friends of Mississippi State are already beginning to understand the importance of what the Partnership School will mean for the institution and for the people of the state.

A lead gift for the project has been contributed by alumni Tommy and Terri Nusz of Houston, Texas, but much support is still needed to make this center a reality on Mississippi State’s campus. An additional $4 million is needed in startup costs, which will come entirely from private gifts.

“Alumni and friends can partner with us to make this school a reality with gifts and help it evolve into what it can become over time,” said John P. Rush, vice president for development and alumni. “Our impact on education will continue to be immeasurable through Mississippi State’s reach.”

For more information on supporting the Partnership School, contact Rush at 662-325-7000 or email All gifts to the Partnership School count toward the university’s Infinite Impact campaign.

By Amy Cagle, Photography by Megan Bean