Home - Breaking News, Events, Things-To-Do, Dining, Nightlife


Evans takes reins as new Mississippi State Superintendent

This article first appeared on the Magnolia Tribune.

  • Two years have passed since the Magnolia State has had a permanent State Superintendent of Education. See what Dr. Lance Evans has in mind as he begins his new role.

After two years of searching, the Mississippi Department of Education has a new State Superintendent in Dr. Lance Evans. 

The selection of Dr. Evans was announced in December 2023 as part of a national search to fill the position following the resignation of former State Superintendent Dr. Carey Wright in June 2022. Evans received confirmation by the state Senate in a 51-0 vote, with one State Senator – Angela Hill (R) – voting present.

Prior the appointment of Evans, Dr. Robert Taylor was selected to fill the role in November 2022, but Taylor did not garner the votes from the Senate needed to confirm him to the position after serving in that capacity from January to March 2023. Mike Kent was then chosen to fill the position as Interim Superintendent, a role he held from April 3 to June 30, 2023, before being replaced by Dr. Ray Morgigno the following month. Morgigno then served as the interim from July 2023 until July 1, 2024.

Monday, Evans officially took the reins of the state’s education department, bringing decades of experience as a former coach, teacher, principal and local superintendent. Evans said he comes from a family of educators, including his father and grandfather. 

Speaking with Magnolia Tribune this week, Dr. Evans said he has several priorities to focus on as he begins his new role. Some of those include updating MDE’s strategic plan, restructuring support for low performing schools, building on workforce development, examining the current accountability system, addressing the teacher shortage, and increasing public school enrollment.

Strategic plan and workforce development

Dr. Evans said the agency’s strategic plan is not outdated, but revisions need to be made to better align with the changes taking place in Mississippi’s businesses and industries.

His intent is for the revised plan to ensure children, from pre-K to graduation, develop into adults who become contributing members of society. Part of that process will entail finding a way to track students beyond their high school graduation to measure their success.

“Those measurable objectives are very important to know if the target we had that student on, if they did follow through, or if they didn’t, what could we have done different,” Evans described.

His focus on workforce development also involves cultivating relationships with the state’s employers to build strong networks that will benefit students as they seek to enter the private sector. 

“When you build quality systems in organizations you have positive outcomes in the end,” Evans added.

Failing school districts and accountability

Last year’s assessment results showed six school districts rated at a D or lower. Dr. Evans said his plan to lift those low performing districts up does not include replacing the current staff at those schools. He said those faculty members are invested in the schools and their community, noting that many of the local educators and staff once attended the schools where they are now employed.

“Obviously, we need to bring in support, but my goal is to do it with the people that are there,” he said.

To that end, Evans’ plan centers on the creation of the Office of School and District Transformation. This new office will be tasked with redesigning an approach to support low performing districts as they seek to implement ways to make educational and operational improvements.

During the 2024 legislative session, Education Committee members in the House and Senate discussed the need to reassess the current accountability system as 65 percent of schools and districts are now rated at a B or higher on the scale.

However, Dr. Evans said that reassessment has been pushed back a year while MDE awaits the most recent testing results. However, he hopes to find a way to more effectively measure college and career readiness separately. 

“Because the work at achieving each one is different, but in the end the two merge in creating the human that we are trying to form,” Evans elaborated. 

From left are Dr. Felicia Gavin, MDE’s Chief of Operations, Legislative Liaison Holly Spivey, incoming State Superintendent Dr. Lance Evans, MDE Chief Accountability Officer Dr. Paula Vanderford and Interim State Superintendent Dr. Raymond Morgigno as they address the Senate Education Committee Thursday morning.
(Photo Jeremy Pittari | Magnolia Tribune)

Teacher shortage

As for the need to address the teacher shortage in the Magnolia State, Dr. Evans said he was glad to see one piece of legislation pass that may help in the near term. HB 765 will allow retired teachers with at least 30 years of service to return to the classroom while receiving retirement benefits for up to five years. Evans believes this will provide time for the state’s education system to bring in more educators. 

“The majority of teachers who retire go work full-time doing another job,” Evans described. “A lot of the time the jobs they take in retirement, they are way overqualified for.”

Evans hopes that access to the bill’s benefits is broadened to allow even more seasoned teachers to return to teaching.

According to a recent column by Lt. Governor Delbert Hosemann (R), Mississippi has a current teacher shortage of more than 5,000 educators. 

In addition, the new State Superintendent is working to develop relationships with college students preparing for a career in education before they finish their degree, hoping to keep them in state. 

“We have students that leave,” Evans said. “People want to move, they want something different. What you do find is a lot of them come back, but I want them to never leave.”

In recent years, the perception of education as a profession has lost some luster, Evans said. He admits part of that could be due to the nature of the job. 

“Teaching is a tough job, there are a lot of tough jobs out there, but I can promise you education ranks right up there at the top,” Evans added. 

Enrollment and school choice

According to the Mississippi Department of Education, there were 490,953 students enrolled in Mississippi’s public schools for the 2014-2015 school year. In the 2022-2023 school year, that number had declined to 440,285, down more than 10 percent.

With a decline in public school enrollment, Dr. Evans understands that in this day and age public school isn’t the only option available to parents. However, his goal is to make public school the most attractive option for Mississippians by providing an education that paves a smooth path to a high quality of life for the state’s future adults, parents and business leaders.

As for discussions swirling on school choice, Dr. Evans said his office will implement any program the Legislature decides, but he contends that, “We are of the opinion that public school is the way to go.”

At a recent luncheon hosted by the Mississippi Press Association, House Speaker Jason White (R) said parents have been asking Republican lawmakers for the option to take their children to other public schools outside their home district, if the school has room and is willing to accept them. Under such a plan, state dollars allocated for that student’s education would follow them to the new school.

Mississippi law already has a provision that allows for open enrollment between public schools, but both the receiving and sending school must agree to the transfer. In recent years, proposals have been floated to eliminate the ability of the school losing the child to stop the transfer.

Creating magnet schools is also being considered, according to Speaker White. He told the Press that he has spoken with Governor Tate Reeves (R) about the potential for opening magnet schools on the campuses of universities and colleges that have empty seats. 

“So, you’re going to continue to see Republicans push those things, but it’s a result of hearing from constituents,” White stated.

Dr. Evans said his agency will work with the decisions made by the Legislature.

New funding formula and continuing educational advancements

Dr. Evans begins his new role at the helm of MDE at a time when the Legislature has implemented a new K-12 funding formula, replacing the Mississippi Adequate Education Program. The new weighted system will equate to more than $230 million in additional funding, largely going to districts in the most need.

“I really appreciate them doing that,” Evans stated, pleased to see the additional funding. 

To keep the momentum going on the “Mississippi Miracle,” Evans said his office is currently working on an initiative that will focus on math performance and another effort to reduce chronic absenteeism.

The Mississippi Department of Education recently celebrated the state’s highest-ever ranking in the latest Annie E. Casey Foundation’s KIDS COUNT® Data Book, a 50-state report analyzing how children and families are faring. According to the 2024 report, Mississippi’s education ranking is now 30th in the nation, up two spots from last year and nine places from 2022.

However, the report noted the “unprecedented declines” in student math and reading proficiency across the nation the Foundation says were largely brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic’s effect on education.

Mississippi’s students were part of those trends, although not as significantly impacted as some other states. Mississippi fourth-grade students not proficient in reading increased by 1 percent while eight-grade students not proficient in math increased by 6 percent – both less than the increases shown in these categories in the national average of 2 percent and 7 percent, respectively.

As for chronic absenteeism, Evans isn’t alone in his concern for the issue. Lt. Governor Hosemann announced on Tuesday his plan to propose several policy measures in the 2025 Legislative Session to tackle Mississippi’s high chronic absenteeism rate in public schools across the state. Some of the solutions Hosemann is interested in exploring include moving school attendance officers from MDE to the district-level and increasing school attendance officer salaries, among other suggested policy changes.

Additionally, Dr. Evans wants to continue the expansion of Pre-K classes across the state, allowing for every child to access publicly funded education before entering kindergarten.

“There is such a big difference in students who were afforded the opportunity of that education piece,” Evans described.

To Evans, the recent achievements seen in education are the culmination of the hard work of educators across the state as well as the increase in funding provided through state and federal dollars during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I do think that public education in Mississippi has shown that we will give you a return on your investment,” Evans added.

This article first appeared on the Magnolia Tribune and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Read original article by clicking here.

Local Dining Stream

Things To Do

Related articles