U.S. Secretary of Education visits Jackson State University, talks investing in teachers, the significance of JSU’s impact on education

Jackson State University hosted U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona Wednesday, Feb. 15, where he held a roundtable discussion with students about JSU’s Mississippi Teacher Residency (MTR) Program, aimed to strengthen the nation’s teacher pipeline.

U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona and JSU students from various disciplines had a candid conversation about education, including the Mississippi Teacher Residency Program and the powerful role teachers, play in the future success of students.

“Jackson State University is a community leader. We couldn’t be prouder. It’s wonderful to have Secretary of Education Cardona highlighting our programs and students on a national scale,” said JSU President Thomas K. Hudson, J.D. “We know that the work being done here impacts lives daily. I am a product of Jackson Public Schools and a living example of what happens when you have that Jackson State University/JPS partnership pipeline producing educators who nurture students who in turn greatly elevate our communities.”

Also in attendance were IHL Board Trustee Dr. Steven Cunningham, JPS Superintendent Errick Greene, Ph.D., along with administrators and educators from JSU and JPS.

Students pose for a photo after a roundtable discussion with U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona where they discussed the state of education from teacher pipelines to what more the Department could do to assist HBCUs. (Photo by William H. Kelly, III/JSU)

Cardona acknowledged Hudson’s impact on Jackson State saying, “Your leadership is a big part of why I am here, and I want to be clear about that.”

A former fourth-grade teacher, Cardona spoke candidly with students about the state of educators and education today while addressing the Department’s efforts to enhance higher learning experiences and assist HBCUs.

“I’m a little biased, but education, to me, is where it’s at. There’s so much potential in this country that I think we haven’t tapped yet. And it takes a good teacher. I still remember the teachers that I had, some who inspired me more than others to really look at who I am and see what I have inside of me,” said Cardona, who also spent 10 years as an elementary school principal. He then urged students to share who inspired their career paths.

Miss JSU, Naomi Harris, an elementary education major, described her middle school teacher as a personal life coach and mom.

“And the way that she impacted not only me but everyone who ever came in her classroom, [it] was really powerful to me. You could just see it. In her class, people listened in other classes, people didn’t,” shared Harris, a senior. “She was more welcoming. She was more inviting. She cared if we ate. She cared if we did our homework and why didn’t we do it. So those things kind of resonated [with] me.

Graduate student Whitney Leirer said that her mother is a special education teacher, which gave Leirer opportunities to volunteer in her classroom, observe her mother’s hands-on style, and how she cared for students and made a difference.

“I just remember thinking to myself that this is one of the most impactful and powerful positions that you can be in to help a school-aged child have success in their future,” said Leirer, a communicative disorders major. “And I saw it as great work.”

U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona visited Jackson State University to meet with students and university officials to discuss education priorities and the teacher pipeline. (Photo by William H. Kelly, III/JSU)

The Secretary agreed and noted that teachers help unlock who people are. “You know, it’s just the connections. It’s the human connection. They make you feel number one, [like] you belong and you have potential,” he said. “Speaking of belonging and potential, talk to me a little bit about how Jackson State has prepared you for this journey.”

Journalism major Joshua Edwards said he gained self-assurance attending Jackson State. “It taught me how to be a confident leader, meaning that I can step in spaces and brand myself, and I have this new level of confidence,” said Edwards, the university’s sixth Mister JSU.

Cardona then shared an interesting educational fact about Jackson State that he discovered during his earlier visit to JPS’s Casey Elementary.

“Jackson State University produces 67% of the Black teachers in Jackson. Let me repeat that for the cameras in the back,” he emphasized. “Jackson State University produces 67% of the Black teachers in Jackson. That’s unheard of in this country.

Cardona said he was at JSU because he wants all colleges and universities to have that same impact on their local community. “This is the place where it’s happening. And I guess my question to this group here is why is that important, and how can we replicate that across the country?”

One answer appears to be the University’s MTR Program, which prepares educators for teaching in geographical critical shortage areas. The HBCU welcomed its first cohort of 15 graduate students last fall.

JSU is one of five universities to receive a portion of the $9.8 million in grant awards from the Mississippi Department of Education to address elementary and special education teacher shortages.

Before pivoting to questions, the Secretary acknowledged that the intentional collaboration that arose from the pandemic is still needed today. He underscored that today’s crisis is not safely reopening schools but preparing tomorrow’s teachers.

He also highlighted how the Biden-Harris administration is serious about supporting education, noting the 40 billion allocated for higher education relief funds during the pandemic. He also reiterated their commitment to debt relief and their belief in the power of HBCUs. Cardona then asked students what they needed from the administration.

U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona greets Jackson State University’s SGA President Madison Cathey during a visit where students shared thoughts on education today. (Photo by William H. Kelly, III/JSU)

“As you mentioned earlier, collaboration is extremely important. There are a lot of students who are working multiple jobs to stay in school. There are students who take on a tremendous amount of debt to get themselves through school. And in the long term, that affects their quality of life,” said SGA President Madison Cathey.

Adding further, Cathey explained it would take collaboration to ensure that students who want to go into classrooms and be educators can get their degree without sacrificing so much for it.

Secondly, the senior pointed out that the university has infrastructure needs that are not unique to Jackson State but are impacting HBCUs all over the country. “So, I think that collaborating to funnel some of those resources could help to alleviate the pressure HBCUs are under,” she said.

Cardona committed to continuing to fight for HBCUs and teachers while referencing the funding increase to the institutions from 2019 to the present day, going from $150 million to $600 million. He still acknowledged that more is needed, like increasing teacher pay.

“It’s my responsibility to make sure you’re making a livable wage. You shouldn’t be driving Ubers on the weekend either,” he said, which was met with murmurs of agreement.

During U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona’s visit to JSU, he praised Hudson’s impact on JSU saying, “Your leadership is a big part of why I am here, and I want to be clear about that.” (Photo by William H. Kelly, III/JSU)

The Secretary recommended that everyone continue to push their elected officials and public servants for support, saying investment in teachers is an investment in the economic development of “your state.”

Cardona maintained that one could not talk about leading the world without investing in teachers.

“So, it’s something that I live and breathe because that’s all I’ve done. I’m a teacher. I’m an educator by trade. And at the end of the day when I’m sitting in that chair as Secretary, I’m still that fourth-grade teacher fighting for respect,” he said.

Cardona reminded those in attendance, “you teach kids, not curriculum,” calling it a people and relationship business.

“Show [kids] you love them. Show them you care. Show them you’re going to be there for them. They’ll run through a wall for you. Never forget that. And this is the best time to get into the profession. Our kids need us now more than ever,” he said.