PREPS honors first-ever “Mississippi Rural Teacher of the Year”

Published 11:00 am Sunday, March 21, 2021

La’Keshia Johnson became the inaugural “Mississippi Rural Teacher of the Year” during an award ceremony hosted March 5 by the Program for Research and Evaluation for Public Schools (PREPS), headquartered at William Carey University.

The ceremony opened the annual PREPS statewide education conference, a virtual event this year called, “Can You Hear Me Now? Zooming into 2021.”

Now in her fourth year as an educator, La’Keshia Johnson is lead kindergarten teacher for the Okolona school district. She’s a graduate of Northwest Mississippi Community College and the University of Southern Mississippi.

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“My goal is to be known as a teacher who inspires her students to become more than they ever imagined they could be. To cultivate, support, and inspire lifelong learners; to be a light and example to my students; to show each student his or her potential by partnering with school, home, and community,” Johnson said.

“I want to smile more, complain less, and become a more compassionate educator. I choose to be a Mississippi educator because it allows me to be a part of a community that inspires the next generation of learners.”

WCU’s Dr. Chuck Benigno is executive director of PREPS.

“This year, we introduced the rural teacher award to celebrate educators who are in smaller schools and communities – people who have a passion for teaching, learning and making a difference,” Benigno said.

“La’Keshia Johnson represents the spirit of this award beautifully, and we are thrilled that she will represent Mississippi in the ‘National Rural Teacher of the Year’ program.”

Three other finalists for “Mississippi Rural Teacher of the Year” were also recognized during the ceremony: 1) Jason Provine, a history and geography teacher at O’Bannon High School in Greenville; 2) Amanda Cassel, a science, technology, engineering and math teacher at Union Middle School in Newton County; and 3) Maria James, a kindergarten teacher at South Perry Elementary School in Beaumont.

PREPS presented three special awards to honor people who are making a difference during the pandemic:

  • PREPS Partnership Award: Dr. Thomas Dobbs, state health officer, and Dr. Paul Byers, state epidemiologist, won this award for partnering with Mississippi schools to keep students and school employees safe.
  • Hugh I. Peck Research Award: Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley received this award for his work in delivering broadband access in rural Mississippi.
  • Dan Merritt Courage Award: This recognition went to all Mississippi teachers, administrators, and school support staff for their perseverance as they worked through the challenges presented by the pandemic.

Mississippi teachers can earn continuing education units through the end of March by attending online, in-demand seminars offered by the PREPS 2021 education conference. For information, call (601) 318-6229.