Education Edge » School of Education Honors 2020 Practitioners of Distinction


School of Education Honors 2020 Practitioners of Distinction

by ksmith13 on July 6, 2020

Four professionals distinguished for career excellence in education 

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi School of Education has named four alumni as Practitioners of Distinction.

The recipients are early-to-mid-career professionals with a record of excellence and commitment to education. They will be recognized at a ceremony to be planned later.

“Our Practitioners of Distinction are currently immersed in their careers in the education arena,” said David Rock, UM education dean. “Each recipient is currently making positive impacts on the profession, and we want to make sure that we recognize the incredible accomplishments of current educational leaders for their amazing contributions.”

The 2020 Practitioners of Distinction are Chris Chism, principal of Pearl High School in Pearl; Johnny Mattox, associate vice president for academic affairs and chair of mathematics and natural sciences at Blue Mountain College; Kelle Sumrall, a teacher at Lafayette Middle School; and Joanne Webber, a teacher at West Collierville Middle School. The inductees were selected by the School of Education Alumni Advisory Board through nominations.


Chism, who was a part of the second cohort of the Mississippi Principal Corps program, earned his master’s degree in education from UM in 2011. Under his leadership, Pearl High School has boosted its graduate rate from 78% to 94%, one of the highest graduation rates in Mississippi. Additionally, the graduation rate for special education students has risen from 28% to 71%.

Over the past three years at Pearl High School, the achievement gap between economically disadvantaged students and non-economically disadvantaged students has decreased.

“I am certainly honored to receive the award, and I share this award with a very supportive family and all of the wonderful educators that have surrounded me throughout my career,” Chism said. “I have been blessed to have worked with some of the most amazing school leaders, teachers and staff members in the state during my 23 years in education.”


Mattox earned his bachelor’s degree in secondary education in 1973, master’s degree in biology in 1974 and doctorate in secondary education 1979, all from Ole Miss. He has taught biological sciences for the past 45 years at both the high school and collegiate level.

Besides his work at Blue Mountain College, Mattox has taught advanced methods courses at UM in the Mississippi Teacher Corps for 17 years and is teaching education courses at the Booneville campus.

“I will always treasure this recognition and am so thankful that I was able to receive my education at the University of Mississippi,” Mattox said. “My major professor, Dr. Harold Hein, told me that he wanted to make sure that I would be prepared to teach at any level of education, and that is exactly what has transpired during my career.”


Sumrall received her bachelor’s degree in elementary education, as well as her master’s degree and doctorate in curriculum and instruction from the UM School of Education in 2002, 2004 and 2010, respectively. She has taught science at Lafayette Middle School for the last five years and has published her classroom-tested activities and lessons in both nationally and internationally practice-based peer-reviewed journals, including Science and Children, Science and Scope and Science Activities.

Because of her work and commitment to her students, Sumrall has received the Mississippi Science Teachers Award for Outstanding Science Middle Level Teacher and the prestigious Robert Yeager Outstanding Science Teacher Award given through the National Science Teachers Association.

“I am forever grateful for all of the experiences I had at Ole Miss,” Sumrall said. “During my time there, I learned what it took to publish manuscripts, write grant proposals and present at conferences.

“In turn, these experiences have allowed me to gain state and national recognition by being chosen for different awards, as well as various committees that have made a positive contribution to science education at the state and national levels.”


Webber received her bachelor’s degree in elementary education and master’s degree in curriculum and instruction from UM in 1996 and 1997, respectively. She is a physical education instructor and cross country coach at West Collierville Middle School where she has worked for the past eight years.

Through her passion for promoting healthy lifestyles, Webber has found creative ways to integrate technology into her physical education classes. Her students use polar heart rate monitors to encourage them to stay in their target heart zones while exercising. They also create podcasts and e-books about living healthy lifestyles and exercising by using iPads and green screens.

“I am truly honored and humbled to be receiving this award,” Webber said. “Ole Miss has been a huge part of my life ever since I can remember, and the UM School of Education prepared me extremely well for my career.”

This year’s Practitioners of Distinction join 12 previous honorees. For more information about the program, visit

By Meaghan Flores