Two Pine Belt educators are finalists for MDE’s Teacher, Administrator of Year

Updated: Jul. 22, 2020 at 4:46 PM CDT
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MOSELLE, Miss. (WDAM) - Two finalists for Mississippi Department of Education’s Mississippi Teacher of the Year and Administrator of the Year are right here in the Pine Belt.

Thursday we find out if one of them, or both, will bring the title back to their district.

Laurel School District could have the bragging rights of having MDE’s Administrator of Year. Laurel Magnet School of the Arts Principal Kiana Pendleton is a finalist for the title.

“I’m a little nervous, but I’m very proud of the work that my teachers and parents and scholars have done. I feel like they have really gotten me to this point,” Pendleton said.

The process of becoming a finalist within the state isn’t an easy or short road. Pendleton’s work was recognized by the district first.

“I was named the district’s administrator of the year, so it was not an easy process. It did come with a lot of work and responsibility,” Pendelton said.

Laurel Superintendent Toy Watts said Pendleton’s achievements are well deserved. She said Pendleton’s leadership made history within the school district.

“They ranked in the top two in the Pine Belt, top seven in the state on some of their test scores, and of course under her leadership the district received it’s very first A [rating],” Watts said.

Laurel isn’t the only district in the Pine belt with an outstanding leader in education. Petal School District could also have a reason to celebrate. Petal’s ninth and tenth grade social studies teacher Ben Austin is a Teacher of the Year finalist.

“It is something that I never expected, but very much am appreciative of,” Austin said.

Austin said he is in this position because he has a great district behind him.

“I was blessed to have my family, the Petal School District, choose me as their, not only teacher of the year for Petal High School, but their district teacher of the year. So, it was a great honor becoming that,” Austin said.

Petal High School Principal Rob Knight said Austin is loved and supported by both teachers and students.

“Our students are constantly mentioning him as one of their favorite teachers and how influential he is to them. He just has a huge impact on our students and also our staff,” Knight said.

This year’s ceremony will be virtual because of the pandemic. Both Austin and Pendleton say whether they’re chosen or not, they’re honored to be recognized.

The ceremony will be live-streamed on Thursday, July 23, at 4 p.m. and will feature the four finalists in each category. Dr. Carey Wright, state superintendent of education, will announce the winners. You can watch the live stream at

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