Established with a mission to address the changing dynamics for middle grades’ (sixth–eighth) education, the Middle Grades Leadership Academy (MGLA) draws on a national team of leadership experts with multiple years of educational experience. The MGLA is a result of a vision created by a partnership among Dr. Yvette Richardson, Alabama State Board of Education member; Dr. Tommy Bice, Alabama State Superintendent of Education; Dr. Jeanie Box, dean of the Orlean Beeson School of Education; and Dr. Peggy Connell, assistant professor in the educational leadership department and retired superintendent.


MGLA equips leaders with the knowledge, skills and strategies listed below.

To create and support schools that:

  • Activate students’ interests and desire to learn;
  • Motivate teachers and provide the necessary support to increase effectiveness;
  • Involve parents and families; and
  • Enact continuous improvement processes (SREB, 2011).

To build capacity of teachers to:

  • Demonstrate a passion for their work;
  • Learn continually, reflect on learning and practice and identify and solve problems of practice;
  • Develop relationships with students grounded in students’ interests and background knowledge;
  • Demonstrate strong knowledge of content areas and a deep understanding of the development of middle grades students; and
  • Collaborate with leadership teams to implement continuous improvement processes.

To ensure students:

  • Demonstrate readiness to begin challenging high school courses by the end of the eighth grade (SREB, 2011);
  • Utilize critical thinking, collaborate to solve problems, communicate and reflect; and
  • Demonstrate responsible social and civic behaviors.


Critical Practice 1—Focus on the Direction

Critical Practice 2—Build a Powerful Organizational Structure

Critical Practice 4—Ensure Student-Focused Vision and Action


Training Dates+

Please check back in 2018 for training dates.

About the Mentors+

Ruth Ash, Ed.D.

Ruth Ash is a nationally known consultant in the areas of education and organizational effectiveness and is a founding partner of Education Solutions. Previously, Dr. Ash was Deputy State Superintendent of Education for Alabama and, prior to that, dean of Samford University’s School of Education. She also served in public school systems in Alabama as a teacher, assistant principal, director of curriculum and staff development, assistant superintendent and superintendent. Under her leadership, the Samford School of Education was honored by the U. S. Department of Education as one of the four top teacher preparation programs in the nation.

Jane Cobia, Ed.D.

Jane Cobia is an associate professor and director of the doctoral program for the School of Education at Samford University. Dr. Cobia has spent 25 years in the public education arena and was a teacher, principal, assistant superintendent, education specialist for the Alabama State Department of Education and superintendent. She has served as an education consultant for school improvement, on ASCD Board of Directors and is certified as a superintendent mentor trainer. She teaches as an adjunct for JSU in the Master in FCS program, is executive director for Alabama ASCD, the treasurer for Sylacauga Rotary Club and a founding member of the Marble Valley DAR. She serves on numerous boards and is active in professional organizations (Sylacauga Alliance for Family Enhancement, CLAS, ASCD, KDP, Omicron Delta Kappa).

Peggy Connell, Ph.D.

Peggy Connell is assistant professor of education and director of assessment for educational leadership, Orlean Beeson School of Education, Samford University. Previously, Dr. Connell dedicated more than 35 years in K–12 public education and served as a high school teacher, counselor, program specialist for staff development, director of curriculum and instruction, high school principal, chief academic officer and superintendent.

Janet Cumbee, Ed.D.

Janet Cumbee works with school and district leaders to develop infrastructures and processes for implementing, sustaining and monitoring the impact of Cornerstone Literacy. She has more than 30 years experience in public schools, serving as a classroom teacher, principal and director of instruction and assessment. As a principal, she was involved in the initial implementation of Cornerstone Literacy in two schools in Alabama. She has presented at state and national conferences and taught graduate leadership classes at Samford University and the University of Montevallo. While serving in a district capacity, she worked closely with Dr. Mark O’Shea, author of From Standards to Success, in developing a district protocol for teachers to study their standards, to examine their teaching and to develop strategies for supporting students in understanding what they are required to know and do.

Phyllis Faust, Ed.D.

Phyllis Faust is principal of Trussville City Schools’ Alternative Learning Center. She is also the system testing coordinator ensuring credibility of state-mandated requirements. Dr. Faust is currently a participant in the University of Alabama’s Superintendent’s Academy in order to gain knowledge applicable to her passion of serving students. Dr. Faust has served Trussville City Schools for the past seventeen years as middle school principal, elementary assistant principal and middle school teacher. As middle school principal, Dr. Faust led professional learning focused on the implementation of CCRS. She has facilitated ongoing teacher analyses of a variety of data to identify instructional strengths and weaknesses, including school processes and procedures that interfere with the learning environment. She was involved in SREB Making Middle Grades Work (MMGW) initiative, The Schlechty Center for Leadership in School Reform, and Alabama’s Best Practices Key Leaders Network. Integral to her dissertation on student belonging, was the focus on student voice and the impact that it has on student success. The pinnacle of her middle-school experience has been the realization of the importance of these critical years in education.

Pat Hodge, Ed.D.

Pat Hodge has dedicated her entire career to K–12 education. She is a founding partner of Education Solutions and continues her support of teaching and learning. Prior to her work in Education Solutions, Dr. Hodge served as a teacher, counselor, psychometrist, principal, director of curriculum and instruction and student services, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, assistant superintendent for administrative services and adjunct instructor for Samford University.

Rebecca McKay, Ph.D.

Rebecca McKay is director of programs for Cornerstone Literacy. She is an experienced classroom teacher and literacy coach, an Alabama Teacher of the Year, a Cornerstone Literacy school-based coach, a literacy coach for Alabama urban and rural schools, a district reading specialist, a grant reviewer for National Writing Project, a former trainer of trainers for the Alabama Reading Initiative and a national presenter on a variety of literacy topics. A research authority for Cornerstone, Dr. McKay studied Japanese Lesson Study as implemented in Japan and further developed the model currently used in Cornerstone Literacy partner schools. Continuing to develop Lesson Study implementation as a school change practice, Dr. McKay participates in the World Association of Lesson Study at their international conferences. She also spent several years working with Kevan Collins, England’s director of primary literacy, studying causes for the dramatic yearly gains of diverse student populations in London’s poorest schools.

Martin Nalls

Kevin Maddox