SuperTalk Mississippi

Teach like Kennon: Reflecting on the life of the former Ocean Springs educator

Kennon Barton (left) was the recipient of a Keesler Federal Credit Union Educator Impact Award in May. He was killed in a car crash on June on June 7. (Photo from Kessler Federal Credit Union)

Kennon Barton was an amazing teacher! “Amazing” might not even do him justice. Listen to the words of his grieving students:

“My senior year, you were a saving grace for me. You showed me that failure isn’t a reset, it is a stepping stone. I will continue to strive to be as kind-hearted and inspirational as you.”

“Mr. Barton helped reignite my passion for writing…always sure to listen intently and give the most thought-provoking advice. He always had his guitar out or music playing in his classroom. In my short time knowing Mr. Barton, he was able to deeply impact me.”

“Mr. Barton was my favorite teacher at the high school. I wrote my favorite essay in his class, and I remember the day I walked in, and he told me he absolutely loved it.”

A mere month before he died, Mr. Barton won Keesler Federal Credit Union’s Impact Educator Award: $2,500 for him and $1,000 for his employer, Ocean Springs High School (OSHS). His boss and co-workers nominated him with these descriptors: innovative, creative, and dynamic. They said student engagement in his classroom was always high, pouring his heart and soul into what he did as an English teacher, National Honor Society sponsor, and Sound Hounds leader, a latent club he resurrected where students would join him for instrumental jam sessions.

Only 11 days into summer break, following his fourth school year at OSHS, the inarguably talented artist-poet-songwriter-musician-turned-teacher, son-brother-husband-father died in a car accident on Interstate 10 at the age of 41, devastating hundreds of family members, friends, bandmates, students, their families, co-workers, legislators who serve alongside his father State Rep. Manly Barton, friends of his parents, ballplayers (his son’s teammates) he coached, their families, and the list goes on.

Someone started the hashtag, #kindlikekennon, passing out stickers at his memorial service and creating a foundation for scholarships in his name. An additional appropriate hashtag could be #teachlikekennon, especially in a state with almost 2,600 certified teacher vacancies in the 2022-23 school year, 31 percent of which are in Mississippi high schools. The Mississippi Department of Education (MDE) reports that number is lower than the 2021-22 school year, which is progress, but still not good. Our young magnolias deserve better. All children coast to coast deserve better.

The teaching shortage is not a crisis unique to the Magnolia State; it plagues all of America. About three-quarters of the 50 states reported shortages this time last year. The Government Accountability Office reports a seven percent decrease in the country’s teacher population between 2019 and 2021. lists the top 10 states with the worst shortages, and Mississippi is NOT among them.

National Public Radio showcased Mississippi in an in-depth story on this national crisis. Yes, Mississippi is struggling, like almost every other state, but the MDE has implemented a notable Grow Your Own initiative called the Mississippi Teacher Residency. The mission is to create opportunities for individuals who aspire to become effective teachers in diverse classrooms and provide ALL students of Mississippi a deserved world-class education.

U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona posted on Twitter, now X, “More than half of learners nationwide are students of color, yet fewer than one in five educators come from communities of color. That has to change.” Mississippi’s program is working on that change, with 70 percent of its participants of color.

The MDE invested money at Delta State, Jackson State, Mississippi State, Southern Miss, and William Carey University for the Mississippi Teacher Residency program. In addition to the Grow Your Own initiative, Mississippi offers alternate-route programs for people who have a non-education bachelor’s degree but want to teach. Kennon Barton, with his dual master’s degrees, found his way into a high school classroom through an alternate-route program.

Shonda Bourne, OSHS English department chair, says Barton was known as “Toolman” by his fellow English teachers because he seemed to have every tool needed to help others educationally, personally, and physically. A “ray of sunshine” with an unforgettable laugh, he never raised his voice as he helped his students find the value in their own voice.

Mississippi needs more Mr. Bartons! #teachlikekennon

“To know Mr. Barton was to know one of God’s greatest creations. He was my rock, my best friend, my idol, and everything in between.”

“Mr. Barton changed my perspective on everything. He is exactly who I want to be when I grow up. He is unconditionally supportive and accepting.”

“Mr. Barton made learning fun. Truly one of the best teachers I ever had.”

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