Braille Monitor                         February 2021

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Mississippi School for the Blind: Equipping Blind Students with a Quality, Rigorous, Data-driven Education

by LaShawna Fant

LaShawna FantFrom the Editor: LaShawna Fant is a member of the National Federation of the Blind from the state of Mississippi. This submission is an interview with Mr. Eddie Spann. He is the principal of the Mississippi School for the Blind (MSB) in Jackson, Mississippi. He is an African American teacher of the visually impaired whom Dr. Fant selected to highlight for his service in blindness education for Black History Month.

LaShawna Fant: Thanks for agreeing to do this interview. You have been an educational giant in the field of blindness in the state of Mississippi for a few decades. Please introduce yourself to the people.
Eddie Spann: My name is Eddie Spann, and I am a native of Clinton, Mississippi. I was born with congenital glaucoma. I have been married to my beautiful wife for over twenty years, and I am the father of two boys, Troy Michael and Edward Elijah. My wife and I are both educators, serving both general and special education students.

LF: What has been your educational background?

ES: My educational background includes being a graduate of the Mississippi School for the Blind, University of Southern Mississippi (BS), Jackson State University (MS), Mississippi College (Ed.S.), and doctoral studies at Walden University. I have degrees in Adapted Physical Education, Exercise Science, Special Education, Education of the Visually Impaired, and Educational Leadership. My areas of teacher certification include English, Social Studies, Visually Impaired, Gifted, Physical Education, Educationally Handicapped, and Career Level Administrator.

LF: Being you have served in the field of education for several years, what have been some of your jobs?

ES: I have served as a SPED/Inclusion Teacher, Teacher of the Visually Impaired, Behavior Specialist, PE Teacher, Social Studies Teacher, Coach, English teacher, Principal, Assistant Principal, Vocational Coordinator, Transition Coordinator, Consultant, VI Teacher Project Coordinator/Instructor, and Adjunct Professor in K-12 and College/University settings.

LF: Wow! You have had some impressive occupations. What keeps you inspired to serve?

Eddie SpannES: God has graced me as a servant leader who is concerned about the needs of others. I enjoy helping students and adults strive to reach their fullest potential. I have taught every disability area of special education and most areas of general education. It never ceases to amaze me the impact that I am able to have on individuals I work with and teach. I always try to leave an area better than what it was when I arrived. Teaching for me is definitely a calling. It was never my intent to enter this field, especially working with the visually impaired. When I graduated from MSB, my desire was to enter the medical field and help rehabilitate heart patients. I was through with MSB and wanted a different path in which I could show others, that as a visually impaired person, I could do anything I set my mind to do. Dr. Craig Bushner, one of my professors in undergraduate school, encouraged me to take some education courses so I would have something to fall back on if I could not find a job in the medical field. His words of encouragement made education seem so attractive, and thirty-some years later I am still intrigued by the opportunity to help others excel in life.

LF: What brought you back to Mississippi School for the Blind after seventeen years?

ES: I am returning to the Mississippi School for the Blind after leaving seventeen years ago. I am a graduate of MSB, and I love seeing students leave here and excel in life. MSB gave me the tools and knowledge to become what I am today. It was not until after I graduated from high school and entered college that I learned to appreciate what the staff at MSB had taught and instilled in me. I came back because I wanted to make a difference in the lives of the students, impact the staff and parents, bridge alumni and stakeholders, and make MSB a great place for educating students with visual impairments and blindness in this state.

LF: We are thankful to have you as the principal at Mississippi School for the Blind. What are some of your goals?

ES: Some of my goals are:

  1. Ensure that students have the skills, assistive technology devices, and equipment, and the same educational opportunities afforded them as their non-disabled peers.
  2. Develop a highly skilled staff of vision professionals who can impact the students, provide excellent services, and become a catalyst for the field of visual impairment.
  3. Enable MSB to become the only Apple Certified School for the Blind in the USA.
  4. Provide high quality Advance Placement and Dual Credit Courses in STEM for visually impaired students.
  5. Increase the enrollment so more children across the State of Mississippi are receiving instruction, materials, and services to enable them to reach their highest potential.
  6. Provide resources, training, and information to parents that are specific to the needs of their visually impaired child. In addition, along the way, reestablish some type of parent association centered around visually impaired children.
  7. Enable all students to have highly qualified VI mentors related to their desired occupation.
  8. Establish a collaborative network of stakeholders, alumni, and community people that network to ensure services for students who are visually impaired are being addressed.
  9. Ensure that every student who leaves MSB reaches his fullest potential through post-secondary transition-related opportunities.

LF: Mr. Spann, those are some critical goals for blind students. How long have you been a teacher of the visually impaired? Also, how important do you think it is to obtain this certification when educating blind students?

ES: I have been a teacher of the visually impaired for almost thirty-two years. I think it is critical for students to have highly trained and skilled teachers who are certified in educating the visually impaired. In order for visually impaired students to reach critical goals, having these will level the playing field in relationship to their sighted peers.

LF: It is Black History Month, and you are an African American teacher of the visually impaired. Who in Black History has encouraged you and how?

ES: There are several individuals in Black History who have influenced me the most: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., President Barack Obama, David Patterson, and Martha Louise Morrow Foxx. Two of them are visually impaired: David Patterson and Martha Louise Morrow Foxx. All of them never let societal prejudices prevent them from accomplishing what they were pre-destined to do in life. 

LF: Do you have any final words you would like to leave for the readers of this interview?

ES: Never let negative words discourage you from being all that you can become. Always put God ahead of everything, pray, and trust and believe that you can become great. Every time a door shuts in your face, ask God to open another door with better opportunities.

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