Dr. Jennifer Pope of Gautier has been named the Administrator of the Year for the Ocean Springs School District (OSSD).
Pope started teaching in August 1991. She taught third grade at Woodley Elementary in Hattiesburg, fifth grade at East Central Middle School in Hurley, and third grade at Magnolia Park Elementary School in Ocean Springs.
She has been at Oak Park Elementary School in Ocean Springs since 2004, having served as lead teacher from 2004-2008, assistant principal from 2008-2011, and as principal since 2011.
Pope obtained her education degrees from The University of Southern Mississippi – a Bachelor’s in Elementary Education in 1991, a Master’s in Elementary Education in 1993, and a Specialist and Doctorate in Educational Leadership in 2010.
Growing up, Pope had no doubt that she would pursue a career in education.
“I have always wanted to be in the field of education. As a child, I would often ‘teach’ my baby dolls, stuffed animals, and my younger siblings. Teaching is my absolute favorite,” said Pope.
As soon as she took charge of her first classroom, she knew she had made the right career decision.
“I love learning. I love children, and I love to watch them grow. And, I love the ‘a-ha’ moments when students understand a concept.”
As an educator, her main focus was on ensuring that her students felt safe and loved at all times.
“I worked hard to build relationships with my students and their families, and I encouraged my teachers to do the same. When children feel safe and loved, the opportunity for growth academically is inevitable.”
In her career, what she’s most proud of is completing her doctorate in 2010 and her continued success at Oak Park.
As much as she enjoyed teaching, she welcomed the opportunity of becoming principal, although it came with mixed feelings.
“I miss the classroom, but I feel I can make a bigger impact as Principal.”
Pope is in her 32nd year in education, and speculates she may be retired in five years, however, she has no plans to leave the education field.
“I would love to consult and continue my career in education.”
When not working, she enjoys spending time with her family, going fishing, and going on boat rides.
“I am fortunate to have my family on the Coast, and I have two children and two grandchildren who I love spending time with.”
Pope has been Administrator of the Year for the OSSD three times, in 2013, 2020, and 2023. Each win has been as special and meaningful as if it were the first time she received the award, and she is humbled by every win.
“It’s overwhelming that my efforts and accomplishments are recognized and appreciated.”
She is currently serving as interim superintendent of the Ocean Springs School District during the transition of hiring a new superintendent for the district.
Teaching, and also the administrative part of education, can be a demanding and sometimes thankless career choice for many people. But Pope has managed to excel and to make a difference in who knows how many childrens’ lives. And she wouldn’t consider doing anything else.
“Being in education has fulfilled my life with so many blessings. It is definitely not a ‘job,’ it is a calling.”