The challenges Heath Morrison will face as Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools new presumptive superintendent are many.
Lawmakers have cut, and propose further cuts to education funding. Teachers and other staff have been laid off, and gone without raises for three years. Class sizes have increased; schools have been closed spawning community frustration and anger. Controversial CMS pay-for-performance and testing policies have alienated both educators and parents.
But from what we saw and heard of Morrison last week when he faced the public here as one of three finalists for CMSs top job, we believe he is up to the task. As CMS board chair Ericka Ellis-Stewart noted Thursday in announcing his selection in a unanimous school board vote we believe that Dr. Morrison is the right leader for CMS now [in the interviews] he brought a certain charisma, a certain energy, an academic excellence that this district needs to move forward.
Hell need those attributes.
This is a community that cares passionately about its public schools and the critics tend to be boisterous. Their voices too often distort the picture of CMS, painting it as a failing school district.
It is not, as Morrison noted Thursday in expressing his deep honor and excitement about coming to one of the premier school districts in the country. Thats how CMS is viewed outside Charlotte-Mecklenburg, and why it received the Broad Prize for Urban Education justifiably for academic improvement.
Still, Morrison wisely did his homework on CMS something that impressed community members as well as the board. He noted that work was needed to ensure all schools provided academic excellence so students not only graduated but did so ready for college and a job. He also acknowledged that CMS had trust and morale problems that needed mending.
Morrison was right to emphasize the need for CMS to rebuild community trust and boost staff morale. Controversial decisions have damaged community support and demoralized many CMS staffers. To effectively help all students meet their academic potential, Morrison will need to unify Charlotte-Mecklenburg behind strategies to achieve that goal.
He made a good start last week, pointing out his respect for teachers and that he shapes policy in collaboration with them. He earned good marks for his Charlotte interviews even from CMS critics like the NAACPs Kojo Nantambu. Board member Joyce Waddell said hell be able to win over those who preferred the only African-American candidate, Kriner Cash, who dropped out Wednesday, or Ann Clark, the CMS stalwart of nearly 30 years: He will be a superintendent who can bridge the gap between the different populations and ethnicities in CMS, she said.
Morrison is currently superintendent of Washoe County (Reno, Nev.) schools, at 63,000 students less than half the size of CMS. But he worked mostly in larger, ethnically diverse Montgomery County, Md., schools and has the background to effectively bridge those differences in CMS.
School board members wisely unanimously supported his selection in their preliminary vote. We hope the vote remains unanimous in the formal, public school board tally on Tuesday.
Morrison will need a board unified behind him to build on CMSs successes and tackle its remaining challenges. Hell need this communitys support as well. His work done effectively benefits all of us.