Saying his first mission will be to counter “perceived deafness and distrust” of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools leadership, incoming Superintendent Heath Morrison Friday rolled out an entry plan that includes town hall meetings and school visits, along with a push to get digital technology into schools.
He vowed that all voices will be heard, and even those who disagree with decisions will understand why they were made. He said his “moral filter” for all decisions will be: “Is it good for teaching, learning and kids?”
The entry plan calls for Morrison to spend his first three months on the job studying CMS data, building an executive team and meeting with the public to understand what people want from public schools.
After about 90 days on the job – Morrison starts July 1 – he expects to announce an action plan.
The introduction says CMS is highly regarded nationwide, but “many stakeholders do not think that CMS leadership is listening to them or attuned to their concerns.”
“This has led many people to distrust the district, to view CMS negatively and to dismiss the district’s many real accomplishments,” it continues. “I will address this issue of perceived deafness and distrust by seeking out stakeholders of all views and listening carefully to their concerns.
“For CMS to succeed will require trust and collaboration. I will work to address public concerns and build a stronger relationship between the district, its families and the public.”
At a special board meeting that was primarily a news conference, Morrison outlined five priorities:
• Do an academic review: Morrison plans to get a handle on what’s working well and what’s not in classrooms, including an action plan for “chronically underperforming schools.” He said Friday he knows he wants to focus on better digital learning for “young people who almost from the time they’re holding a rattle, they’re holding an iPad.”
• Improve public trust: Morrison already has started meeting with public officials, education advocates and parents. He said he’ll do a “communication audit,” visit every school and hold town hall meetings around the county to learn what people are saying about CMS.
• Build a relationship with the school board: Morrison plans to hold a board retreat and one-on-one meetings to make sure he and the nine people who hired him have a plan for making decisions. He said the leaders in any organization must set the tone: “If there’s dysfunction at the top, there’s dysfunction the entire way through.”
• Review administration: Morrison plans to review central office operations, “hire critical new team members” and do an audit of the human resources department. The district needs a strong system for making decisions, especially about hiring teachers and principals, the plan says.
• Establish “a respectful, positive culture:” Morrison plans extensive meetings with employees. He hopes to build morale and launch better communication among staff: “The big ideas don’t have to come from the central services building.”
Much of the 14-page plan relies on the kind of broad, hard-to-argue-with statements that abound in public education – from the motto “Every Child, Every Day, For a Better Tomorrow” to quotations such as “it takes a village to raise a child.” Board members say the difference is the energy and sincerity he brings to a job he won’t officially start for another five weeks.
Morrison has already made several trips to Charlotte, and spends many early mornings making phone calls to North Carolina from his current home in Reno, Nev. During this three-day trip, he’s holding one-on-one meetings with board members and executives, doing principal interviews, joining board member Rhonda Lennon to meet with north suburban constituents and having lunch with members of Mecklenburg ACTS, a group focused on equity and urban schools.
Joyce Waddell, a former teacher, said Morrison seems to be the best of seven superintendents she’s worked with: “You are committed to building harmony where there has been disharmony.”
“His energy is phenomenal, and I hope he will sustain that over the long tenure that he will have in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools,” said Chairwoman Ericka Ellis-Stewart.