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CMS Hopes Morrison Can Rebuild Trust

Heath Morrison

Heath Morrison Heath Morrison will be the next Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools Superintendent. He'll leave his post as superintendent of the school district that includes Reno, Nevada to take the job. Morrison has been the superintendent of Washoe County Listen to the full interview. Schools for three years. And during that time, he says, he's had his eye on CMS. "It's a school district that I constantly point to as one we've tried to benchmark against." On his visit to Charlotte last week, Morrison had quick answers that showed his knowledge of the district and he had plenty of energy. He was also good with the crowd, listening and doling out handshakes. "It's very important to build political support and public trust so that you can do bold things on behalf of students," says Morrison. "If the public doesn't trust us to do the small things, then when we say we're getting ready to do some new initiative, we're getting ready to create some new program that's going to really make things better for a large number of students, the public doesn't trust us and then they don't want to fund it or they don't want to support it." Several school board members say that's the kind of unifying attitude CMS needs as it deals with the fallout of closing schools, cutting budgets and laying off teachers. Board members met for two hours Wednesday in closed session. By the end of it, they came to the consensus that Morrison should be the next superintendent. Board Chairwoman Ericka Ellis-Stewart says that was before they heard Kriner Cash, head of Memphis City Schools, had withdrawn his application. Ellis-Stewart announced the district's pick yesterday, flanked by almost the entire board. She praised all the candidates, but said Morrison is what the district needs. "Dr. Morrison had just a vivacious energy and sense of enthusiasm and that really stood apart for us," said Ellis-Stewart. "We're looking for someone who can help CMS move to the next level and that includes helping to rebuild public trust in education and within the district. That includes building staff morale and really bringing a cohesive team together for many things we'll face in the future." During his time in Reno, Morrison increased the district's use of data to track student performance. He also had to deal with tens of millions of dollars in budget cuts. The district reduced pay, but didn't lay off teachers. The graduation rate rose nearly 14 points to 70 percent and Morrison was awarded the Superintendent of the Year by the American Association of School Administrators. Dana Galvin, president of the Washoe Education Association, a teachers union, says teachers will miss him. "Teachers are working harder than they ever worked. But I also think we've showed such great gains that people can't help but be proud of those accomplishments," says Galvin. She meets with Morrison every month and she says he takes teachers suggestions to heart. She points to the district's attempt to lengthen the school day for elementary students. She says teachers worried they wouldn't have enough prep time and asked him to hold off on it for a year to work things out. He did. But Judy Kidd, a teacher at Independence high school and president of North Carolina's Classroom Teachers Association says Morrison's new employees aren't sold on him. She says his approach seems to resemble former CMS superintendent Peter Gorman's. Kidd says most teachers wanted to work for Ann Clark, the district's Chief Academic Officer. "We've known Ann Clark for 29 and-a-half years and we've worked with her for 29 and-a-half years. If you wanted answers from Ann, if you had problems that you needed to get resolution to, the one sure solution was Ann Clark," says Kidd. Clark released a statement, saying she's known him for awhile and is sure he'll be a great leader for the district. CMS is negotiating a contract with Morrison and must still formally approve his hiring. He's not sure when he'll start.