Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Getting to know Heath Morrison

After a hectic couple of weeks, I'm taking a deep breath and trying to learn more about Heath Morrison, who has been offered the job of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools superintendent.

Update: He's in town for the contract signing. See a video of his remarks at the Tuesday Morning Breakfast Forum.  

The website of Washoe County Schools  has a lot of good information  --  starting with the entry plan Morrison drew up when he took the job in Reno in 2009.  It talks about building relationships with the board and senior staff,  figuring out student achievement issues,  building a media strategy and planning a first day full of thoughtfully chosen  "symbolic"  visits.

Soon after starting that job,  Morrison worked with the Broad Academy to do a study of the administrative structure.  The consultant reported that the district was top-heavy,  that administrators were widely seen as being part of a "good old boys club" and that it was a mistake not to have a chief academic officer.  (Even if Morrison doesn't feel like CMS needs that much of a shake-up,  there are openings in top jobs,  so it's interesting to scan his executive cabinet and wonder who might eventually join him in Charlotte.)  Morrison also commissioned a detailed critique of Washoe County's communications department.

Morrison and his board  (Washoe has a seven-member board of trustees) eventually crafted a strategic plan, Envisioning WCSD 2015.  Much of it will look familiar to those who follow CMS.  For instance, both boards use  "managed performance empowerment,"  an approach that involves tight central-office control for failing schools,  while principals with a record of success get freedom to run their own schools.  Both districts strive to create a performance-driven culture,  and both are trying to find better ways to identify,  recruit and reward effective principals and teachers.  Both have launched a Parent University to help engage families.

That's not to say Washoe is a CMS clone, or vice versa.  I'm intrigued by Washoe's "culture of respect resolution," the door-to-door campaign to get at-risk kids back on the academic track and the emphasis on diversity,  including study circles for teachers, students and parents to talk about race, ethnicity and achievement. The district has multi-track year-round schools,  which CMS is exploring for 2013-14,  and sponsors eight charter schools.

I'll visit Reno next week to get a look at the reality behind all these links and plans.  Let me know if you have questions you'd like to have the new superintendent answer,  or ideas about what you'd like to learn more about.

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