Heath Morrison has a history with education.
From being at the top of his class and on the road to graduating early, to the point of dropping out, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools new superintendent has been in the seat of many of the district’s students. They’re experiences he says helped pave the way for his desire to really serve.
“I had times in my education career where I was advanced and going to skip a grade and was doing really well,” Morrison said. “And then through a series of life circumstances, I was put in remedial classes, to the point where I thought I might end up dropping out.”
But with two great teachers who saw something greater, Morrison said he found the drive he needed to work his way back to Advanced Placement courses and graduation, becoming the first in his family to go to college.
But the challenge didn’t end there. Working three jobs through college, his next dream was law school. But after taking a break to save some money, Morrison found himself in the classroom to pass the time.
“But as soon as I started to teach, I really found my passion and I never looked back,” he said.
Now, sitting at the top of one of the nation’s largest districts, he’s sat in the seat at nearly every employee: from history, math or special education teachers, to assistant principal, principal and area superintendent. He most recently served as the superintendent of the Washoe County School District in Nevada, with nearly 65,000 students. Under his leadership, the district graduation rate increased from 56 to 70 percent, with gains for all schools and all groups of students.
And after being named superintendent of the year in 2011 by the Nevada Association of School Superintendents and the Nevada Association of School Boards, he says working in CMS will be his biggest challenge yet.
“It’s incredibly complicated preparing for 140,000+ students,” he said. “Add the layer of me being new and the challenge of the Democratic National Convention coming to town – it has made it even more important to be very plan-oriented.”
But in the meantime, Morrison said he’s been listening and traveling around the district to ensure employees, parents and community members he cares about the whole district.
In south Charlotte, where many community members have shown concerns of student per-pupil expenditures across the district, Morrison said his team is working to share the facts. Morrison discussed the issue at the Ballantyne Breakfast Club recently where he said it seemed some community members were just misinformed.
“We’ve got to deal with the facts. That’s part of the problem,” he said. “We owe our public that amount of transparency. The real question people should ask is out of the discretionary dollars that we have, how much more do you spend on some schools than others; what’s the difference, what’s the reason for it and what are the results?” he said.
Morrison said it’s essential the district puts out correct figures in public light, adding he’s requested his staff prepare in-depth, well-researched information on the topic.
“My point on Saturday (at the Breakfast Club), I’m a parent myself, but what I want to make sure is that my child is getting a great education. If she gets in AP classes and she does well, receives scholarships and makes it to the college of her choice, then I’m very pleased with her experience in the school district,” he said. “If we spend a little less on her education and a little more on someone else’s, I’m OK with that as long as I don’t feel her education got dismissed.”
Morrison has two kids who will attend CMS schools, Samantha, a tenth-grader at South Mecklenburg High School, and Zachary, a seventh-grader at Northwest School of the Arts. The three, along with Morrison’s wife, Jennifer, reside in south Charlotte. When not working, Morrison can be found at the gym or visiting churches across the community.
“I’m a superintendent that tries to do the job with a lot of humility,” Morrison said. “At the end of the day, I’m a servant-leader. My job is to serve the children. I have one agenda – it’s not conservative or liberal or political. It’s a kid agenda. It’s about doing whatever it takes to give every child a great educational experience.”