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Letters to the editor - 10/5/02

October 07, 2002

With Morgan at helm, Washington Co. schools are succeeding



To the editor:


Every episode of the old TV show Mission Impossible began the same way: A tape-recorded message carefully explained an impossible task and the reason it needed to be successfully accomplished before self-destructing. Of course, the final words on the tape were always, "Good luck, team." Fortunately, every episode also ended the same way with the team doing the impossible and completing the mission.

I was reminded of this program as the board recently completed the superintendent's evaluation for her interim year. Upon Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan's arrival to Washington County, the board met with her to jointly identify priorities and formulate goals upon which she would be evaluated. At the board's direction, Morgan was charged with boosting staff morale, improving communication with all stakeholders, enhancing public relations efforts, establishing school improvement initiatives, developing a programmatic budgeting process, expanding alternative revenue sources, and creating a plan to attract and retain quality employees. This may have seemed like an impossible mission in one year, but like the characters in the show, Morgan accepted the task and along with her team, successfully completed the mission.

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Early on in her interim position, Morgan informed the board that she did not intend to take on the role of "caretaker," but was determined to lay solid groundwork on which the next superintendent could begin building a strong school system. She further told the board, "I'll be only as successful to the extent that the board and the community support me and my staff." We did offer the support Morgan requested and as a result, we can now point with pride and excitement to the positive changes that our school system has undergone.

Last year, an ombudsman process was put in place so that the school system could respond efficiently to stakeholder inquires and concerns. The Public Information Office was revitalized in order to get accurate and timely information about the school system out to all of our constituents. The school system's annual report was enhanced and a comprehensive informational packet for parents was provided to every family. A series of "Evenings With the Board" and teacher forums were created that allowed staff and the public to dialogue face-to-face with board members.

We experienced a tremendous groundswell of stakeholder participation when citizens, parents, teachers, businesspersons, staff and community leaders were invited to help chart the future course for the Washington County public schools.

We had wide participation in our redistricting effort, with representatives from every high school feeder pattern. More than 50 persons, including members of the health community, committed parents, school staff, and caring citizens heeded our call to join the Alcohol and Drug Task Force to help turn around the alarming trend of increasing drug use among young people in the county. The Task Force has now moved on to implementing the recommendations that were developed as a result of its intensive research.

Washington County public schools and the community also worked together to develop a comprehensive plan for recruiting, developing, retaining, and rewarding high-quality school system employees. The board and the superintendent are convinced that the success of our students correlates with our ability to attract and retain dedicated and committed employees. Additionally, nearly 100 participants accepted the challenge to research specialized, themed, and magnet programs from all over the United States. They worked diligently for four months and developed a comprehensive report listing more than a dozen stellar programs that could be instituted in the Washington County public schools.

The study group findings and recommendations helped to define and lay the groundwork for transforming WCPS into a world-class school system. The first alternative high school was established, as well as the first elementary school magnet program. Work continues in order to spread this initiative across the country.

A management review team was formed and invited to review the business practices of the central office and to evaluate its ability to provide needed services to the schools. The team was made up of prominent county leaders from the business, civic, political, and private sectors.

Our aims were to make the conduct of business at central office transparent to the community and to learn from the leaders how we could improve our operation. Their recommendations, some of which we have already implemented, will be incorporated into the system's five-year master plan currently under development.

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