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Morgan shares vision for schools

November 18, 2002|BY ANDREA ROWLAND

Editor's note: Reporter Andrea Rowland recently sat down with Elizabeth M. "Betty" Morgan, superintendent of schools for Washington County, to discuss issues facing the county's public schools. The answers have been edited for length and clarity.




Q: How would you define "world-class education?"

A: I define it as students and staff being at the top of their game. And by that I mean that students are performing at the highest levels that they can given their potentials. That staff is performing at the highest levels. That there's a high level of satisfaction in the school system. That our customers are extremely happy with our services. And let's call them services because we are in service to the taxpayers.

Q: And what is your role as superintendent in ensuring world-class education?

A: My role is really, I think, to set the vision. To ensure then that we also have a mission, that everybody is on board with the mission. And, more importantly than that, that I'm working like a demon to get the resources that are needed so that people can operate at peak performance. The superintendent's role is really in setting a vision and also ensuring that the day-to-day things are there to support people so they can really do their jobs well. It's not enough to be a visionary and say we want to do this, we want to improve test scores, we want to go here, we want to go there. If you're not ensuring that you're giving the people the support so they can accomplish these things, it's hollow. I think those are my roles.

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Q: In light of recent elections, how do you think the change in the make-up of the Washington County Board of Commissioners will affect funding for education?

A: I think that I'm the one who has to bridge the gaps at all times. I'm the one who has to work personally, professionally to ensure that the commissioners understand our mission. My viewpoint of this whole thing is that if we don't have a strong school system we're not going to have a strong community. A good school system is vital to economic development. And I know there isn't a commissioner among the five who doesn't want to see this community, hopefully, thrive and grow economically and develop in the way that it should for our citizens. I think education is the key centerpiece.

Q: Ideally, I think most people would agree with you. But now you have two fiscal conservatives on the Board (of County Commissioners). In addition to Bill Wivell, who has said we give enough money to education, now you've got John Munson.

A: But you notice that Bill Wivell was very supportive, in one piece that he wrote, of the virtual high school and of magnet programs. And that's because I think Bill Wivell, basically, probably believes that charter schools are something we should look at in Washington County. Even for a fiscal conservative, there are issues in education that are near and dear to their hearts. And I think you have to work with people individually to discover what are those things that they'll support. That's part of the political environment. So let's say the commissioners aren't going to support across- the-board raises for our administrators - that's always an ongoing kind of burr in the saddle kind of thing - but would they support raises that go along with the performance pay? ... I believe there are commissioners who would support that. ... I feel some of our (School) Board members have established good working relationships with the commissioners and I expect that to continue.

Q: So it's going to be a matter of backing up your funding requests with statistical and empirical support?

A: Always you have to do that. No, I think it's going to be a matter of understanding how you accomplish your goal ... and create that bridge so that the people who have the power of the purse can support what you want to do. I guess that is part of the art of politics. And that is partially what a superintendent does. We like to think of ourselves as purists - I'm the instructional leader of the school system. I'm the person who sets the vision for kids' learning and all that - but there is a lot of politics involved. I think I have a good ability ... to talk straight with people and quickly understand what it is that they respect or they dislike ... and come to a compromise for the sake of kids.

Q: Dori Nipps' election as a County Commissioner marks the first time since 1986 that a current School Board member has gone straight to the Board of Commissioners. What kind of role do you see Nipps playing on the Commission with respect to education?

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