An awkward silence filled the Mallard Creek High auditorium this morning after incoming Superintendent Heath Morrison invited a room full of Charlotte-Mecklenburg teachers to ask him questions.
Hundreds of teachers gathered at the school today for "summer institute" classes. Morrison, in town from Reno to interview candidates for top administrative jobs, told teachers he'd decided to stay in Charlotte an extra day to stop in and introduce himself. He popped into several rooms and talked about the importance of teachers' work, his determination to help them get raises this year and his desire to hear from teachers in more depth once he officially starts work in July.
But when told the large group in the auditorium it was their chance to "grill the new guy," he got the same reticence he'd encountered in smaller classrooms.
Then Kathy Collins, a consultant leading the session on reading, offered him a tip. When students are reluctant to ask questions, she said, she has them talk in groups about what other students might want to know. That way, no one feels singled out by posing their own questions.
|Morrison works the crowd at Mallard Creek High|
What will you do about bad morale, one teacher asked. He talked about the rising demands and budget cuts that are straining teacher morale nationwide, and about the gap between the praise CMS gets elsewhere and the criticism it faces at home. But he acknowledged there are local issues he needs to learn more about. "I can't fix it myself," he said. "What I can do is ask what's causing it and then be a part of the solution."
Another teacher asked how long Morrison spent in the classroom. Five years, he said. He told about declining his first offer to go into administration, only to be told it was a "required opportunity." He said teachers who want to move into administration to help students should talk to him. "But if you start the conversation with, 'You know, Heath, I'm a little burned out with teaching,' then that's not going to be a long conversation."
"I want people that we've had to pull out of the classroom kicking and screaming, because those are the people that when they get into administration never forget how hard your jobs are and how the job of a principal as well as the job of a superintendent is to support quality teaching and learning."
With his handlers signalling that he was late for his next appointment, Morrison left, tailed by TV cameras and reporters.
"I thought he handled those questions well," Collins told her group. "So yay!"