“It’s very exciting, very humbling,” Morrison said. “To get this recognition after such a short time. ... It’s very unexpected.”
The national Superintendent of the Year program is co-sponsored by ARAMARK Education, ING and the American Association of School Admnistrators (AASA). As Morrison was named Nevada’s Superintendent of the Year last summer, he automatically became one of 49 contenders for the title.
From there, he was selected to be in a final group of four contenders. The other finalists are Diane L. Frost of Asheboro City Schools in Asheboro, N.C., Lorraine Lange, of Roanoke County Public Schools in Roanoke, Va., and Susan Smith Bunting of Indian River School District in Selbyville, Del.
“AASA is pleased to recognize these four outstanding superintendents,” said AASA Executive Director Daniel A. Domenech. “Their dedication to transforming schools, providing quality education for all students and working with the school community to advance student success represents the best in school system leadership today.”
The final four will be at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 10, where they will be interviewed by a national blue-ribbon panel of educators, business people and government officials.
The winner will be announced at AASA’s conference on education in Houston on Feb. 16. A $10,000 college scholarship will be presented in the name of the National Superintendent of the Year to a student in the high school from which the superintendent graduated, or the school now serving the same area.
Morrison said he believes most people look at the increase in graduation rates across the board in Washoe County schools as the main reason he was selected this year. With a decreasing budget and a push to reduce programs, schools in the district were still able to produce more graduates, he said.
“We’re proud of that,” Morrison said.
Morrison became the Washoe superintendent in 2009. Although the county has been in deep decline since his hire, he has led the district to realizing a jump in graduation rates to 70 percent from 56 percent between 2009 and 2011, with increases in all student subgroups. The district has also seen significant growth in test scores and has narrowed the achievement gaps in many subject areas.
But the awards that the schools chief is most proud of in his short time with the county have been the ones given to the people around him, he said. For instance, at the end of last year the district was awarded the 2012 Leadership Through Communication Award, a national recognition that will net the district $10,000 for use with student scholarships or communication activities that benefit students and schools.
The district was recognized for its exemplary efforts to enhance communication between schools, parents and the community.
“It’s a public education system,” Morrison said. “We want to make sure we’re working with the community and we take that very seriously.”
The district has also seen awards this year for individual teachers, the school board and administrators.
“I love when our people and organization gets recognized,” Morrison said.
But being recognized does have the advantage at his level of attracting outside attention. Sometimes, it helps to be noticed by individuals or organizations who can donate to programs that otherwise wouldn’t be funded, Morrison said.
“That’s very exciting,” he said.
Morrison earned a doctorate degree in educational policy and planning and a master’s of educational administration from the University of Maryland, and a bachelor of arts in government from the College of William and Mary.
Before moving to Nevada, Morrison was the community superintendent for the Down County Consortium in Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland. Morrison has received awards and honors in the past, including being The Distinguished Educational Leader Award from the Washington Post.