Superintendent talks economy, diversity and safety

by Jackson Sveen

HUNTERSVILLE – Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Superintendent Heath Morrison answered questions from Charlotte-area residents during his latest community chat Feb. 11 at New Birth-Charlotte Church.

The topics ranged from school security to student rankings on the global scale.

The point of these community meetings, Morrison told Your UCity, is to listen.

“We talk about public education, but if we aren’t listening to the public, then I don’t know how well we can do our jobs,” Morrison said. “These really provide me the opportunity to listen and to hear what’s on the hearts and minds of our parents and community members from all different regions of our school district.”

Here is a summary of the question-and-answer session between Morrison and the community. Some statements have been paraphrased for clarity:

How is CMS preparing for the changing needs of children in the modern economy?

Morrison: When we look at our strategies, I think it’s important that we have a lot of options.

The question becomes about career technology.

At the end of the day, we educate children because it’s a moral obligation, but it’s also a good economic investment.

Our children, who are students today, become the workforce of tomorrow. If we do this right, we should be preparing our students for the workforce needs of the future.

What we are looking at right now is current career technology offerings. What we often hear from our principals is that it’s very hard to offer Career Technology Education classes, because we don’t always have the volume of students.

We are looking for opportunities for students to go to a CTE hub. We believe we have to offer more career technology opportunities.

What is CMS doing to bring more diversity to the classroom?

Morrison: We are having multiple outreaches to our colleges: Johnson C. Smith, UNCC, CPCC and Davidson.

We have a committee specifically on higher education partnerships.

Myself, the higher institution presidents and leaders have pledged to meet at least four times a year to think about how we can be more creative in our partnerships.

There are many amazing opportunities around Johnson C. Smith regarding education.

I look forward to things like educational opportunities that broaden the talent pool for young people.

I have never found that to diversify our workforce, you have to move away from quality.

What I am excited about is bringing great talent. In bringing great talent, we are also going to be able to bring great diversity, because I think that’s one of our greatest strengths.

How do you feel on the move away from a liberal arts emphasis?

Morrison: How do we define success? It’s really easy to say: Shouldn’t our K-12 systems and higher education be creating the workforce of tomorrow?

Yes we should, but if we simply look at college success as students immediately graduating and getting a job, then I worry we are going to miss some important opportunities.

Part of a good liberal arts education is a process of discovery, an exploration of how do I find out knowledge that has not been discovered.

Research tells us that we don’t even know what kind of jobs our kindergartners are going to need.

As a matter of fact, they won’t just be looking for jobs, they will create the jobs.

Innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship are going to become the central job skills when our kindergartners hit the job market.

If we only define success for higher education as career-vocational, then I worry who is going to create that workforce of the greater tomorrow.

A lot of people say they love STEM education: science, technology, engineering and math.

I get that, but I like STEAM: science, technology, engineering, arts and math.

I really appreciate that art meets the human need to create. Creativity will create opportunities.

Opportunities will create the workforce of tomorrow.

Should all our schools have safety and resource officers, not just high school and middle school?

Morrison: The most important sacred obligation that we have to our parents is the safety of their children.

I am a parent in CMS myself, and I care very much about how much my son or daughter learns everyday.

The most important thing is that they are safe.

I know every parent watching that horror in Connecticut. That is every one of our worse nightmares.

As a superintendent, it’s my worse nightmare.

We have to ask ourselves a very tough question: If that would have happened here in our schools, how would we have been able to handle it and what can we learn?

Every one of our schools has a crisis and safety plan.

We are challenging our schools to rethink their plans and make sure they are keeping those updated. You constantly have to make sure people are up to date and ready if something happens.

We are going to do an active shooter drill, not when children are in session, with county and city support officers, so that we can be better prepared.

We are looking at facilities.

One of the things that is a really good national practice is a single point of entry, especially at elementary schools. That provides some real opportunities for advanced safety.

Sandy Hook Elementary had that, but usually in many schools, that has deterred issues. We are looking at adding cameras, strategic use of fencing and a number of safety protocols.

We have worked in partnership with our county commissioners and have asked if there is an opportunity to use some savings from our 2007 bond. They have given us some positive response that they will consider that.

The last area is around school resource officers.

We are having the conversation around “Do we truly believe that we need an armed safety officer at every school?” We are looking at how much will that cost and is that the strategy that is best?

How are we preparing our students for a competitive global job market?

Morrison: I think people tend to still think that my child is going to graduate from a great North Carolina university and are going to be competing for jobs with kids all over the country.

When you are making airplane reservations and you need to make a change, you are probably talking to somebody in India.

We have to get parents to understand that if you have a job that is easily duplicable, it is going to get outsourced to other countries or it’s going to get replaced by technology.

The reality is, those jobs are going to be gone.

We have to prepare students for the fact that the game has changed.

Our students go to school 180 days; students in China go to school 240 days.

Our kids go to school for about six and a half hours; kids in India and China, go to school eight to nine hours on average.

We have to be pretty darn good in what’s happening in 180 days compared to 240 and six and a half compared to nine to give our children the same advantages.

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