New Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools Superintendent Heath Morrison is doing some listening. The first of seven community town hall meetings took place last night. About 100 parents, students and teachers showed up at Rocky River High School to offer advice. Many of them left with positive things to say. WFAE's Lisa Miller was there last night and joins All Things Considered host Mark Rumsey in the studio.
RUMSEY: So what did people bring up to Morrison?
MILLER: They had concerns about anti-bullying efforts, communication between CMS's central office and teachers, teaching special ed students, vocational tracks for high-schoolers, and pay for performance.
RUMSEY: That's quite a list. Did Morrison respond to all of those concerns?
MILLER: Well, like you said he did more listening than anything. His answers were pretty vague and philosophical. I think he was just trying to help people get a better sense of his leadership style. He was personable, walking around in the audience, nodding. One teacher talked about what she called a disconnect between teachers and the administrators who run things from the central office. Before Morrison even tackled the substance of her question, he heaped a little praise on her as one of the great teachers and asked for a round of applause. Then he said, he doesn't see himself as the top rung in some hierarchy where teachers are buried at the bottom.
MORRISON: To me it's very simple. There are three layers to school district. Right in the center, at the heart, are these young people. That's what it's all about. The next ring are our teachers because our teachers touch our teachers everyday. We can't have education without our quality teachers.
MILLER: The superintendent and other staff are more on the periphery, in Morrison's view.
RUMSEY: I imagine that went over well with a lot of the teachers and parents in the room. What were people's impressions of Morrison leaving the meeting?
MILLER: A lot of what Morrison said was pretty hard for anybody to disagree with. The people I spoke to liked that he seemed to listen. Esther Bruce has a child at Rocky River High and she was also a CMS teacher for several years. She said lately she's been disappointed with the district's administration. But tonight she felt hopeful.
BRUCE: His responses were... they felt authentic. I didn't feel like anything was a canned response and my heart is just lightened from the burden I had when I came in tonight.
MILLER: Several students also liked Morrison's approach. Arjun Gupta is a senior at Providence and was covering the event for his school newspaper. He liked Morrison, but didn't feel like the superintendent really answered his question about problems rolling out the controversial pay for performance plan last year.
GUPTA: He used a good bit of it just to summarize and put the ball in his court so he could set it up and spin it how he wanted to.
RUMSEY: And there are six more town hall meetings scheduled through mid-November. There are also another five forums specifically for teachers and other CMS staff.