By Ellen Boyd
Kannapolis City Schools
A.L. Brown Principal Dr. Debra Morris has been named North Carolina High School Principal of the Year. The National Association of Secondary School Principals, the U.S. Department of Education, and MetLife sponsor the award. It honors principals who have provided high-quality learning opportunities and made exemplary contributions to education.
“Dr. Debra Morris is one of the most effective and charismatic leaders I have ever seen,” said Kannapolis City Schools Superintendent Dr. Jo Anne Byerly. “She combines vision with passion and inspires her staff and students to achieve excellence. She is a remarkable leader and an outstanding representative of Kannapolis City Schools.”
During her two years at A.L. Brown High School, Morris has made many changes that have improved student achievement, discipline, communication and staff morale. Writing scores have jumped 25 points and are now well above the state average.
A.L. Brown also is above the state average in biology, chemistry, algebra, geometry, civics, economics, history and overall high school achievement based on 2006 test scores, which are the latest available.
Among the changes that have led to the tremendous academic improvements at A.L. Brown are the addition of a Latin class, a peer tutoring class, a Teacher Cadet program for prospective educators, Advanced Placement classes, a Model United Nations team and a strong focus by all teachers on reading and writing.
Morris also has given teachers common planning time to work together to improve student achievement. In addition, she started a special computer lab at A.L. Brown that operates after school, allowing students who have been suspended to continue their classes and stay on track for graduation.
Morris also led a successful transition to a uniform student dress code at A.L. Brown, gathering input of parents, students and staff ahead of time so the change would go smoothly.
“I did not have to send one student home the first day of school for a dress code violation,” Morris said. “That was one of my most rewarding days to see students do the right thing. It’s much more difficult for students to have ‘attitude’ with their shirt-tails tucked into their pants.”
Morris also led the implementation of the Connect-ED parent communication system in Kannapolis City Schools. She piloted the system at A.L. Brown and helped give parents more information about their children’s attendance, behavior and classroom performance.
Her emphasis on involving parents has helped improve student achievement and has led to higher membership in A.L. Brown’s Parent-Teacher-Student Organization.
“As a parent, I am proud for my son to attend A.L. Brown,” said Gayle Deal, president of the school’s PTSO and executive director of Business Health Services at NorthEast Medical Center. “And as a business leader, I am acutely aware of the value a high school plays in the economic success of the community. Dr. Morris has facilitated a new image at A.L. Brown óboth internally and externallyóthat has created tremendous value to the students and community.”
Those who know Debra Morris say her greatest gift is the way she interacts with students and staff and helps them succeed. She gives all her staff Christmas gifts and cards, including bus drivers, custodians and cafeteria staff. She also works 80 or 90 hours a week attending extracurricular activities that involve her students.
“I try to call students by name and hug them,” Morris says. “I try to make them all feel important. I take an interest in them. They know I love them and care about them. To see a student or teacher meet with success is one of my greatest rewards. I love going to work every day, and I would not want to be anywhere else.”
Morris has a bachelor of arts degree in English, with a minor in political science, from Appalachian State University. She holds a master of arts in school administration and a master of arts in English from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. She also earned her doctorate from UNC-Charlotte.
She had served as a principal and central office administrator in Lincoln County Schools.
Morris will be honored at a special ceremony in Wilmington, this fall. She also will attend the National Principals Institute in Washington, D.C. and be honored at a black-tie awards dinner in late October. She is now eligible to become the National High School Principal of the Year.
For more information, please contact Dr. Debra Morris at 704-932-6125 or Ellen Boyd at 704-939-1334.
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