A.L. Brown Principal, Dr. Debra Morris, is the North Carolina Principal of the Year . The Department of Public Instruction announced the honor Thursday at a special luncheon in Raleigh. Wachovia Executive Vice President Jack Clayton presented Morris with her award and described her as “displaying a constant and ongoing devotion to students and as the most dedicated, student-centered principal her colleagues had ever known. “ He went on to say that Morris is “personable, intelligent, caring, loving, and is seemingly everywhere. Her energy is simply boundless, and she is always, first, a teacher.”
This is the third major award Dr. Morris has won in the last year. Besides being the Southwest Regional Principal of the Year and the State Principal of the Year, Morris also is the North Carolina High School Principal of the Year, an award given by the National Association of Secondary School Principals.
KCS Superintendent, Dr. Jo Anne Byerly, says no one is more deserving of recognition than Debra Morris. “Every once in a while, a very special person comes along who has the power to change people's lives. Debra Morris is one of those extraordinary people. She's both caring and visionary, and her passion inspires everyone to achieve more than they thought was possible. She's truly remarkable, and we're blessed and proud to have her in Kannapolis City Schools.”
IIn accepting the award, Debra Morris reflected on the rewards she's received from being an educator. “I really do love my job. I genuinely believe this work is my legacy, and I think helping young people is a job that allows me to live a life that matters. I have never regretted becoming an educator. Every day has rewarding moments when I see students' dreams come true and have their lives changed, and I am truly blessed. I sincerely appreciate this honor. “
Dr. Debra Morris has been A.L. Brown's principal since the summer of 2005. During that time, she has made many changes that have improved student achievement, discipline, communication, and staff morale. Writing scores have jumped 25 points under Dr. Morris' leadership and are now well above the state average. A.L. Brown also is above the state average in Biology, Chemistry, Algebra II, Geometry, Civics & Economics, and overall high school achievement
Dr. Morris has launched many innovative efforts at A.L. Brown to improve student achievement. The most recent is the Freshman Academy, which is a school-within-a-school. It started in August and keeps ninth graders together during most of the day. A.L. Brown is the only area high school with a Freshman Academy. Ninth graders are assigned to small classes and a core group of teachers. Those teachers work with counselors, parents, and upper classmen to make sure 9 th graders make a smooth transition to high school.
Other changes led by Dr. Morris include adding Latin classes, peer tutoring, 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. Beginning in August, A.L. Brown will add even more high-level courses including a course in Mandarin Chinese. Dr. Morris also has given teachers common planning time to work together to improve student achievement, and she started a special computer lab that operates after school, which allows students who have been suspended to continue their classes and stay on track for graduation.
Another factor in Dr. Morris' success has been her successful implementation of a uniform student dress code at A.L. Brown. She got input from parents, students, and staff so the change to the new dress code would go smoothly. She also led the implementation of the Connect-ED parent communication system in KCS. She piloted the system that helped give parents more information about their children's attendance, behavior, and classroom performance. All KCS schools now use Connect-ED.
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."
Debra 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 UNC Charlotte. She also earned her Doctorate from UNC Charlotte. Prior to coming to A.L. Brown, Dr. Morris served as a principal and central office administrator in Lincoln County Schools. She began her career as a teacher in Union County Schools and was an assistant principal in the Iredell-Statesville School System.
For winning the North Carolina Principal of the Year award, Dr. Morris will receive $3,000, and A.L. Brown High School also will get $3,000.