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‘Coaching math’ gets through to kids

Northwest Rankin High School principal Richard Morrison

>> Northwest Rankin’s Morrison honored as one the best educators in Mississippi

Sometimes high school coaches aren’t thought of as the best teachers. But one of the top high school principals in the state spent many years coaching while also showing a passion for teaching math.

“I see coaching and teaching as interchangeable,” said Northwest Rankin High School principal Thomas Richard Morrison, who has been named 2011 Administrator of the Year by the Mississippi Board of Education (MBE).

“You can be a good coach and a good teacher. I didn’t want to be stereotyped as someone just interested in sports. In math, I would tell them I was coaching math. Some of my best teachers are coaches, and have a real way of reaching young people. They can break things down, just like on a baseball or football field.”

Morrison coached and taught math at Northwest Rankin before going into administration. A love of athletics is what initially drew him to work in education.

“I love sports,” Morrison said. “I was a sports junkie growing up. A baseball scholarship helped pay for my education at Delta State University (DSU). I see the impact of sports on young people from things like learning about team concepts. So much of what I have used in this school came from coaching. I feel like I’m still coaching a big team here at Northwest. I know the value kids can get from competing and being involved. I love to see good sportsmanship, win or lose, and people learning to be responsible players.”

Part of the principal’s job is going to all kinds of athletic events, and that can include some travel for out-of-town events. Some people ask him, “Why do you want to do that?”

“Soccer, volleyball, baseball, football and basketball, I enjoy it,” he said. “I enjoy seeing our kids compete. It is something I love to do. I like to get up and go to work. I’m fortunate to have great people to work with. The teachers are very dedicated, and the administrative team is the best I could possibly have. We have good support from the county office and our school board. These people really have a passion for what they do, and that is fun.”

Morrison’s career choice was a departure from the family tradition. His parents, Alan and Betty Morrison, live just down the street. He considers his parents the biggest influence of his life.

“They have brought me up the right way with right morals and background, and the right foundation of faith,” Morrison said. “I hope to be half the people they are. They are well respected by so many people, and always find a way to help others. They are very unselfish. Their values are ones I hope to emulate for my family.”

Morrison grew up in South Jackson, and graduated from Forest Hill High School. He attributes a lot to early mentors including DSU baseball coach Dave “Boo” Ferriss. He changed majors from business to computers to education. In addition to finding he loved coaching, he also discovered he loved teaching math.

“Math is like a foreign language to a lot of people,” Morrison said. “They tend to struggle with algebra. Being a math teacher is a challenge. You see kids come in with fear of math, and it is rewarding to see them grow to maybe not love math, but understand its need.”

As an administrator, Morrison is known for putting a high value on collaborative partnerships.

“He has been described as an administrator who distinguishes himself from others by his genuine concern for all students and an open door policy that encourages equal access for students, parents, community members and teachers,” said MBE chairman Charles McClelland said. “He makes education relevant by embracing technology and using data and research to drive decisions.”

Morrison sees on of the biggest challenges for educators today is to adapt to the media rich present generation. With all the technologies available today, there are many different ways to deliver information other than the old school pattern of students sitting at a desk listening to a teacher.

“We need to transform the classroom to make it where students are interested in whatever is taught,” Morrison said. “We have to adapt to the way this generation learns. We need to have cooperative learning, use technology to get them engaged, and show them the real-world applications for what they are being taught. If you can put that together, you have a very dynamic classroom.”

Morrison is very supportive of his teachers.

“I stand behind the teachers,” he said. “They do a great job. They take real pride in what they do, and want to be treated as professionals in their field. I’m here every day to see what teachers do and the hours they put in. I would be a proponent to raising teacher’s pay as high as it can go. They have such an awesome responsibility with our children that it is priceless.

“As far as education funding, our most precious national resources are our children. For every job, a teacher played a major role in getting that person ready for a job. It is a shame anytime education is not fully funded. It should be a top priority of any government. This is where we are going to make a difference for our children and our future.”

Like educators throughout the state, Morrison is concerned about proposed cutbacks to state retirement pay. He thinks that would be a disservice to state employees like teachers who have faithfully paid into the system for decades.

“I was brought up by parents who believe your word is your bond,” Morrison said. “Anyone in the system now got a promise for putting money into the retirement system. I understand economic times have been difficult, and we may need adjustments, but it should be made to people coming into the system now and not those who have counted on that. One of the pluses in our profession has been a great retirement plan that has worked and helped people when have reached the age where they can retire. I would hate to see that taken away.”

Morrison and his wife, Robin, a nurse at Baptist Hospital, have been married 21 years and have two children. Their daughter Katelyn is 14, and their son, Chase, is nine.

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