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Patrick’s Morris resigns
County school superintendent out as of Jan. 31
Friday, January 17, 2014
By DEBBIE HALL - Bulletin Staff Writer
Embattled Patrick County Schools Superintendent Roger Morris resigned his position Thursday to retire for health reasons, and a second administrator also is slated to leave the division.
Moriah Dollarhite, former principal at Patrick County High School and current coordinator of instructional services for the school division, was named principal of Rockingham County (N.C.) Middle school on Monday, according to a release from that school division. She will begin the new position next month.
Morris’ resignation will be effective Jan. 31, according to the terms of an agreement between Morris and the school board.
He will be paid his regular salary from Feb. 1 until March 31 and for unused annual leave accrued through Jan. 31, according to a motion unanimously approved Thursday by the school board. Morris also will continue to receive health insurance through June 30.
Morris, who has been on medical leave since August, did not comment publicly but addressed the school board during the closed session portion of its regular meeting.
In a letter to the school board, Morris stated that he has been on an extended medical leave “on the advice of three doctors” and is recovering from a combination of illnesses that have affected his overall health and effectiveness.
“After much prayer and discussion with my family, I have decided to retire for health reasons as defined by the Virginia Retirement System,” he wrote.
Morris and the school board came under fire after changes to a retired teachers’ incentive program prompted complaints that resulted in a probe by the state Department of Education (DOE). The DOE looked at alleged irregularities in testing, diploma administration, communication and personnel matters. As a result, the state sought improvements in professionalism among employees, more training and better communication, among other areas.
The school division put together a reorganization plan to address the state’s concerns. Included in that plan was the transfer of about 10 teachers and/or staff members, school officials have said. After the school board approved the transfers, five employees filed complaints alleging that they were transferred in retaliation for taking their concerns to the state. An investigation determined those allegations were founded.
In his letter, Morris highlighted some of the successes of the division in his nearly seven years as superintendent.
For example, the D-Squared Program (dual enrollment) celebrated its fifth anniversary last year, and now is offered at no cost to students; in 2010, Patrick Springs Primary School was named a National Blue Ribbon School; Patrick County High School has consistently been recognized by the U.S. News and World Report as a Bronze school; the division consistently made Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP); and it consistently saw every school accredited, the letter stated.
“This year, no school is in improvement despite the change in tests,” Morris wrote, referring to SOLs.
Also, when Morris became superintendent in 2007, the health insurance program for employees was set to experience a 50 percent rate hike, Morris stated in his letter. “Today, rates are essentially flat.”
In cooperation with the county, Morris noted, each school was renovated and had an addition, and Morris cited the results of a Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) study in 2011 that recognized third-graders in Patrick schools as having the highest reading scores in Virginia.
Also during his tenure, the division expanded the number of school nurses from three in 2007 to the current one full-time medical person at each school, and it weathered a fire that destroyed the Meadows of Dan Elementary School building.
“The entire Patrick County should be commended for coming together to help” during that tragedy, Morris wrote.
A new school was built in the same footprint. It opened to the public earlier this month.
“Now we have finished rebuilding the school, which is historic in the county” and the newest in 40 years, he wrote.
In closing, Morris wrote, “I wish the children, the community and the board the very best in future endeavors and ask that the community unify” behind the school board as it selects the 14th superintendent in the county’s history.
The school board on Thursday did not discuss the selection process, timeline or other particulars of finding Morris’ successor.
Assistant Superintendent Dean Gilbert has been serving as the acting superintendent in Morris’ absence.
Also at Thursday’s meeting, new member J.D. Morse of the Smith River District was elected board chairman, succeeding Ronnie Terry, and Mayo River District member Michelle Day was elected vice chairman, replacing Quinn Brim of the Dan River District, who lost his re-election bid to Kandy Burnette.