By Barb Arland-Fye
DAVENPORT — Lee Morrison’s goal in his first weeks as new superintendent of Catholic schools for the Davenport Diocese is to get acquainted with diocesan operations, schools and principals.
Morrison, a veteran public school administrator who just completed three years as superintendent of the Burlington Community School District, assumed his diocesan post July 1. After serving 35-1/2 years in public school education, he said, “I am looking forward to combining two things I am very passionate about — the Catholic faith and education. I look forward to the challenges of maintaining a strong Catholic school system in the Diocese of Davenport well into the future.”
As leader of a Catholic school system that educates nearly 5,200 students in preschool through high school, Morrison seeks to set the tenor for Catholic education now and for the next decade.
His inaugural message to staff, he said, will include an expression of gratitude for their commitment and a reminder — taken from a quote from Pope Benedict XVI — that “Catholic schools nurture the soul of a nation.” And specifically, “we’re nurturing the souls of kids whose parents choose Catholic education in southeast Iowa,” Morrison says.
“They have an expectation that their children will be led by adult educators who are good Christian models for our young people. They expect a rigorous curriculum. They want sufficient opportunities for their children to celebrate the faith in Christ-centered schools.”
Maintaining Catholic identity is an integral part of building on the strengths of the schools, he noted. He’ll survey parents about their needs and expectations for Catholic schools and gauge the schools’ strengths and weaknesses. He’ll visit the diocese’s 13 elementary schools and five high schools to get a feel for what’s happening in the classroom; he made such visits to Burlington schools and found it very helpful.
He’s done his homework to prepare for the new position, conversing with his predecessor, Mary Wieser, (now full-time Faith Formation director for the diocese) and her staff; doing online research about Catholic schools across the country; studying Catholic education issues; and consulting with the Area Education Agency on education requirements and standards. He’s also been following the progress of the diocesan school system by reading The Catholic Messenger, he said.
The American Education Association of School Administrators has asked Morrison to submit an article this fall comparing and contrasting his experiences as an administrator of both public school systems and a Catholic school system. Presently, the biggest difference he sees between the two is that “children in parochial schools are taught self-discipline with a Christian focus. Catholic school students are taught to recognize Christ in themselves and each other. In parochial schools it should be obvious when you walk through the door that a reverence for all people permeates all aspects of school life and that an education is something to be valued.”
Among the challenges he sees for Catholic schools: keeping a Catholic focus when fewer women religious and clergy are teaching in schools; persuading all Catholics to support Catholic schools; and making Catholic schools accessible for everyone, including children with special needs.
He and his wife — Sandy — also an educator — care deeply about kids; they adopted and raised seven, along with their two biological sons. Now they are foster parents to a 7-year-old. Having gone through nine baptisms as a parent, Morrison said he is reminded that “we are our child’s first teacher. Catholic educators do this in a more formal manner by actively passing on the faith to the next generation.”
If the Catholic Church is to remain strong, he said, its members need to support young Catholics in faith formation because it’s a great investment in the future. That’s why he’s investing his future in Catholic education. “I care deeply about students. I care deeply about the future of the Catholic Church. I care deeply about the future of Catholic schools in southeast Iowa.”
Lee Morrison’s favorite things
• Favorite new movie: The Blind Side
• Favorite foods: Pasta, lemon meringue pie
• Favorite prayer: The Lord’s Prayer
• Favorite Scripture: 1 Peter 4:10 — “Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you have received.”
• Favorite book about leadership: “Good to Great,” by Jim Collins
• Favorite music: 1970s
• Hobby: Walking, collecting antiques, going to auctions with his wife, Sandy
• Spiritual mentors: Priests who have served our parishes