New direction for Dorchester school board

By P. Ryan Anthony, Special to Dorchester Banner
Posted 12/20/22

At a special session on Dec. 5, the Dorchester County Board of Education elected new officers and swore in a new member. Though not obvious at this brief meeting, these events signaled the start of a …

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New direction for Dorchester school board


At a special session on Dec. 5, the Dorchester County Board of Education elected new officers and swore in a new member. Though not obvious at this brief meeting, these events signaled the start of a new regime with bolder ideas. But, according to new president Dr. Susan Morgan, the purpose would remain the same.

“I want to continue what I’ve been doing for the last two years,” she said, “work to improve the education for children in Dorchester County.”

To achieve this goal, however, Dr. Morgan felt it important for her and her vice president, Mike Diaz, to restructure the board a bit.

“I have a different view of how things work,” explained the retired Montgomery County Public Schools counselor. “I believe in what I call collaborative leadership. I have always preferred working with people in a more egalitarian manner than having a hierarchically structured institution. That way everyone has more of a stake in the end results.”

“I think the structure with Mr. Diaz and myself is different from any they’ve seen before,” she said of the school board.

Pittsburgh-born Diaz feels that he and Morgan work well together. “We base all of our decisions, and questions for the school system as a whole, on data.”

Morgan and Diaz, who are political opposites, agree that they mesh well because both are concerned about a wide swath of issues they wish to see pushed forward or changed.

“And they’re not political,” said Morgan, “they’re not right or left.”

“So, we stay in that lane of, ‘This is a school issue we have,’” added Diaz, “and that’s why we’ve managed to forge a good relationship for the betterment of the schools.”

But Diaz was quick to say that, despite his close professional partnership with Morgan, they still work in concert with the other board members, who have an equal vote in all matters. “Just because we’re in the leadership positions doesn’t mean we have a mandate just to do anything we want to do. Collaboration builds strong relationships.”

To demonstrate that point, Diaz, who followed a stint in the military with a 20-year career in juvenile justice working with at-risk children, pointed to the ways in which his experience and his ambition of improving safety and security measures in schools contributed to decisions made by the board during his two-year tenure. These include placing weapon-detecting systems in the schools, upgrading all security cameras and hiring a security director for the district.

“Schools have been inundated with violence over the past decade or so,” said Diaz. “I believe, and I know Dr. Morgan and the other board members believe as well, that a safe environment is the most important thing we can have right now that’s conducive to learning.”

But the new officers of the board have other goals for the future, and they have ideas that Morgan calls “outside-the-box thinking,” which she feels is what Dorchester needs. A major focus for them will be dealing with a population of students whose style of learning was changed by the pandemic so that they had to set their own study times at home.

“Now they are back in classes where they are 90 minutes long, totally different learning styles,” said Morgan. “So, our teachers are having to deal not only with the effects of the loss of learning but also the behavioral issues coming out of the change in learning settings.”

Toward that end, the board will be taking an in-depth look at their special education programs, the in-house behavioral management system, and the use of discipline as prescribed by Maryland law, among other things. They will see how those systems are working as a whole and make corrections as necessary.

“I can only hope that we are able to get parents interested and excited about some of our ideas,” said Morgan, “and to support our superintendent in his push to improve education and safety in Dorchester County.”

As they push forward with their plans, the board has a fresh collaborator whom Morgan is excited to work with. In fact, she started consulting this new member before either of them was even on the board.

“When she was running,” remembered Dr. Theresa Stafford, “she called me, and we had a chat about what I saw were concerns or issues in the system, and just my overall take on what were some of the things she needed to concentrate on. And we just kept it going from there.”

It wasn’t long before Stafford, a Cambridge native and grandmother of seven, started thinking about campaigning for the board herself, because she felt that she could lend her expertise in the field of education to help get the county schools where they needed to be. After all, she is a retired sergeant major of the Army National Guard whose job during her 22 years was as an instructor, and she is currently executive director of New Beginnings Youth and Family Services, following 38 years in the public school system.

Her focus coming onto the Board of Education was to create some transparency in the way things are run. “There were a lot of questions, a lot of things people didn’t know, didn’t understand, like information was a secret.”

Additionally, Stafford wants to close the disparity gaps in teaching children and in funding the schools to make sure everything is equitably distributed based on need.

“We have good teachers, we have people who are compassionate about the job,” she said. “Those principals who are sitting in those schools, they love what they do, they’re passionate about it, and so I want to help support that passion so they can do what they need to do.”

Stafford feels it is vital to allocate resources correctly, communicate expectations, support the administrators and give the teachers the tools they need to succeed. “If the administrators and the teachers don’t feel supported, then that’s going to trickle down to our kids.”

But, as a self-proclaimed “team player,” she is optimistic about what the “new” school board can accomplish.

“I think the team we have now is going to be awesome together,” she enthused. “I just feel it, that we’re on the same page, on the same bus, going in the same direction in the seats we need to be in.”

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