It is easy to work hard when your principal models it daily. At the start of any given school day at Dr. Thomas L. Higdon Elementary School, one can find Principal Kathleen Morgan doing just about anything from greeting students with a big smile and answering phone calls to helping visitors check in at the main office. She is visible, professional and hands-on with everything related to the Higdon school community. Morgan leads by example and does so in a kind and compassionate manner.
Her kind and compassionate demeanor has helped to shape a culture at Higdon of respect and support in an environment that is positive and nurturing. Staff describe Morgan as one of the best educators they have worked with, and praise her for her work ethic, support and leadership. They see her passion for education and others do, too. In recognition of her passion for education and hard work, Morgan was named the 2018 Charles County Public Schools Principal of the Year and finalist in the Washington Post’s Principal of the Year program.
Morgan was aware that her staff had nominated her for the recognition in previous years, but was caught by surprise with the news of her selection as Principal of the Year for 2018. “When I learned from Dr. Hill that I was selected as the CCPS Principal of the Year I was overtaken with emotion and completely humbled. As a principal, I have always worked hard and put the needs of my staff and students ahead of my personal accolades,” Morgan said.
Morgan has been an administrator with CCPS for the past 22 years, first joining the school system as a vice principal in 1996, and was named principal at Higdon in 2011. For the past seven years, Morgan has helped to build a strong learning foundation for Higdon students. Relationship building is a priority. Morgan strives to relate to each and every student and staff member in the building. She has an open-door policy for all and is professional in all that she does. “I have always felt that my job was to create a teaching and learning environment where I could inspire students and teachers to be their best,” Morgan said.
Morgan’s passion for education stems from a love of learning she developed as a child. She and her sister would often play “teacher” and set up a makeshift library in the family basement. They would check out books and then read together. Morgan said her future in education was also influenced by her parents, who valued education and taught her that a good education would not only broaden her thinking, but would open doors to the future.
“They taught me that through hard work and perseverance, any goal could be accomplished. These words have stuck with me in my professional life as well as in raising my own two sons,” Morgan said.
Her ideas of hard work are evident in the Higdon climate. Staff see her as an effective leader and communicator who supports their endeavors, ideas and initiatives. Morgan is visible in classrooms, hallways, the cafeteria and all other areas in the school. She attends evening and weekend events at the school, parent conferences, instructional team meetings, observes lessons and checks in with students.
“There really is no aspect of the school that Mrs. Morgan is not actively participating in, which is a tall order for a school principal. Yet somehow, she does all of this with great enthusiasm and diligence, while making it all look effortless,” wrote Zarina Ameen, a former school counselor at Higdon, in a letter of support for Morgan’s nomination.
Each quarter, Higdon students are celebrated during a schoolwide celebration of learning event. Students are recognized for honor roll grades and demonstrating personal responsibility, but also for achievements beyond the classroom. This ranges from club participation and contests to grade-level performances. Family and friends of students are invited to attend. Morgan makes an effort to greet all visitors and congratulate each student as they join the celebration.
“One of my favorite moments was last year during the 4th quarter celebration of learning assembly and our school introduced a new award called the Husky Pride award. This award was created to celebrate students who have shown improvement but may not be eligible for the academic or personal responsibility honor roll. At the end of the assembly, several parents approached me with tears in their eyes saying how overjoyed they were to hear their child’s name being announced in front of the entire school to be celebrated. We as educators have to remember to celebrate the achievements of all of our students,” Morgan said.
Morgan strives to support relationships between the school and community, and all for the benefit of students and staff. Several community members and agencies partner with the school to support its events such as the Reading Partners and Arnold House food programs to the holiday food basket and winter fest events. Her personal touch and concern has made Morgan a valuable link between school and community. She ensures students and families in need are taken care of, especially during the holiday season, and personally donates to the annual staff giving tree and buys books for students.
The Higdon community is always made to feel welcome. This is a result of Morgan’s leadership and her dedication to go above and beyond to make sure Higdon is an inviting place to work and learn. Staff are recognized by Morgan for their efforts with a Husky Howl and encouraged to support one another. Morgan holds high expectations for staff and students and models the idea that the Higdon mission is achieving academic success for all.
Higdon special education teacher Barbara Brandau said what sets Morgan apart from other leaders is her hands-on approach and caring nature. “She is approachable and always has the student’s best interest at heart. What has always impressed me with Mrs. Morgan is her caring nature to assist all teachers to achieve their highest potential so as to promote success not only for the students, but for the staff,” Brandau wrote in a recommendation letter.
Morgan began her career in education as a teacher at Oxon Hill Elementary School with Prince George’s County Public Schools. She joined CCPS in 1996 as a vice principal at Indian Head Elementary School and also served as a vice principal at Higdon for two years. Morgan was named principal at Eva Turner Elementary School in 2001 and moved to Higdon in 2011. She has a Bachelor of Science degree in Elementary Education from the University of Pittsburgh and a Master of Arts in Education and Human Development from George Washington University.
As Principal of the Year, Morgan will be honored by the Board of Education at its May 8 meeting. Morgan was also the finalist from Charles County in the Post’s Principal of the Year awards program in which one regional winner is chosen. She will be honored by the Post later this year.
Charles County Public Schools provides 26,900 students in grades prekindergarten through 12 with an academically challenging education. Located in Southern Maryland, Charles County Public Schools has 36 schools that offer a technologically advanced, progressive and high quality education that builds character, equips for leadership and prepares students for life, careers and higher education.
The Charles County public school system does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, age or disability in its programs, activities or employment practices. For inquiries, please contact Dr. Patricia Vaira, Title IX/ADA/Section 504 Coordinator (students) or Nikial Majors, Title IX/ADA/Section 504 coordinator (employees/ adults), at Charles County Public Schools, Jesse L. Starkey Administration Building, P.O. Box 2770, La Plata, MD 20646; 301-932-6610/301-870-3814. For special accommodations call 301-934-7230 or TDD 1-800-735-2258 two weeks prior to the event.