Morris Ravenell was named the next superintendent of Dorchester District 4 schools this week after a search that began earlier this spring with 20 candidates.
He will take over the helm of the five-school district on July 1, the day after the retirement of Superintendent Jerry Montjoy. He has signed a three-year contract with a starting salary of $110,000 annually.
Ravenell, 59, started his education career in Berkeley County and has been an employee of the district for about 12 years. He is currently principal of Clay Hill Elementary School.
He is a lifelong resident of Berkeley County and a graduate of Cross High School. He is married to Barbara and has two sons, Joshua, 15, a freshman at Cross High School, and Brian, 30.
What do you expect as superintendent?
It's going to be a challenge but I think I'm at the point in my career where I'm ready to take on a different challenge. I'm excited about the possibilities of what the students in this district can do. I'm really excited that I can take up where Mr. Montjoy left off. We made a lot of progress under him in the seven years he was here.
What are the strengths of District 4?
I think we have good staff members at all levels. We have folks who have been in their positions for a while and know their jobs. We have very strong principals. Every school has strong leadership. But above all, I think we have good teachers in the classrooms, and being able to keep a staff intact for a while is the key to making growth.
What are some of your goals?
I think the elementary schools have pockets that they can work on, but overall they have been performing well.
We really need to look at some areas in the middle schools that we can improve and at least get them performing up to the state level on testing. That's a thing of looking at one school at a time, one department at a time, and one teacher at a time.
At the high school, we are going to look at things such as the graduation rate and testing and make sure that we are preparing our children well. One of my main goals is that we want to at least be performing at the state level on the SAT. We want to make sure that we have the curriculum in place where these students can be successful. I take it as a personal challenge to bring in the resources to get those SAT scores up.
My thing is to stay focused on student achievement. I know there are things that are going to be distractions at points, but the main thing is we want to give the child the best possible opportunity to succeed. If we stay focused on that, I think we'll be all right.
Are there any big changes that you want to make?
We are just going to look at the data. The district has been improving academically over the last four or five years. I know there are areas that need to be improved, and we are going to start with those, look at the standardized test scores and dissect that data and see what we can do to improve. But so far as big sweeping changes, I don't see anywhere at this point where anything drastic needs to happen.
What are the advantages of having small district?
You get to know each child. You can follow a child right through the system. You get to know the families more. You have folks who went to school here raising families here so you have that type of support. We also have a lot of staff who have been around for a long time, and we try to keep the community involved in what we do.
Are you the kind of guy who is going to spend a lot of time in the schools?
I plan to. I don't know what my schedule is going to dictate when I get to the district office, but I do plan to spend a lot of time observing instruction and meeting with the principals to find out what support they need, what's working well for them and where they need some help. I look forward to being a part of that atmosphere and getting them comfortable with me being there as somebody who is going to support their programs.
How long do you think you'll stay around?
I'm going to try to do the three years and hopefully I can do a good enough job to get a couple more, but right now it's hard to say. I plan to just take it one year at a time and do the best I can. Until you get your feet wet, you don't know how much pressure is going to be on you and how much pressure you can stand.