Morrison Makes Rare Journey from Hillcrest Student to Principal
By Shobha Persaud & Harsha Rampersaud, Senior writers
It’s Thursday, February 3rd, 2014. Mr. Morrison gets off the F train on a cold, winters day to commence his first official day as Principal of Hillcrest High School. As he walks up the walk on Highland Avenue, he sees the familiar buildings, stores, and people that he’s seen change over the last few decades. Upon entering the building, Mr. Morrison is overwhelmed by his path and remembers his very first day as a student of Hillcrest High School. “Same exact walk, same stairs back in ‘91.” He realizes that he is blessed -- not many educators can say that they spent their entire life at one school as a student, teacher, administrator and principal. With a warm smile on his face, Mr. Morrison greets students and staff members while making his way to his new office.
Mr. Morrison’s journey to Principal of Hillcrest High School is one that we all can relate to -- it began as a fifteen year-old young boy sitting in class, anxious to get out of Trigonometry. Like many of us, Mr. Morrison struggled with Math and Science but he worked very hard and was successful in meeting the requirements needed to graduate. Being a "concrete learner", Mr. Morrison liked Biology and Earth Science because he was able to see the things he was learning about. Chemistry, on the other hand, was a bit complicated for Mr. Morrison “since it included math and I wasn't a big fan of math in general,” he said with a chuckle.
In his sophomore year in high school, Mr. Morrison, along with his friends, used to cut school quite a lot. They didn't like attending some classes because they thought the teachers were boring. It got to the point where his parents had to come up to the school to conference with his teachers. Nonetheless he made a decision and realized that it would end up with him not going anywhere in life. "Where was I going to go if I continued through this path?" With the support of his teachers, he turned himself around, caught up with his credits and graduated High School with a 86% GPA. It's inspiring to know that our very own Principal made the same mistakes we do but was able to bounce back and be successful.
In his first three years of High School, Mr. Morrison was very involved in the Theatre program and found his muse there. He participated in the show "Greece" as Eugene, the nerd. He also worked on the musical "Working" as well as "Who Am I This Time?". In his senior year, his Theatre class wrote their own plays which was exciting for Mr. Morrison, who was voted Best Actor in his senior class.
It was his favorite class because it allowed him to "express himself in a free way" however, it wasn't until his senior year that Mr. Morrison made the decision to become a teacher because he never considered acting a passion.
Though Mr. Morrison never actually said out loud that he wanted to be a teacher, as a child he used to put stuffed animals on his bed and pretend to teach them. He liked being on a "stage" and communicate with an audience which he found in teaching. “I wanted something more than a traditional job so I chose education because education is always changing just like students are learning."
During his high school years, Mr. Morrison learned that the student body is exciting and he discovered a lot about people through gaining and losing friends and love relationships which helped him understand his role. Fashion, music, and his girlfriend in senior year are the things that Mr. Morrison has always loved. Yes, he married his high school sweetheart, which unfortunately ended in divorce after many years, but the friendship is still there.
Evidently, Mr. Morrison enjoyed his four years at Hillcrest High School as a student. He learned a lot about who he is and also about others. He participated in many activities inside and outside of school. He was involved in a program called Spark, where he was a peer counselor-- a student-to-student counseling for students who needed someone to talk to or help with anything. He also took part in the AIDS walk and many other community activities, which were more on the art side. On some level, all the friendships experienced influenced him on who he is today. Ever since he was a student in High School, Mr. Morrison has been taking the F train from Jackson Heights, stopping out at Parsons Boulevard, walking up the same hill, same stairs and into the same building as he is today.
For him, it seems like yesterday, but it was the year 1996 when Mr. Morrison received a phone call from the Principal of Hillcrest High School at the time, requesting his services as a teacher. On account of his sister Ms. Amy Morrison, who herself started Hillcrest when he graduated high school, Mr. Morrison was constantly visiting Hillcrest for her first plays and Parent Teacher Conferences. Mr. Morrison was able to keep connections with the school based on his desire to be a teacher.
During his education at Queens College, Mr. Morrison participated as a student-teacher at Hillcrest and was assured a job. After his graduation in January of 1996, Mr. Morrison began his career as a teacher in Hillcrest in February of the same year. Knowing of his own ambitious goals, Mr. Morrison had already aspired to be the Principal of Hillcrest during his first days here as a teacher. He is now principal -- a truly inspiring story. Mr. Morrison believes he became Principal at a perfect time successfully reaching a goal of his, since “age is relative, and I don’t feel young.”
During his years as an English teacher in Hillcrest High School, Mr. Morrison sought to create a fun classroom that everyone would enjoy coming to but one with learning and challenges. He wanted his students to have the opportunity to speak and communicate with each other while reading interesting literature. “I didn't want students to sit in a classroom where the teacher talked for forty minutes and there was no interaction between students because as a student that's what I experienced and I didn't like it.”
Mr. Morrison wanted his students to make sure they were setting high expectations and to work hard and succeed. He envisioned every student graduating with an Advanced Regents Diploma. Overall, Mr. Morrison created a classroom where his students had fun while learning and preparing for their future career-- a classroom he didn't have as a student.
In his journey to Principal, Mr. Morrison was consistent in his attitude and work ethics. The next step in his career was the Assistant Principal of English. He always worked hard and tried to enter the building with a smile and positive attitude. Being an AP was evidently different from being a teacher because now Mr. Morrison worked with adults instead of students. He had to make sure teachers were performing the correct tasks and keep up to date with their needs.
Many people think that a Principal should know everything, Ostensibly, no one knows everything. Morrison’s biggest challenge as Principal thus far is “it’s impossible to know everything.” Fortunately, he has a lot of Assistant Principals and SLC Directors to entrust. “They help, understand and teach each other.”
Currently the Principal, Mr. Morrison realized that school is a complex organization. In order to provide the best opportunities for students and teachers, Mr. Morrison didn't change any existing systems that were working well and that be believes has been beneficial to Hillcrest.
From a student’s perspective, Mr. Morrison noticed how easy it was to leave and re-enter the building and that was something he wanted to change. Students would just "walk out and walk back in" because there was no control in that area. With security guards, now there is better control on how to leave the building. Mr. Morrison continues to wonder "why don't students want to be here?" Whether it's peer pressure or not having a good experience in classrooms, Mr. Morrison wants students to know that their decisions now influence them later in life.
One of the prime phrases Morrison thrives on is also the school’s motto -- “Learning today, leading tomorrow.” This is suitable given that Mr. Morrison himself is in a cycle of learning which will drive him to become a successful leader. In his belief that “leadership unlocks peoples’ potential to become better,” Mr. Morrison is highly motivated to continue to push all students as well as staff members to grow as individuals. He feels that as a community and school, “we need to continue to propel and inspire students, ourselves, and the people we work with to become better human beings.” Learning and leadership are Mr. Morrison’s two main focuses that he will use to help guide him in his early principalship.
Now, looking back at Mr. Morrison's journey to Principal of Hillcrest High School, it's evident that this journey seldom happens. Mr. Morrison’s accomplishments are very inspiring because it's not something we hear about everyday. It's an exciting and motivational story that will galvanize anyone who hears about it. Knowing that our Principal attended the same school as us, went through the same classes, same hallways and succumbed to the same problems many of us face, makes us want to make better decisions because there's a possibility the future Principal of Hillcrest High School is another student sitting in one of our classes or even you.
MAH WINS NYT SCHOLARSHIP