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Second Period

His inaugural year behind him, Henrico County Schools chief Fred Morton prepares for a new school session.


But that's history, too. Style caught up with Morton at his office at the Henrico County East Government Center just days before students were due back in class.

Style: People tend to think of Henrico as having the affluent neighborhoods, suburbs and schools, but there are aspects of and regions of the county that are as urban as the city. How does that affect the county's approach to education?

Morton: We have opportunities and challenges in every part of the school system. We are urban, suburban and rural. That's a wonderful blend of diversity, that if we can really learn through those differences, we'll have incredible strengths to build upon. … Actually, it's one of the reasons I wanted to come here — working in a school community with that kind of diversity is a great opportunity — and it's certainly been fulfilled this past year.

I was looking over the reading lists for Henrico 9th-, 10th-, 11th- and 12th- graders. Have you read recently any of those books?

I'm familiar with the list and I'm an avid reader. I've been reading over the summer, and actually the two books I'm reading now are "The World Is Flat: [A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century]" by [Thomas L.] Friedman, which is very interesting. The other is, "Everything That Is Bad for You Is Good for You," which is a treatise on technology. I'm working on my doctorate, which is taking care of most of my reading.

Are there characteristics that are unique to Henrico students, or rather, what has impressed you most about the students you're charged with overseeing?

We actually had a group of 20 to 25 students that came together from each of our sectors — a couple hundred students. They called a student summit and helped develop a student legislative body. They're going to be actively involved in looking at issues directly related to students. And they'll come before the school board and make recommendations about how to solve them — giving students a voice. …

Students not only have incredible minds, they have incredible hearts. They have a real willingness to reach out and do things for the community. They raised nearly $80,000 for the tsunami relief in an effort started and organized by some students at Hermitage [High School]. They did that work. We certainly have students that get [into] problems, but I think the real caution when I talk with the media or the public is we probably have a much greater percentage of adults with problems than students in the school system.

Is there a specific program or initiative that is going to be rolled out this year in Henrico that you're particularly interested in watching?

We've expanded our teacher-mentor program significantly. We've got a collaborative grant with VCU where we have our staff who are directly mentoring new teachers, bolstering the profession and the division. The grant is providing added staffing that is working through VCU to really help stimulate people's thinking. … We're looking at the re-establishment of the leadership academy for administrators, which really enhances and extends and builds upon work that had been done previously.

In respect to promoting regionalism, do you work much with or have much communication with Dr. Deborah Jewell-Sherman —

[Interjects] Actually there are four of us — we have a regional superintendent's group — and we meet probably about six times a year. Among [Chesterfield County Schools Superintendent Billy K. Cannaday Jr., Hanover County Schools Superintendent Stewart D. Roberson and Richmond Schools Superintendent Deborah Jewell-Sherman] and myself, none of us feel like we're in a competition. We all have real challenging jobs.

What I've found is there's an incredible amount I can learn from these other folks. We have a willingness to share with each other. We'll continue to find ways we can engage in some regional collaborations. But I think the key thing is real meaningful and honest respect among the four of us. We really do bounce things off each other and work together in a very productive way. S

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