Washington County school Superintendent Betty Morgan, who has instituted a series of reforms in her nine years in the job, is one of four finalists for the national superintendent of the year award.
Morgan, who was Baltimore City's chief academic officer before leaving to take the Washington County job, competed with superintendents representing 49 other states who had been nominated for the award given by the American Association of School Administrators.
"I am going to enjoy the journey and not worry about being the national superintendent. I feel as though I have already won by being given this opportunity. I hope to do Maryland proud," Morgan said.
Past winners include superintendents from large cities such as Atlanta, Miami-Dade County, Memphis, Tenn., and Houston and tiny school systems such as Edina, Minn., a suburb of Minneapolis. In the past two decades, no superintendent from Maryland has won.
The Washington County school district has a student population that is 42 percent poor and includes students from rural and suburban areas.
During her tenure, the dropout rate has gone from 5.5 percent to 1.7 percent while the graduation rate went from 78 percent in 2003 to an all-time high of 91 percent.
Morgan increased gifted and talented and Advanced Placement classes and SAT participation and opened a new school for the arts. After an alternative school opened to help students who had trouble fitting in at regular schools, the suspension rate dropped to one of the lowest in the state.
Plans are now being drawn up for a science and math magnet school.
The percentage of students who are pursuing post-high school studies has increased from 54 percent to 77 percent during her time as well.
Morgan was the associate superintendent in Frederick County schools and held four positions in Montgomery County schools, where she spent the majority of her earlier career as an administrator. Her husband is a math teacher in Montgomery County.
"There couldn't be a better choice than Betty Morgan. She is truly a leader and an innovator," said state Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick.
"The local school system superintendents are elated at the news that Dr. Betty Morgan is a finalist. The collaborative leadership style that she provides has resulted in improved education opportunities and results for all of the students," said Carl D. Roberts, head of the superintendents association.
Dan Domenech, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators, said the finalists will go to Washington to be questioned by a panel of experts in January and a final decision will be announced in February at the association's convention, as all four finalists sit on the stage. "This is the person we recognize as the best of the best, the leader of leaders in the field," he said.
The other finalists are Joyce C. Levey, Tuscaloosa, Ala.; Walt Rulffes, Clark County, Nev.; and Cynthia Stevenson, Jefferson County, Colo.