“Allowing kids to have that ‘aha’ moment is the most rewarding thing – to see kids turn the corner and realize they can do anything they set their minds to.” —Gary Morris, new principal of South County High School
With 24 years in education, Gary Morris, 50 of Dale City, was named the new principal of South County High School, on Aug. 15, 2018, succeeding former principal Matt Ragone. He will lead 2,260 students and a staff of 167 in the South County Pyramid, Region 4.
“It’s a very inclusive population. Students have learned to embrace the diversity in the building. We don’t have the extreme diversity of Falls Church; there are enough differences in demographics to allow students to feel comfortable in their settings. We don’t have a lot of cliques, which is great. You’ll see different ethnic groups sitting together, which is awesome,” he said.
The ethnic breakdown of South County students is white, 43 percent; Hispanic, 12 percent; Black, 18 percent; Asian, 19 percent; and other, 5 percent. There are 90 percent of students in General Education and 14 percent in Special Education. 19 percent of students are on the Free or Reduced Meals, based on 2016-17 statistics.
In describing some of the programs at South County, he mentioned the Robotics program, outstanding Drum Line and high-performing athletic programs. “But the arts departments, choral, and the fine performing arts have always been outstanding as well,” he said.
KNOWN FOR RECITING the catch-phrase, “We will find a way or we will make one,” he added: “I think we have a strong STEM program. That falls under the Robotics program. That program has really grown. I’m kind of biased because I am a former tech-ed teacher. It allows students to do a lot of learning that is applicable to real-world settings,” he said.
As far as new challenges as principal, he said: “Changing the culture is probably the biggest challenge for me; having been here before (as assistant principal) and changing the perception people had of me. I’m now the principal. It’s my goal to develop great relationships with all the teachers. The buck stops in this office is totally different from serving as an assistant principal. The principal is responsible for everything that goes on in the building,” he said.
He said some of his goals as principal are to increase the academic rigor for the majority of the students in the building. “I want to ensure people are part of South County High School and not just part of the South County community. Bringing people in with real-world experiences to help our students realize opportunities that are out there for them where trends are developing out in industry and in the business world and being prepared for what will be next after graduation,” he said.
What he loves most about the job is the opportunity to build relationships. “Allowing kids to have that ‘aha’ moment is the most rewarding thing -- to see kids turn the corner and realize they can do anything they set their minds to,” he said.
According to Deborah Hicks-Johnson, South County Social Studies Teacher: “What makes Gary a great principal is his genuine sense of caring, his solid leadership presence, and his focus as a visionary,” she said. “With a welcoming personality and natural knack for developing relationships, Mr. Morris creates a comfortable atmosphere of education for SCHS. His willingness to share his background and experiences leads to active positive relationships building. As a result, he encourages teaching and learning leading to high student achievement.”
Added Derek Smith, Assistant Principal at Mountain View: “Gary’s been a huge influence in my life. He was the first servant-leader I encountered in FCPS. As an administrator, he taught me to listen and understand perspective before speaking. His warm disposition positively affects everyone. He makes you want to get better just by being around him. He serves as both father and brother for his school community. He is a life-long learner who shares and seeks feedback for growth.”
Added Dr. Angela G. Atwater, Assistant Superintendent, Region 4: “Mr. Morris is a founding member of South County High School as an assistant principal when it opened in 2005. As the former principal of Mountain View High School, he led with the belief that every student should be represented within the school community. His familiarity of South County High School made him a natural fit as the new school leader. Mr. Morris exhibits high expectations for staff and students but also will show his humorous side to life. Mr. Morris has experience as an athlete and a musician and he values both extra-curricular activities. As one teacher who was on the interview panel stated, ‘As a teacher who never worked with him, he made me feel excited to get back to work and that there may be new opportunities for teachers.’”
MORRIS attended Baltimore City College High School in Maryland and graduated from Norfolk State University with an electronics technology degree. He earned a master’s in teaching technology education from Norfolk State and an Education Specialist degree from Virginia Tech.
His first teaching job was at South Lakes High School where he was a technology education teacher. He did the same job at Falls Church High School and served as the Department Chair of the electives program. He then went to Mountain View High School as the technology coordinator. Afterwards, he moved to South County as an Assistant Principal; and back to Mountain View as Assistant Principal, then Principal for Fairfax County Adult High School before moving back to Mountain View as Principal.
Morris is married to wife Gale; the couple has a blended family with eight children: Marcellus, 21; Nicolas, 20; Camryn, 17; Max, 17; Aristotle, 15; Haitia, 6; Nheema, 4; and Zara, 2.