South Bend Super Mike Morris stepping down

By Scot Pearson

“I would like to thank everybody in the community for all their support,” Morris said. “The town has been great to me from the time I came at three years old until now.”

Morris, believing that he would enter the life as part of the harbor labor force, attended college and found a differing path leading to his future.

Working and attending college, Morris started his next level of education at Clark College in Vancouver with an interest in Marine Biology. To pay his way through college, Morris worked at the Weyerhaeuser Saw Mill and after finishing at Clark he next moved onto Western Washington University.

“I ended up with a double major in both education and special education,” Morris said. “I also had a minor in marine biology.”

His change into following a degree in education was tilted by his love of sports. While working out at the college gym, Morris would walk between repetitions of his weekend weight lifting routine and take breaks at the pool.

“I would see this special swimming session going on, I kept coming back and seeing what they were doing on my rep breaks,” Morris said.”

The session was a group of developmentally disabled swimmers aged 18-65 taking time in the pool. His curiosity did not go unnoticed and he was asked if he would be interested in volunteering at the pool. From that day forward he would be on a new path.

“I got involved with them helping at the pool and taking them on outings,” Morris said. “I changed my degree and sought a major in education with certifications in special education.”

With his degrees, Morris landed his first job in education in the Columbia Gorge teaching at Stevenson Carson.

“I also started coaching,” Morris added.

Morris had always had in the back of his mind that he might coach at some point in his life. A member of the 1972 South Bend basketball team that had made the best finish since 1956, the team finished eighth in the state.

“I played sports in college as well, it just came natural to me to have sports involved in my life,” Morris said. 

Morris moved up at Stevenson Carson and made the jump into the high school, teaching and coaching, he stayed for about four years. But he was also looking for an opportunity to get closer to home. 

On a visit back home, Morris had what he called an “Aha” moment and set in motion the next leg of his educational career.

For the next 13 years, Morris would find his footing back in South Bend starting as a teacher for 7-12 grade disabled students. He continued coaching and building up his resume, becoming the schools athletic director and taking on more administrative responsibilities. And when the call came he was ready for the next step to fulfill his eventual educational apex.

“I got a call and was asked to help out in a principal position,” Morris said. “It was only supposed to last for a year.”

Eleven years later, Morris found himself poised for what would be his pinnacle position in education.

“I knew that it may be possible and had made my intentions known,” Morris said. “I got the required certifications so when the timing was right I was offered the job.”

Morris stepped into the Superintendent job and after 10-years, has made the decision to bring his 35 years in education and 33 years coaching to an end.

“I really was looking at retiring last year, but there was something’s that I wanted to finish first,” Morris said.

Not going into great detail about what it was that he wanted to finish, but recent awards for the school district show that whatever programs and focus is set in front of the South Bend School District, things are working. South Bend Middle School was recently awarded a “School of Distinction” award from the Center for Educational Effectiveness.

“All the credit for that award goes to the principal, teachers, students and staff,” Morris said. “I see my role as more of a facilitator to remove road blocks.”

Morris admits that there has been a lot of changes in education during his time from being a student to leading a school district.

“Teaching gets a bad rap these days,” Morris said. “I think that people think that there is a lot of money for education and that it is an easy job. I can tell you it is not an easy job, it is hard.”

With recent changes in the local economy, Morris notes that the lack of jobs and early opportunities is but a couple of reasons education is getting harder. Technology, has made somethings easier, but is not without cost and additional education for staff and striking a balance between the needs of the kids, families, the school district and education.

“It use to be that a kid could get a job when they were 15 years old and get a little taste of responsibility a work ethic,” Morris said. “We still have kids associated to the mills and working the lumber industry, but jobs are few and far between. We have kids that just do not know where to go. There are just not the jobs out there that there use to be. The kids tell me that they are not sure where they are suppose to go in the future.”

Coupled with the lack of opportunities, the ever evolving education system does not allow a school district the ability to build on something and see it through.

“Things change every couple of years,” Morris said. “It is not only the educational tract that is layed out, it’s the funding or lack of funding that is harder to get. They put up so many barriers that people just do not see.”

Even with the realization about current situations, the ability to have the middle school receive the School of Distinction award, shows that education, good education can be found in a smaller community and that with effort from all involved, the future is still uncharted.

“I really do not know what the future of South Bend education will be,” Morris said. “But I know that it will be in good hands when I leave.”

In a recent school board meeting, Naselle Principal, Jon Tienhaara, has been named to succeed Morris.

“Jon is also the schools technology coordinator and runs their alternative learning program,” Morris said. “As he gets ready to take over for me, I will also serve as his Mentor in the Superindentant certification program.”

The ability for Morris to work with his replacement will serve as a smooth transition.

“We have great teachers, a great staff and great students here,” Morris said. “I am sure that things will continue to be great here in the future.”