As the new executive director of Teach For America-St. Louis, Warren Morgan said his immediate priority is to listen.
Morgan leads a network of approximately 600 Teach For America (TFA) corps members and alumni who teach in under-resourced schools and work in many fields that impact education to advance equity in St. Louis.
Morgan wants to spend first year at the helm getting out in the community, meeting with partners, school leaders, students and community members. He thinks the only way to continue achieving organizational goals is by listening.
“I want to listen while implementing some of the takeaways to make an impact in the long run,” Morgan said.
A native of Dolton, Illinois, Morgan has nearly 11 years of experience in policy and education. He most recently completed a White House Fellowship to broaden his knowledge of leadership, policy formulation and current affairs. His White House Fellowship spanned the Obama and Trump administrations.
“Although each administration was different, I learned that there is power in the collective,” Morgan said.
“In the Trump administration, I worked on supporting some of the Promise Zone work in communities all across the country. It was designed for communities looking to improve education, jobs and health. It was a great demonstration of the power of the collective. I started my work by doing listening calls with those in the community, and I realized that their collective efforts was the real power to change.”
That was a take-home lesson for his next position. “TFA can be a huge part of broader community change,” he said.
Morgan also served as the academic superintendent for the Cleveland Metropolitan School District’s turnaround schools. Under his leadership, schools outperformed the district’s graduation rate, decreased suspensions, and made significant gains in literacy and attendance.
Morgan, who also served as principal in Chicago Public Schools, is a TFA alumnus. After earning his master’s degree from the University of Missouri-St. Louis, Morgan became a TFA corps member and accepted his first assignment in 2007 as a science teacher at Yeatman-Liddell Junior High School. There he earned Outstanding Teacher of the Year in 2009.
“As any first-year teacher, it was very challenging to balance the preparation needed to ensure you had rigorous and engaging lessons,” Morgan said. “I always wanted the class to be engaging, like when I included rap videos for different elements to the periodic table in my science class. I wanted to connect students to the content.”
He also discovered that teaching is one of the most important jobs in the country.
“Everyone is going to encounter some form of education. I realized for the first time that the onus was on me, the teacher, to educate the students,” Morgan said. “There are a lot of teachers who are not receiving the professional development they need to be their best for students each day. I realized how important strong leaders and schools are to our communities.”
Morgan’s work experience also includes a stint as a bill analyst for the Illinois Senate, where he saw first-hand some of the issues faced by public education.
Throughout his professional career, Morgan has strived to be a change agent for education reform from the classroom to the capital. And that’s why the position with TFA appealed to him.
“I’ve always wanted to influence education policy by way of education, and having an understanding of teaching helps me to support teachers and institutions,” Morgan said.
“At Teach For America, we say that ‘One Day’ we’ll get this right. That if everyone understands the issues and we have a community that gets it right, we’ll work ourselves out of a job. More specifically now, we know that ‘One Day’ is a lifetime commitment. My joining TFA is a lifelong commitment. It’s my life’s calling and mission. I believe everyone who comes to the movement feels the same way, always connected to solving the problem of ‘One Day.’”
Morgan said one of the biggest challenges for education reform is that some individuals just don’t believe that students from certain backgrounds can succeed.
“St. Louis is like many other urban areas where you have a lot of people who care about the issues, but a lot of people questioning how we are going to get this done when we have a lack of resources – monetary resources, human capital, programs and additional support,” he said.
“We also have many organizations looking to solve the issue, but we’re not all working together to make that happen. I see this in lots of cities, as well as here in St. Louis. In Missouri, you have two urban pockets – St. Louis and Kansas City – and everything in between doesn’t face what we experience. It can feel like in the region, it’s just up to the region, but we need the state support that makes it possible to do the work.”
Long-term, Morgan sees a real need to re-energize the community around TFA, which has been in St. Louis since 2002.
“People know about us and have determined in their mind what it is we do, without really understanding our movement,” he said. “We didn’t have this when I joined the corps 10 years ago. I’d love to mobilize our corps and alumni to help everyone understand our mission and further drive our impact.”
Morgan also hopes to expand TFA partnerships and reach through corps members and alumni.
“Our district leaders need the support of many different organizations to help them achieve their goal,” he added. “I want TFA to think about how we can help our district partners to transform education. We want to serve and support them.”
For more information about Teach For American, visit www.teachforamerica.org.