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Leland Morrison

Leland Morrison, superintendent of schools for the Diocese of Davenport, at Assumption High School in Davenport. He was recently named to Iowa's non-public school advisory committee.

Before Leland Morrison became superintendent of schools in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Davenport, he spent 35 years in public education.

Now, he's adding a new duty to his professional life: A place on the Nonpublic School Advisory Committee of the Iowa Department of Education.

Morrison applied for the committee job, and Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds announced the appointment a month ago. He joins the five-member panel that advises the state on issues from the perspective of non-public schools.

Morrison clearly knows a lot about public schools in Iowa. He was educated in public schools, colleges and universities, starting in Sigourney, Iowa.

"I have an interest in both public and private schools. I have always felt, a community's strength is a community with educational choices," he said, noting he serves now on committees in the Davenport Community School District, including the at-risk and drop-out prevention boards.

That said, Morrison advocates for private schools, keeping in mind the 32,000 Iowa students who are not part of the public school system.

Although private school education is a hot topic in the United States since the 2016 presidential election, Morrison said the Catholic schools in the Davenport Diocese are accredited and plan to stay that way.

For example, while private schools are not required to give the Iowa Assessment tests, Morrison said that's not going to end for area students.

"Our parents demand that testing," he said.

Although the tests can be costly, Morrison sees part of his job as reminding the governor about the needs of private schools.

The advisory committee deals with a wide range of topics, including the "Every Student Succeeds Act" approved Sept. 18 in Iowa and sent to federal education officials, David Tilly said. 

Tilly, deputy director of the Iowa Department of Education, co-directs the advisory group. Specific tasks for the committee are set out in the Iowa Code and include teacher certification and school standards, Tilly said, noting the state started adding advisory committees in 2001.

The positions are unpaid and are not subject to approval by the Iowa Senate. The group meets quarterly, and Morrison's first session is Oct. 9 in Des Moines.

The committee represents both faith-based and secular private schools, Tilly said.

"While they are for their schools, they do a good job of thinking broadly about what other schools in the state need," Tilly said. "This is a very enlightening, thoughtful group of people who always give good advice to the department."

Tilly knows Morrison and said he is looking forward to working with the Davenport resident.

Morrison, who oversees 5,000 students, said the Catholic schools are thriving. He takes part in the Mississippi Bend Area Education Agency, especially in curriculum meetings that emphasize science and social studies.

Curriculum can be expensive, he said, noting that's very true of STEM, or the science, technology, engineering and math, programming. However, the schools all work on budgets, supplemented by grants and "generous benefactors," Morrison said.

In addition, the state seeks out the school system's people for service from time-to-time. As an example, John F. Kennedy Catholic School in Davenport is a partner with the state Education Department in piloting tools and processes for the state's multi-tiered systems of support, Principal Chad Steimle said.

Today's parents want choice in their schools, and Morrison is happy to be advocating for all private schools in Iowa.

"We want to keep moving forward," he said.