Shaken this summer by racist videos posted by recent graduates, the Morristown-Beard School has hired a new leader who it says is committed to diversity and inclusion.
Elizabeth “Liz” Morrison in July 2021 will become the first woman to serve as Head of School since the 1971 merger of the Morristown School and the Beard School.
She is coming from the the Antilles School, a co-ed prep school on the island of St. Thomas where nearly half the students are Black. Students of color account for 27 percent of Morristown-Beard’s 577 students, according to a public relations firm representing the school.
“With a student population at Antilles School that is almost 50 percent students of color, Liz has grown in her understanding of the complexity of race in independent schools, and she is striving to create a curriculum and community where all students feel a deep sense of belonging. It’s clear that she understands the important role that the Head of School plays in shaping school culture,” MBS Board President John Fay said in a statement this week.
“I share a belief in the value of an inclusive community, and its potential to transform lives,” Morrison echoed in a statement.
“The MBS motto, ‘To the stars through adversity’ really spoke to me as I envision a rich learning environment that is rooted in tradition while being simultaneously progressive, valuing the independence of mind and full participation.”
Morrison will succeed Peter Caldwell, who will retire in June 2021 after a decade as Head of School at the private institution in Morris Township.
When Morristown-Beard announced Caldwell’s retirement plans last February, the school praised him as “a champion of diversity and inclusion, encouraging dialogue and understanding across the campus.”
But Morristown-Beard made international headlines over the summer when racist slurs posted by three 2020 graduates–including a football star–resulted in those students withdrawing from, or getting booted by, Cornell University, the University of Richmond and Colgate University.
In one video, a student could be heard applying the N-word to George Floyd, the Black man killed by a Minneapolis policeman on Memorial Day. An online petition demanded the school take action against girls singing the same slur in another video. Black students and alumni have shared anonymous stories of unsettling campus moments via an Instagram account, BlackatMBS.
Caldwell denounced the behavior of the recent graduates, and the school created a task force to review its diversity policies. A consultant from Olive Branch Educators was hired to moderate a summer series of online focus groups with MBS parents.
Acknowledging some students were concerned about returning to MBS “in this cultural climate,” Klarissa Karosen, the school’s director of diversity, equity and inclusion, told parents last month that guidelines have been revised, and the student handbook has been updated, to more clearly identify inappropriate language and behavior.
“Our first goal for the 2020-21 school year is to teach students how to engage in civil conversations and productive dialogue,” Karosen wrote.
Sports team captains and student government leaders attended “leadership and facilitation training” in August, and coaches received “cultural competency training,” which will be extended to all faculty and staff during this academic year, she said.
Morristown-Beard, which has roots dating to 1891, teaches students in grades 6-12. Average class size is 12 students, and tuition for its upper school is $39,190, reports the Private School Review.
Morrison was chosen through a national search conducted by a committee of trustees, faculty and administrators, guided by the educational search firm Carney Sandoe & Associates.
“Liz was chosen for her all-encompassing experience in education, her passion for teaching and learning, and especially for her ability to connect with students and earn the respect of faculty, and her commitment to diversity and inclusion,” Fay said.
Before assuming leadership of the Antilles School in 2016, Morrison was assistant Head of School at the Millbrook School in Millbrook, NY. Her career also includes a stint teaching math at the Oakwood Friends prep school in Poughkeepsie, NY.
The Baltimore native played on the 1986 University of Maryland national champion women’s lacrosse team.
She is a graduate of the Bryn Mawr School, with a degree in kinesiology from the University of Maryland and a master’s degree in education from the University of Pennsylvania. Morrison has a son and daughter in their 20s, and two adult stepchildren. Her husband Tom is a corporate pilot.
“I am grateful to be joining a school community that is willing to grow and learn and aspires to be an institution where every student and family feels seen and valued in the life of the School,” Morrison said.
Below is the school’s full statement.
This story has been updated with information from a school spokesperson about the size of Morristown-Beard’s minority population.
From the Morristown-Beard School:
Morristown-Beard School Appoints Elizabeth Morrison New Head of School
The Morristown-Beard School Board of Trustees has voted unanimously to appoint Elizabeth “Liz” Morrison as the next Head of School, effective July 1, 2021, on the retirement of Peter Caldwell in June 2021.
Liz will be the first woman to serve as Head of School for Morristown-Beard School since the Morristown School and the Beard School merged in 1971. She joins the ranks of only a handful of other women in the state serving in the position.
Liz comes to MBS from Antilles School, an independent, coeducational college preparatory school in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, where she has served as Head of School since 2016. She brings more than three decades of experience in independent school education, having served as Assistant Head of School at the Millbrook School in Millbrook, New York before joining Antilles School.
“We are confident that under Liz Morrison’s leadership, Morristown-Beard School will attain new heights, our horizons will continue to expand, and our students will continue to flourish,” said John Fay, President of the Board of Trustees. “We look forward to welcoming her this summer, and we wish her unprecedented success!”
Liz’s appointment comes as a result of a thorough and inclusive process conducted by the Search Committee, under the leadership of Trustee Paul Hawkins ’85, ‘P18, ‘P20, and in conjunction with the experienced educational search firm, Carney Sandoe & Associates.
The Search Committee was comprised of trustees, faculty and administration members working collaboratively to evaluate and select our next Head of School. Liz was selected from a national pool of highly qualified and talented candidates of diverse racial and gender backgrounds after a thorough search process that engaged students, parents, alumni, faculty, staff, and trustees.
“We were thrilled when she enthusiastically accepted our invitation,” said Mr. Fay. “Liz was chosen for her all-encompassing experience in education, her passion for teaching and learning, and especially for her ability to connect with students and earn the respect of faculty, and her commitment to diversity and inclusion.
“With a student population at Antilles School that is almost 50 percent students of color, Liz has grown in her understanding of the complexity of race in independent schools, and she is striving to create a curriculum and community where all students feel a deep sense of belonging. It’s clear that she understands the important role that the Head of School plays in shaping school culture.”
The MBS Board of Trustees was impressed by the breadth of her credentials as an educator and administrator. At the Millbrook School, she held positions as Dean of Students, Academic Dean, and Director of College Counseling.
Earlier in her career, Liz served as a math teacher and Chair of the Math Department at Oakwood Friends. More recently, Liz was inducted into the Headmasters Association, a highly prestigious association of only 100 members.
A graduate of The Bryn Mawr School, Liz holds a Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology from the University of Maryland and a Master of Science in Education from the University of Pennsylvania.
Throughout the search process, Liz’s supervisors and colleagues were uniform in their praise for her professionalism, work ethic, communications, and team-building skills, along with her business and curriculum development acumen.
On a more personal level, Liz grew up in Baltimore, Maryland; she was a proud member of the 1986 University of Maryland NCAA Division 1 National Champion Women’s Lacrosse team; has a son and daughter in their twenties, along with two adult stepchildren; her husband Tom is a corporate pilot; and she plans to reside in New Jersey near MBS.
“My husband, Tom, and I are excited to move to New Jersey, and thrilled to join the MBS community. From my first introduction to the search committee, I felt a love of teaching from the faculty, the power of collaboration from the administrators, a sense of gratitude and pride from the Trustees, parents, students and alumni. I share a belief in the value of an inclusive community, and its potential to transform lives,” said Liz Morrison.
“I am grateful to be joining a school community that is willing to grow and learn and aspires to be an institution where every student and family feels seen and valued in the life of the School. The MBS motto, ‘To the stars through adversity’ really spoke to me as I envision a rich learning environment that is rooted in tradition while being simultaneously progressive, valuing the independence of mind and full participation.”