SOUTH ORANGE AND MAPLEWOOD, NJ — Kalisha Morgan, Ed.D, displays a card from a former student in her newly-decorated office at Columbia High School (CHS). This was not just any pupil — the Haitian ESL student knew Morgan as both her elementary and high school principal. Morgan said she provided the student with a support system and encouraged her to pursue dance in college. Writing that she will soon teach dance classes in California, Morgan’s mentee thanked her for “all she poured into her.”

“I still keep in contact with a lot of my students from Orange who have gone on to fabulous schools and I see the things they’re doing,” Morgan said. “I remember telling them to do it.”

As CHS’s incoming interim principal, Morgan holds over 23 years of experience in her field. Previously, she served as the elementary and secondary school principal in the Orange Township School District. Morgan joined the South Orange Maplewood School District in 2017 as the Director of Planning and Assessment. She also instructs at New Pathways to Teaching in New Jersey, where aspiring teachers take an alternate route process.

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Administrators provided Morgan with little information on the CHS leadership change, she said, and she understands why parents were upset. The decision has puzzled SOMA residents, including Village President Sheena Collum.

“I don't presume to know the inner workings of staffing decisions by our Board of Education - there are some things we'll just never know,” Collum said in a Facebook post on July 13. “Even with our South Orange Board of Trustees, there will be some things the public will never know.”

Morgan hopes to learn from her predecessor, she said. She has met with former Principal Elizabeth Aaron and said the two will communicate regularly.

“Ms. Aaron was loved. She still is,” Morgan said. “I’m looking forward to working with her...I just don’t want what she implemented to go out. Whatever didn’t work we would fix, but whatever did work — we want to keep.”

During her tenure in the SOMSD, Morgan has observed a high level of involvement from parents. She encourages parents to hold her accountable, she said, and envisions a CHS parent roundtable.

Student input is essential for her new position because they are directly impacted, Morgan said. She recently talked to student leaders after their noticing social media posts. “I want to hear from them because they were here,” she said.

Morgan plans to serve as interim principal for one year and pursue other opportunities, possibly a position in the superintendent office. She is not aware of the district’s plans for the next CHS principal. “It’s kind of in limbo right now,” she said.

For now, Morgan aims to listen to everyone she can. Residents can meet her at two Meet and Greet sessions. The first one was held on Thursday morning, July 26, and a second one is planned for Wednesday, August 1, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. in the District Meeting Room (525 Academy St.).

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