MABTON - Mabton residents turned out en masse last night, Monday, at the Mabton School Board meeting to voice their desire to honor former principal Keith Morris by naming the school district's athletic field after him.
Morris is currently receiving treatment for pancreatic cancer and recently spent nine days in an intensive care unit.
Residents speaking in favor of naming the field after Morris called on school board directors to make an immediate decision, but school board officials expressed a desire to allow more community members the opportunity to comment in favor or against it.
Because this week is parent teacher conferences at the elementary school, Supt. Sandra Pasiero-Davis offered to set up a booth today, Wednesday and Thursday at Artz-Fox Elementary School.
Mabton School District's Director of Student Learning, Tamara Steen, was first to make the plea to name the field after Morris.
Steen, who has worked in the district since 1983, explained the transformation of respect in Mabton schools following Morris's arrival.
"Before Keith, controlling a class took a lot of instructional time because the principal had no control over the building. In those days, when a fight broke out, he (the principal) would hide in his office and call the superintendent to tell him to come stop the fight," she said.
That changed, she says, when Morris took the helm.
"Within a couple of years, I was able to teach from bell to bell, and discipline issues became a thing of the past. Even the gangsters were respectful," she said.
Steen also describes Morris as "lead learner" in his building. "...Keith had created a safe learning environment for teachers through his willingness to lead by example."
Steen says she became a better teacher because of his coaching, and attributes her 2005 state teacher of the year honor to his direction, as well as the direction of former Mabton Superintendent Kevin Chase.
Chase also took to the floor in support of naming the athletic field after Morris.
Chase, now the superintendent of the Grandview School District, said, "It's easy for me to write letters and call in, but I'm standing up here in person to let you know what I think about Keith Morris."
Chase said he has known Morris as his boss, as his employee, as a parent and as a Mabton resident.
Morris, he said, transformed Mabton's reputation to one of integrity and quality. "It's like Keith was the quarterback and every play was handled by Keith Morris...he put academic press into play long before it was popular."
Chase said, "He spent his entire career in Mabton, delivering what you needed."
"Students," Chase said, "Were his number one asset, his number one priority."
Not everyone in the crowd agreed that the athletic field should be named after Morris.
Ana Alicia Hurn asked the board to honor Morris with a picture plaque. She said there was a movement a couple of years ago to name the athletic field after Morris, but after group discussions and community input, that was supposed to be the outcome, a plaque. It never happened, she said.
Despite the discussion, Mabton School Board officials would like to provide the opportunity for more community members to give input.
A meeting is slated for this coming Friday night, March 27, at 7 p.m. in the high school library, to receive community input regarding whether or not to name the field the Keith Morris Athletic Field.
Mabton School Board directors will then meet Monday, March 30, in the school district office to make a decision at 5:30 p.m.