Celebrating Extraordinary Leaders: Meet the 2023 Difference Maker Award Recipients

Each year, the What’s Right in Education conference brings together outstanding school districts and educational leaders from across the nation to present creative solutions to practical challenges. At the 12th annual conference in October 2023, we honored two K-12 superintendents, Matt Hillmann and Terrie Morgan, with the prestigious Difference Maker Award, recognizing their bold leadership and significant impacts in their respective districts.

2023 Difference Maker Award Recipients

  • Matt Hillmann | Superintendent, Northfield Public Schools, Minnesota
  • Terrie Morgan | Superintendent, Hardin County Schools, Kentucky

Meet the Difference Makers

It is essential to recognize and celebrate the passionate leaders who make a significant impact on the lives of students, families, and communities. The Difference Maker Award, a prestigious honor presented at the annual What’s Right in Education conference, shines a well-deserved spotlight on individuals who have dedicated themselves to advancing education in remarkable ways. This year, we are thrilled to highlight two outstanding educators who have earned this distinction.

Matt Hillmann: A Trailblazer for Equity and Student Achievement

Matt Hillmann, Difference Maker Award, WRIE 2023

Matt Hillmann‘s journey in education has been marked by unwavering dedication and a relentless pursuit of educational excellence. Before taking on the role of superintendent at Northfield Public Schools in 2016, he served in various leadership positions, including director of administrative services, director of human resources and technology, principal, dean, and even as a computer education teacher and technology coordinator.

Hillmann’s commitment to equity and student achievement is undeniable. His visionary leadership has not only transformed his district but has also left an indelible mark across the entire state of Minnesota. According to Deb Henton, Executive Director of the Minnesota Association of School Administrators (MASA), “Dr. Hillmann has quickly emerged as a fierce leader and advocate for equity and student achievement, not only within his district but also across the entire state.”

Furthermore, Dr. Hillmann’s achievements extend beyond his local and state recognition. He was one of the four finalists for the AASA 2023 National Superintendent of the Year and was honored as a finalist at the AASA National Conference. This accolade highlights his dedication to making a lasting difference, as he aptly put it, “I still get up every single day and wholeheartedly believe that what I am going to do today is not just making a difference for today, but it’s going to make a difference for people for the next several decades.”

One of Dr. Hillmann’s distinguishing qualities is his openness to feedback and his commitment to self-improvement. As a long-time Studer Education partner, he consistently models the skill of accepting and acting on feedback for his leaders in Northfield. In his own words, “I like to base decisions on having as many of the community’s voices as I can.”

An exceptional testament to his commitment to inclusion and diversity is the City of Northfield Human Rights Award he received in 2022, nominated by the school district’s Hispanic Parent Advisory Committee. This recognition highlights his efforts to engage with and empower the diverse voices within his community.

Listen to Matt Hillmann on the Accelerate Your Performance Podcast:

Terrie Morgan: Championing Excellence in Hardin County, Kentucky

Terrie Morgan, Difference Maker Award, WRIE 2023

Terrie Morgan, Superintendent of Hardin County Schools in Kentucky, is a beacon of excellence and dedication in her field. She was named 2024 Superintendent of the Year by the Kentucky Association of School Administrators (KASA), a well-deserved recognition of her tireless advocacy for public education, children, and the future. Ms. Morgan is described by her nominator, “there is not anyone in our district who cares more for children. If there is a service project or community outreach program that needs support, she is the first person to put on work boots and get to work.”

The Superintendent of the Year Award is not handed out lightly; it is based on stringent criteria, including leadership for learning, communication, professionalism, and community involvement. Morgan’s achievements stand out in each of these areas.

Her leadership has continued a tradition of excellence in Hardin County and Kentucky, as she is only the fourth woman to be selected for this prestigious award since its inception in 1988, and three of them hail from Hardin County. Hardin County’s partnership with Studer Education since 2018 further reflects its commitment to excellence in education.

One of Superintendent Morgan’s notable initiatives is the “Grow Your Own” Program, which addresses the teacher shortage by offering financial support for students’ college tuition in return for a commitment to return to Hardin County after completing their education. This innovative approach not only helps tackle the teacher shortage issue but also fosters a sense of community and responsibility among the students.

Terrie’s influence extends beyond her district. She serves as the Co-Chair of the KASA Steering Committee for the Coalition Steering Committee, addressing teacher retention and recruitment. She also holds the position of Chairwoman of the board for the Green River Regional Educational Cooperative and is a member of the Kentucky Women in Educational Leadership Committee through KASA, the largest school administrator group in the state.

At the heart of Superintendent Morgan’s work is a philosophy that places students at the center of all decisions. Her unwavering dedication to providing the best possible educational experience for her students is a guiding light in her work.

Listen to Terrie Morgan on the Accelerate Your Performance Podcast:

The recognition of Matt Hillmann and Terrie Morgan as Difference Maker Award winners in What’s Right in Education 2023 is a testament to their exceptional contributions to the field of education. Their tireless commitment to equity, student achievement, and educational excellence sets them apart as true champions of the students and communities they serve. These two outstanding educators embody the spirit of innovation, inclusivity, and unwavering dedication to making a difference in education, and we celebrate their well-deserved achievements.

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