Unique Morris-Hughes was faced with the challenge of turning around two agencies with program-related issues as the chief strategy officer at the District of Columbia Department of Employment Services.
Recently, Morris-Hughes, 37, was named the agency’s interim director. But before she became the chief strategy officer, she was the chief operating officer at the District of Columbia Office of the State Superintendent of Education. She was responsible for leading a team to get the district off a federal “high-risk” corrective action plan, which is a “watch list” because the department had “financial, grant-management, and programmatic-compliance issues,” according to a press release from the office of the state superintendent of education.
Morris-Hughes established a corrective plan and launched a grant-management system, which changed the way local education agencies and schools could manage federal grants and spend their money. Once she achieved that, it proved to leadership that she was able to turn something around, which is how she “stumbled upon” her current role.
When she moved from education to the department of employment, Morris-Hughes once again faced turning a program around. Changes needed to be made to programs to boost compliance, implementation, development and communication.
In one case, the agency was receiving federal money for youth programs, but that money wasn’t being spent appropriately and a number of young people weren’t being enrolled when they should have been. In another case, there were compliance issues where “the law says we should do ‘X,’ and we were doing ‘Y,’ ” Morris-Hughes said. Even though it was hard work, she’s proud of what her team has been able to accomplish.
“It was kind of thrilling and exciting, but it was frustrating. There’s so many emotions involved to turning something around,” said Morris-Hughes. “But it was life-changing and meaningful, and at the end of the day young people, people who are probably the most disenfranchised, are going to have opportunities to get some really cool services from the District of Columbia.”
Morris-Hughes is proud of the turnaround she’s helped implement, but she is most proud of the youth innovation grant program, which consists of start-up, community-based organizations that have creative ideas on how to serve youth and provide them work-based learning and workforce development skills. The program helps them bring their ideas forward by providing funding to implement, build and manage it.
“The program focuses on opportunities [for] young people who may have dropped out of school, or have had some sort of barrier in their life that has prevented them from taking a more traditional approach,” said Morris-Hughes. “So, I get really excited to see the underdog win.”
Morris-Hughes believes government shouldn’t create more barriers and should help with providing people with opportunities, and being a part of that and having Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser, who is open to those same ideas, in her corner is what drives Morris-Hughes.
She’s also happy that she can be a role model for her young daughter.
“I’m really proud of the fact that I get to be a mom and show another young woman, who’s 2 years old, the important role women play in [not only] shaping workforce development, but the world.”
— Aysha Ashley Househ