We had the good fortune of connecting with Chip Morris, LCSW, Founder & CEO of Civics Academy, and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Chip, every day, we hear about how much execution matters, but we think ideas matter as well. How did you come up with the idea for your business?
As a problem solver by nature and profession, I was frustrated with the lack of results I had observed from using the standard approach found within most mandated education curriculums. After questioning stakeholders in my own community including judges, prosecutors, probation officers as well as the participants themselves, it became clear to me that the missing link was the context in which we are asking participants to change their behaviors. That context is community – the American community. Although communities are different across our country, they all are built on the rule of law and rely on the social contract as the cement that holds them together. Unfortunately, most Americans were not exposed to or taught civics or the idea of the social contract. These revelations and concepts helped me form the idea of what is now Civics Academy.
Alright, so for those in our community who might not be familiar with your business, can you tell us more?
Civics Academy is an online E-learning company that began working with judicial and education systems in 1991. We provided in-person classes up until 2020 when Covid impacted our ability to do so. Like so many other businesses, we poured our energy into transitioning to a more accessible as well as impactful online approach. All of the in-person courses that research revealed reduced recidivism were transitioned to an online platform using the input from learning scientists to provide some of the most cutting-edge options available today. Civics Academy has taken a firm step forward by building in our behavioral civics metho within all of our courses as we are of the strong opinion that the teaching of the broader meaning of citizenship has been absent in our educational systems as well as media. Other programs are held inconsistently, in locations not easily accessible, and lack language alternatives, thus decreasing completion and recidivism rates. At Civics Academy, our programs are available in all 50 states, participants have 24/7 access to course participation via smartphone, tablet, or computer, and we provide Spanish alternatives for all courses. Completion of one of our courses represents more than just fulfilling another condition, it represents a positive shift in behavioral choice and more responsible citizenship. We offer a strong hand-up by providing cutting-edge instruction that helps participants become the productive people we want living in our communities.
Building this unique hybrid approach has not been as easy as I had expected as the mandated education space is crowded and entrenched. In addition, referral sources and end-users are not always open to change. Fortunately, I am a passionate communicator who is persistent. By not giving up and having a message that resonates at a time when it is also sorely needed, we have found an audience that is willing to give behavioral civics a chance. With all of this being said, I would say that the most important characteristic of our effort has been perseverance!
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Since I live and work in a little small town called Monroe, Ga. – a spot nestled between Atlanta and Athens, I will start there. Monroe is a quiet yet vibrant small town that has easy access to the big city! In recent years, Monroe has become the antique capital of the south so I would definitely visit the multiple antique outlets. We have also seen multiple restaurants with wide-ranging cuisines open here. My current favorite is a cool little spot called The Roe. The Roe combines a Restaurant, Bar and Market into one business and features whole animal butchery, fresh-baked bread, select wine/beer list and more. Athens is to the east of us and offers a great selection of eateries as well. Personally, I would prefer to take a visitor to Sanford Stadium to see the Dawgs do what they do best – win! After the game though I would take my quests to a killer little spot call The Expat. The Expat is a neighborhood bistro with an Italian focus. Step into the charming 1930s cottage, located in the heart of Athens’ Five Points neighborhood, and enjoy the best of what local growers have to offer. Before exploring the metropolis to the west, I would venture north near Young Harris to Crane Creek Winery. A husband and wife team has built an amazing little spot that will convince you that you are in Italy or France! It helps that it is nestled in the beautiful North Georgia Mountains! In would finish up the itinerary with s drive back south to Atlanta where there is a newer little music venue that is truly designed with the fan in mind – The Eastern. The Eastern is a state-of-the-art venue in the Dairies complex in the Reynoldstown neighborhood of Atlanta, located right off of the Atlanta Beltline. The venue boasts a multi-tiered floorplan that offers unrivaled sight lines, top-of-the-line sound and lights, a spacious floorplan, and a rooftop that includes a covered performance space, bar, restaurant, and open-air seating. Full-service bars are conveniently placed around the venue to maximize flow, efficiency, and patron experience. Whew! Now that would be a fun little sojourn around my neck of the woods!
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
Building Civics Academy would not have happened without the support, passion, and belief in my idea from several people in my life. Of course, that support started with my wife Candy and son Caleb. They have given me the space and understanding to build my vision which has not always been easy. In recent years, my son actually joined the Civics Academy team as our COO which has helped us take our approach to mandated education to a new level. It is important to highlight several others that have been instrumental to our growth and access to new opportunities. Jay Klapper, MS was with me at the beginning when I first had the idea of Civics Academy. His experience working with the juvenile justice system and as a group instructor informed the process early on. Over the past 2 years, John Hall, a founding partner of Hall Booth and Smith, saw the potential in our vision and has helped us build our new platform and referral network significantly. Lastly, I want to mention Dr. Rusty Brooks who is not only a partner in Civics Academy but also a constant cheerleader for our leadership team when we are in the trenches working like crazy to make our company stronger and more successful.
Photo © Stephanie Calabrese