Jarrod Norris has taken on an array of roles since joining Yuma School District One 12 years ago. He’s been a paraprofessional, a substitute teacher, a special education teacher, an instructional coach and even Yuma County’s Teacher of the Year in 2013.
But these days he’s wearing an administrative job title – two job titles, actually – as he takes on the role of principal at PFC James D. Price Elementary School and assistant principal at Desert Mesa Elementary School.
Norris’ career path as an educator all started with the birth of his 14-year-old son, who arrived with some special needs that shifted Norris’ attention to preparing him for success and independence.
“When he was born, I was working as an electrician, and I thought it might be fun to become a special education teacher,” Norris said. “I worked full time, put myself through college and started teaching special education when he started kindergarten.
“Our journey has sort of been together. Initially I became an educator because I didn’t think there was anybody good enough to teach him, and I quickly learned that I was wrong – there are many, many wonderful teachers that he’s had over the years and educators that are way better than I ever was.
“But that’s what brought me to education.”
The two are embarking on their own journeys this year, as Norris’ son moves on to high school and Norris settles into his administrative responsibilities. Although he never envisioned himself in such a role, Norris doesn’t seem to regret the change.
“I felt like, with the relationships I’ve built in our district, it was the logical next step for me,” he said. “It was a combination of my experience as a teacher and as an instructional coach that really encouraged me that I had something more to give, to not just our students but also our teachers, and to be an advocate for all of our students to find a level of success in education.”
Considering himself a “huge advocate” for public education, one of Norris’ main objectives is empowering his students and staff to be the very best they can be.
“Going into administration, I have that understanding of how many differences there are within our population of students, but also within our population of teachers,” he said. “Finding those areas where students can be successful and encouraging their teachers to help them become successful, while finding that platform to become successful themselves with the tools and knowledge and experience – that’s very important to me also.”
He’s also a firm believer in the power of “cultivating a collaborative environment” among teachers and the role it plays in developing their strengths, identifying their weaknesses and showing them how to utilize both.
“Almost every teacher has really good qualities, and finding what those are and expounding on those and building on those and helping them be the best teacher they can be so that our students find that academic success for themselves is a key component,” he said.
At Price, he may only be physically in the office Tuesdays, but Norris said he’s devoted to fostering an open line of communication between families and the school.
“I’m working and will continue working diligently toward building trust and communication between the school and families,” he said. “Our families are technically their child’s first teacher, so we can collaborate with them and keep those lines of communication open and build that bridge between home and school. Especially now, I think it’s very, very important because of all the changes that have happened overnight (due to COVID-19).”
And with the pandemic posing some challenges to the coming school year, Norris said that as a parent himself, he understands and empathizes with his students’ families and wants to make it clear that he cares and is available to address any questions or concerns they may have.
“Teachers and educators and administrators, most of us are also parents,” he said. “We have families and we’re going through the exact same things and having to make tough decisions. It goes back to that communication aspect – making sure they see you, making sure they hear from you, making sure that you connect with them and show that you care.”