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Richard Norris says past service prepares him for the job

Published:   |   Updated: October 31, 2013 at 11:38 AM

Richard A. Norris, a church pastor, is seeking re-election to the District 4 seat on the school board.

Norris was born and raised in Point Pleasant Beach, N.J.

Norris was active in Little League, music and church related functions. He preached his first sermon at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church while in the eighth grade. Both his mom and dad worked for the Point Pleasant Beach School Board at one time.

Norris has been married to Susan C. Norris for 30 years. They have lived in Lake Placid for 22 years.

Norris serves as the sole pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, while Susan serves as the church's minister of Christian education, Trinity Tots Pre-School teacher and director, organist and choir director.

Norris' education includes a bachelor's degree in history and a master's of divinity degree in historical theology, and he is presently seeking his doctor of ministry degree.

The Norris' have four children.

Why are you running for a seat on the school board?

I have served on the School Board of Highlands County for eight years. During these eight years I have grown in my knowledge of local and state issues facing the educational process here in Highlands County. The knowledge I have gained and the tough decisions that I have been part of making and will be part of making in the future has prepared me for the next four years of a vast change in the education of our youth. I have a passion to see that every student receives a quality education that prepares them to move into the future workforce and society that unfolds before them. I know the challenges we have faced and I am prepared and qualified to meet the challenges that the School Board of Highlands County will be facing in the years to come.

Describe your personal experience and involvement with the public schools in the past five years that qualifies you as a school board member.

I have been on the board for eight years but beyond that I regularly attend school events, sporting events, assist the agricultural classes, participate in fundraising events for the athletic association, F.F.A., student government and other organizations within the schools. I have throughout the past years talked with the high school government classes, participated at banquets, baccalaureate services, fifth-grade banquets, award programs and graduations. I have visited schools and participated in special educational workshops and presentations.

What major challenges do you see now or in the future for the school district?

The most current major challenge facing the Highlands County School District is financial. I say financial because it affects every department and every aspect of the educational system.

With diminishing revenues, we face tremendous reductions in staffing, resources, maintenance, classroom resources and the ability to provide the correct salary structure for our instructional, administrative, support staff employees. Such reductions also affect our ability to meet our capital needs for increasing technology, repairs, upkeep and maintenance and debt service.

There is no aspect of public education that is not being affected or will be affected with the reduction in revenues.

As a board, we have made every effort to reduce the impact of the decrease in revenue in the classrooms, but virtually every other aspect including sports, arts, music and all extracurricular activities have been affected.

We cannot allow the decrease in funding affect student achievement throughout our district regardless of grade level.

Do you believe the board or the superintendent should have addressed any issues differently such as: the seven-period day for secondary teachers, personnel reductions or personnel assignments, budget decisions, etc.?

As a board member, I have struggled with every decision either we as a board have had to make or giving support to the superintendent for his decisions. Every decision we make affects someone somewhere in the school system, so yes, I would say in a perfect environment our teachers would have a planning period during the day or we wouldn't have had to cut certain areas of the budget.

However, the present economic conditions require tough decisions, which at the time have saved tremendous amounts of money.

As we have studied the issues, we are looking at alternatives to some of our decisions and revisiting some issues and looking different possible solutions, but as a board member I stand behind every decision that has been made considering the economic situations we find ourselves struggling through at this time.

What changes or new initiatives would you like to see in Highlands County schools?

I have worked with the other members of the school board in starting several new initiatives in the past fours. One of the biggest has been the introduction of the International Baccalaureate program centered at Sebring High School.

My only regret is that we do not have the resources at this time to provide the full program at the three high schools.

The other new initiative was the Career Academy center at South Florida Community College, which is flourishing.

We are endeavoring to expand Advanced Placement and more dual enrollment classes offered throughout the county.

I would like to see us strengthen our truancy rules to reduce the unexcused absences.

The county's FCAT scores continually trail the state average and the district's three high schools have been underperformers with D or C accountability grades, what is needed to boost students academically in Highlands County?

We are attempting more aggressive intervention especially with the lower 25th-percentile of students. But we can't do this alone.

The students also have to be motivated somehow, someway to instill in the values of our youth that education is important. This starts in the home and needs to be constantly reiterated through the school years by parents, guardians, grandparents as well as aunts and uncles.

The systemic changes that need to be made must be reinforced in the home, where values are taught, where character is molded and where personal accountability matters.

Can you think of any district expenses that should be cut?

At the present time I believe we have made appropriate cuts. The school board goes through every department, every line item, every position filled or unfilled to determine if there are any places we can cut and we have cut where we could.

Do you support merit pay for teachers?

I support merit pay if there is an equitable formula for all teachers in all areas of education. There must be an objective formula developed that does not penalize teachers but offers incentives to our teachers to extend beyond themselves.

Should the superintendent be elected or appointed?

At this time I support elected. This is based on the fact that although our county may be in the minority of school districts with an elected superintendent, I believe it works here in Highlands County.

Every four years the electorate has the opportunity to change if they are not happy with the direction of the board.

With the appointed not only would we be forced to pay a much higher salary, it would only take three board members to vote the superintendent out.

Considering the financial situation we find ourselves in at this time I believe that the elected position is satisfactory at this time. I can see in the future when the county grows where it would be prudent to go to the appointed position, but not at this time.

What is the most important responsibility of a school board?

Florida Statutes clearly define the tasks for the School Board of Highlands County. We are to determine policies and programs of the district. We are to adopt rules and regulations. We are to prescribe minimum standards. We are to contract with vendors. In addition we are to work to provide a balanced budget.

All of these responsibilities should work toward the ultimate responsibility of ensuring greater student achievement.

Highlands Today reporter Marc Valero can be reached at 863-386-5826 or