Norman Elementary's New *STARs* Are...
Tonya Harrison, Principal
Years in Education/Background:
I taught middle school Language Arts and Social Studies in Bellevue, Michigan for a year before coming to Reed City High School in 1997 to teach History and English for nine years. I became the principal at R.C. Alternative Ed for a year, and then moved into the assistant principal position for four years. I am currently finishing up my 2nd year as the Norman principal.
Working in Education:
I love working in the field of education. Teaching history was so exciting, because I enjoyed learning with the students, as they made connections to current life situations. I know there were days I learned more from the kids than they did from me. When I crossed over to "the dark side", as they say about administration, I feared I would lose the interaction with the students, but it wasn't true. I just learned a new way to connect with the lives of students. I was definitely scared about coming to the elementary school. Runny noses, tying shoes....I didn't think I had spent money on grad school for that.
I was wrong! Being an elementary school principal, although exhausting and challenging, brings so much light to the educator's soul. Academic growth is seen each day! Kids learn to read and multiply, with the help of teachers, who give their entire being, to the kids in their classrooms. The learning is so visible, and kids treat you like a super star when they see you outside of school. I can say I haven't grown accustomed to the runny noses or the fact that "no biting" has to be in our handbook, but watching kids learn skills that last a life time and the "I love you, Mrs. Harrison" before a student boards a bus makes it worth it.
New to Education?
I don't consider myself a veteran to education and I learn new things every single day, but I have taken away a few things from my years up to this point. Educators give themselves completely to their classrooms and students or maybe to their curriculum work and data. A mentor taught me to prioritize...Health, Family, Work. I still need to be reminded of this regularly. Keep your priorities straight.
Be visionary...look ahead. Where can you take yourself and your students? Set a goal to continue learning and set goals for yourself and your students. The best teachers are really the best learners. Be a learning teacher!
Remember why we are here...it is easy to be negative and frustrated with students, parents, and our colleagues. However, we wouldn't have jobs without our kids and who better to work with every day, than other adults, who love learning and teaching.
The Things Kids Say:
Last year a student said to me, "Mrs. Harrison, I think you have something weird in your teeth. You are much prettier without it.". At first I was embarrassed, but then I thought, "who wants to go all day with something in your teeth, and she just said I was pretty."
Elementary kids, even though they can be what feels like brutal honesty, love you on your worst day, even with food in your teeth. Who wouldn't want to be here every day?
Tonya rode a horse around the school because students reached their reading goal.
I have been in education for almost 17 years, all at Reed City schools. I have had an office in every building with the exception of the high school. I started at Reed City as a social worker and worked with many students and families. When I first started working in the schools, I spent a great deal of time working with families and did lots of home visits. When I think back on some of those home visits that I made years ago, I am not so sure I would feel as safe as I did back then. I may have been a bit naïve when I first started, but I also think that times have changed and I would not likely go to the same homes I did before. I worry about many of our students and the environments that they are in. My first job in administration in the school was as the interim principal at the upper elementary followed by the Alternative Education principal. Consolidating Norman, Hersey and upper elementary staff and students together was probably the biggest challenge. I have been the assistant principal at Norman for four years. I have worked with all ages in the school, and can’t really say I have a favorite although I truly enjoy my time with the younger students. I also supervise the special education and our homeless students for the entire district.
Some of our most difficult moments at RCAPS have also been times when we have come together. We have had suicides, deaths of staff members and tragic events happen to our students. I have seen countless times our staff be there for one another to provide support in any way they can. I am very thankful to be a part of that.
I continue to be concerned about funding for public schools. I have watched over the years all the cuts that have happened to our school and schools around us. It really makes you wonder what our future brings. I love my job as the assistant principal and enjoy the staff that I work with. GT Norman Elementary is the largest elementary in our ISD, and often size brings challenges. However, it is rewarding to watch our students from kindergarten through 5th grade. One of my greatest strengths is my involvement in the community and the schools. I love to go watch our students in athletic events and activities that they are involved in. I am a Coyote by birth and always will be! Some of my best memories are at sporting events. I look forward to our current students growing up and watching them play in high school.
My husband Dave also works at Reed City Schools and I have a son that graduated from RCHS and a daughter that is a freshman. Working at RCAPS is not just a job, it is a huge part of our life at home as well. We have amazing friends that also work at the school. We are truly blessed to have as many people care about all of our students and want to do the right thing. Times are tough, but many of our staff go the extra mile and want to do the right thing for our kids!
Thank you both for sharing a little bit about yourself and the role that you play at Norman Elementary.
I appreciate your support of this "STAR" project. It has been been fun learning a little bit about each of our teachers, secretaries and administrators.
Can't wait until next year's project! :-)