ROCKINGHAM — Richmond County Superintendent George Norris officially announced his retirement on Wednesday.
Norris told The Richmond County Daily Journal that plans to retire at the end of June after 43 years in education. With 26 years of experience as superintendent in four different districts in North Carolina and Tennessee, Norris is one of the longest serving school leaders in North Carolina.
“I’ve worked for a long time and been in the school business for a long time,” Norris said. “I love this. It’s what I’m about, and it’s with mixed emotions that I step down. I feel like it is time for a change, and it’s a good point for Richmond County schools to try some new leadership.”
Norris began his position as superintendent on July 1, 2007 after former Superintendent Larry Weatherly retired. He was chosen out of 19 applicants for the position.
Jerry Ethridge, a school board member, said that Norris will be missed.
“What I’ve learned about Dr. Norris is that he is a very knowledgeable man and he really thinks things through,” Ethridge said. “He has had some real experience in other school systems and has been able to bring that knowledge to Richmond County. In my opinion, he has done a really good job with our schools.”
School board member Irene Aiken credited Norris with helping bring middle schools to the county system. Before Norris, Richmond County was the only county in North Carolina that maintained junior high schools instead of middle schools. Aiken also said that despite the major cuts to the budget by the state, Norris was able to help prepare the county for the cut in finances.
“We lost a lot of money from the state, but thanks to Dr. Norris we didn’t have to let anyone go from their position despite losing money,” Aiken said.
Norris said the credit goes to all those that worked for the school system.
“We’ve tried to position ourselves where we could handle a funding crisis, and I think we’ve done a great job,” Norris said. “Our county commissioners have also been great to work with and tried to maintain our funding, even when commissioners in other districts have cut school funding. I’ve had the pleasure of working with some really wonderful people here.”
Norris was named the 2012-2013 Regional Superintendent of the Year by the Sandhills Regional Education Consortium. He has also driven many district initiatives, including the opening of the Early College, Transitional School and East Rockingham Elementary, and the initiation of the Summer Enrichment program for students.
“The thing I’m most proud of is we’ve (the school system) really tried to make the focus on our children in our school district,” Norris said. “Our staff has also done a lot of growing and training to try and benefit our kids and I am so proud of particularly the principals, teachers and central services team. They are an absolutely wonderful group of folks who are like minded in the pursuit of excellence for our children.”
While Norris has enjoyed his time in Richmond County “better than any other place,” he knows some of the struggles the new superintendent will face, including financial challenges.
“It’s so hard sometimes to deliver quality programs without resources,” he said. “Whoever comes in is going to have to find a way to get more technology in the classrooms. There’s just not a lot out there right now for technology as far as funding, but our kids really need to have more use of it. It’s also going to be difficult to hire and retain quality teachers. Our teachers deserve a pay raise. Our principals deserve a pay raise. Our legislature needs to step up and do something for our teachers. It’s hard to do this job and make everyone happy, but you just have to decide what you think is right for the kids. It’s going to be difficult, but, whoever they are, I hope they will keep us moving forward.”
Norris said he plans to focus more on his family and enjoying his retirement.
“It will really be different for me after 43 years in education,” Norris said. “Education is who I am, and I’ve given this place 24/7 since I’ve been here, but I’ll enjoy some time off. My wife retired from teaching 5 years ago, and we’ve now got our first grandchild who was born June of this past year. He lives in Raleigh, and we’re excited about having some time to spend with him.”
School board member Joe Richardson said that Norris’ retirement is one that is well deserved.
“He’s done a good job and he deserves a good retirement,” Richardson said.
Richardson said the next step for the school board will be to advertise the position and start the search for a replacement.