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Honoring Jo Ann Norris: A passionate, persistent, patient leader

Who can make a crowd of 300 teenagers and their parents grow deathly quiet when she walks into an auditorium? Who can make a chancellor of a large university sit on the edge of his/her seat as she speaks about the institution’s strengths and weaknesses? Who can look somberly into the face of a college student who is about to lose a scholarship while she is explaining the repercussions of his/her actions? The “she” is Mrs. Jo Ann Norris and does she ever have an eye for quality! She sees it; recognizes it, and assists its growth. The fact that she can assemble such a large group from all around the state to hear her welcoming requirement speech; that she can evaluate educational offerings at large or small colleges and universities, and that she can monitor a student’s progress toward meeting the standards, validate her ability to connect to others in a “steel magnolia” way.

Truly, Jo Ann’s greatest legacy is her involvement with the Teaching Fellows Program.

Her impact was not a ripple, but a wave “in the pond.” She was the central figure in these lives and the numbers impact the rational side of her influence, but the numbers do not reveal all of the influence she has had on education in North Carolina.

Jo Ann demonstrates a passionate, persistent, and even patient spirit when speaking to others about the importance of placing quality teachers in classrooms throughout North Carolina counties.

She struggles with issues hindering the process and progress in making this happen. She believes that good teachers are not born, but are made and at the core of that belief, she believes in making the process encourage keeping the “best and brightest” in the educational arena as long as possible.

She has been described as a role model for young “want to be professional” Teaching Fellows. Her dress; her shoes; her make-up, and even her jewelry make statements about professionalism and first impressions. She encourages those who get discouraged about personal problems and yet she can speak sternly to those who lack initiative in reaching goals. Her voice “rings the bell” for many who realize they don’t want to leave teaching, they just want to be a better teacher.

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Jo Ann can stand before large groups of women and proclaim the importance of taking risks and making a difference around decision-making tables that can transform institutions and change the world. She affirms their worth as well as their capabilities and has emphasized that leadership does matter. She has influenced numerous women to take that extra step to become leaders in their own right.

Jo Ann has been recognized as an outstanding teacher when she won North Carolina’s Teacher of the Year. She’s received many thank-you acknowledgements for going beyond the “call of duty” to influence legislators to maintain the original intent of the Teaching Fellows Program and she’s been applauded for facilitating leadership opportunities such as the Education Policy Fellowship Program (EPFP) to national recognition. School systems valued the wealth of leadership experiences offered and were willing to pay for employees to participate so their leadership staff could have the opportunities to interact with other professionals and to work under Jo Ann’s guidance.

My own children have dedicated their lives to serving children in the public schools and each is a distinguished educator in their own right. All three credit Jo Ann’s influence for making them the educator they are today. As a mother and retired educator, I will forever be indebted to Jo Ann for having such a positive influence on their personal and professional lives. As a Teaching Fellows Commission member since the beginning of the program, I worked with Jo Ann in numerous meetings, interviews, evaluations, seminars, and celebrations and I found her to be a true professional regardless of the circumstances.

Jo Ann has made a difference in many aspects of other people’s lives. In 2011, she was the recipient of the Eta State Founders Award, the highest award given to a North Carolina woman for her contribution to improving the quality of life of North Carolinians. Eta State is an organization of The Delta Kappa Gamma Society International which is an honorary society for key women teachers. The mission of this organization is “promoting personal and professional growth and excellence in education.”

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The accolades she has been given are received in humility. She speaks about the support she’s had from her family, co-workers, and friends and acknowledges how her upbringing and early life experiences influence her daily walk of life. Yes, Jo Ann Norris exemplifies, not only the characteristics of a “steel magnolia,” but also as a quality teacher of teachers and is certainly worthy of being recognized as a Dr. Jay Robinson honoree.

Linda Little

Linda Little is a retired elementary school principal. She’s worked in various administrative roles during her 37 years as an educator. She was appointed to the Teaching Fellows Commission by Governor Jim Martin and continued on the Commission until 2015. Linda’s husband of 51 years is a retired music teacher and all three of their children are in education. Linda has presented at national, state, and local conferences on early childhood education, reading techniques, math connections and advantages of year round schooling.