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Spencer County Public Schools Assistant Superintendent Norma Thurman can sum up why she dedicated 31 years of her life to education in just a few simple words: It’s about working with kids.
Thurman is one of several local educational leaders who has announced a pending retirement. The district will lose Thurman as its second in command at June’s end.
She said her decision was a tough one, but she ultimately wanted to spend more time with her 94-year-old father who lives in Illinois.
“It was still a tough decision for me,” she said. “I love this job and love the district.”
Thurman attended Murray State University where she studied special and elementary education. She began her career in elementary special education in Fulton County and went on to spend 20 years employed with Carroll County Public Schools.
While in Carroll County, she spent eight years teaching elementary special education, served as the preschool/Head Start director for six years and spent her last six years there as instructional supervisor.
Her career with SCPS began 10 years ago following a move to Mount Washington because her husband had changed jobs. She served as Spencer County Elementary principal for three years and has been in her current post for seven.
Thurman has always been torn between serving directly in a school and working at central office. She said both have their rewards, but her central office job doesn’t let her directly interact with students daily.
“I was ready to be a principal,” Thurman said of her first years with SCPS. “I loved that job. I loved both jobs. I was very happy there.”
But the assistant superintendent position has allowed her to affect every student in the district. Her responsibilities are varied and include overseeing curriculum, instruction, assessment and professional development.
Superintendent Chuck Adams said Thurman’s student-centered approach and expertise will be missed. He noted her outstanding traits included “her intense focus on curriculum, student performance data and academic achievement” and said she was recently nominated for the Kentucky District Assessment Coordinator of the Year award.
Thurman has weathered some turbulent years in Kentucky education reform, including the implementation of the Kentucky Education Reform Act in 1991 and most recently the creation of the state’s new assessment and accountability system.
Throughout the last several years she has been instrumental in implementing the new common core curriculum standards locally and has assisted the superintendent, principals and teachers in understanding the new Kentucky Performance Rating for Education Progress tests. The district was rated proficient and scored in the top 25 percent of Kentucky schools the first year K-PREP was implemented.
“We’ve moved forward and we’ve made a lot of progress collaboratively,” Thurman said, noting that she cannot solely take credit for the progress.
“There are great teachers, great principals and great board of education members.”
When asked about her greatest accomplishments during her years as assistant superintendent, Thurman noted her work in moving the district toward proficiency and her involvement in the hiring process.
“I feel good about the quality of the people I’ve hired,” she said.
Thurman also formed the District Instructional Leadership Team six years ago — an effort that has guided the district and helped teacher leaders emerge at each school. District Title I Coordinator Rick Vincent said collaboration and problem solving are two of Thurman’s gifts.
“It’s not about the test for her,” Vincent said. “It’s really about students learning and getting more opportunities about that learning. She has just a real focus on that. But she also has the skill of collaborating, bringing the group along. It’s not just about her (being) 10 feet out in front saying follow me. It’s about bringing folks along with that vision.”
Spencer County Elementary School fifth grade teacher Michelle Noel has worked with Thurman as a principal and as assistant superintendent. She said Thurman is passionate about student education.
“Ms. Thurman is very data and research driven and has always been willing to seek out the best programs to help in the educational process both as an administrator and as assistant superintendent,” Noel said. “She also has very high standards for her staff. The great thing about Ms. Thurman is that she holds herself to those same standards.”
Thurman said she hopes to leave the legacy of making student-driven decisions.
“We should always make decisions based on student learning,” she said.
Adams said filling the assistant superintendent’s position would not be easy and that the right candidate would have to be student-focused with a working knowledge of curriculum, instruction and assessment. He added that the candidate would need to have experience as a school principal.
“What you can’t teach is the heart to assist children in maximizing their academic potential,” he said. “If you don’t have that, don’t apply. If you have never been a school principal and a successful school principal at that, again, you can’t do this job.”
Thurman plans to spend her retirement with her husband and father, and has plans to travel as well. But she definitely doesn’t think she will stay away from education work for long.
“I’m sure I’ll do something eventually,” she said, noting that she will probably seek part-time employment. “I do love to work.”