Marcus Larson/News-Register##Sarah Norwood, new principal of Willamina Elementary School,  helps students find their assigned buses at the end of the day.
Marcus Larson/News-Register##Sarah Norwood, new principal of Willamina Elementary School, helps students find their assigned buses at the end of the day.
Marcus Larsonx/News-Register##Sarah Norwood is settling in to her new position as principal of Willamina Elementary School. Before becoming principal, Norwood served as a fifth-grade teacher at the school.
Marcus Larsonx/News-Register##Sarah Norwood is settling in to her new position as principal of Willamina Elementary School. Before becoming principal, Norwood served as a fifth-grade teacher at the school.
By Paul Daquilante • Staff Writer • 

The best job she's ever had

Norwood has some company. There are seven new staff members this year, including four teachers.

Earlier this week, she welcomed 488 students on their first day of school, one that marked a new chapter in Norwood’s professional career. She believes it will only become better with each passing day as the new elementary school leader.

“I wake up every day excited,” she said. “This is the best job I’ve ever had. It’s exciting.”

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Norwood’s office was previously occupied by Carrie Zimbrick, named superintendent after Gus Forster retired. Norwood isn’t interested in making sweeping changes at the school, knowing that’s not necessary.

“Carrie set such a good foundation,” she said. “She set so many good things in motion.

“We’re seeing so many gains and growth. I just want to continue that.”

Norwood likes to have fun. She wants members of the staff to enjoy themselves. Most of all, she wants the learning process to be fun for the students.

There’s a stuffed animal in her office by the name of Pork Chop. He symbolizes a class competition that will take place during the school year.

Pork Chop’s Amazing Race is off and running for 2015-16. Attendance, behavior and other areas will be monitored during the year.

The winning class will be treated to a field trip. It’s a way to hopefully ensure students stay engaged in the entire learning process during the year.

Prior to teacher in-service, Norwood spent many days this summer at the school, doing everything from painting the staff room and getting her building organized to making plans for the students and staff that she wants to see carried out this year. Positive student behavior will be one of her focal points.

So, how did the first day go?

“I was late,” Norwood said. “Got here at 7:30.

Lunch was a little chaotic. But it went really well.”

Education is not exactly the career path Norwood saw herself headed down when she graduated from South Medford High School in 1999.

The only child of Frank and Trudy Drew, she had a keen interest in architectural engineering when she enrolled at Linfield College that fall.

“We knew she would go to college,” Frank Drew said. “It was an exploratory time for her.

“She had some careers in mind. She was interested in architecture and took some classes. She was also interested in education, and decided architecture wasn’t for her.”

Education runs deep in the Drew family.

Norwood’s father has been a high school teacher for 26 years, 10 at South Medford followed by 16 in the Klamath County School District. This is his fourth year at Mazama, where he teaches business and computer applications.

His wife retired after serving 10 years as head secretary at Brixner Junior High School in Klamath Falls.

Norwood has a passion for education, and admits today that making it a career “was going to happen” for her.

She earned her bachelor’s at Linfield, master’s at Oregon State and administrative credential at Portland State. She began her teaching career in Phoenix, where she taught fourth grade.

“It was difficult to get jobs in Oregon at that time,” Frank Drew said. “The opportunity came along before she even started the process of looking for a job.”

Norwood was working in the tasting room at a Dundee winery, her father said. Two individuals who happened to be associated with a Phoenix school district visited.

“It’s the craziest story,” Drew said. “She was chatting with them.

“They were on a recruiting mission. Out of the blue, they asked her if she knew of any teachers looking for a job. She told them she was.”

He said, “She just takes advantage of opportunities.

“It was tough to get a job in Oregon. She just grabbed it. And she hadn’t even graduated.”

But Norwood yearned to return to Oregon.

She ended up landing a job at Willamina Elementary, where she taught fifth grade for seven years, served as dean of students and teacher on special assignment for two years, then served as the vice-principal for two years.

“She is so determined and goal-orientated,” Drew said. “She sets her mind to something and gets it done. She knows what she wants to do and goes after it.”

He said he’s thrilled she took advantage of the opportunity to become a principal.

“I’m proud of her,” Drew said. “I admire her as a person. You always think the best of your kids, and she’s an inspiration to me as a person, and an excellent educator from what I’ve seen and heard.”

The Drews beam at how dedicated their daughter is to Willamina Elementary, the staff and students.

“She loves the kids, loves the staff and sees so much potential for all,” Drew said. “My wife and I have loved hearing her stories about how her desire has always been to make that school the best it could be by encouraging the students to be the best they could be — starting with her recycling efforts and how much the students were engaged in that project.”

The Drews are excited to see where their daughter and the staff take Willamina Elementary in the future. “I have a feeling some great kids will come out of that school,” her father said.

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