SEDL Community Service Project Helps Norman Elementary Get Off to a Good Start

September 8, 2008
Austin, Texas

Laura Shankland
Communications Associate
Phone: 512-391-6556

Norman Elementary School  photos

Top: SEDL information specialist Lin Harris and her husband Jerry Harris and Norman Elementary School assistant principal Jennifer Pace with just a few of the books the Harris family donated.

Bottom: Norman Elementary principal Floretta Andrews and assistant principal Jennifer Pace are excited to work with Norman's dedicated staff.

It is the beginning of a new school year. School supplies are passed out in brightly colored bags. The recipients are noisily delighted as they peek into the bags and see markers, pencils, glue sticks, and Post-It™ notes. The recipients aren’t students though—they are teachers from east Austin’s Norman Elementary School. And, they were more than happy to start off the school year with the necessary classroom supplies without having to dig into their pocketbooks as teachers so often do.

As an organization dedicated to solving tough education problems, SEDL has worked with schools, districts, and state agencies across the country. But SEDL staff member and former Austin Independent School District principal Sylvia Segura Pirtle recognized Norman as a school in need close to the SEDL headquarters. Pirtle, web administrator Luis Martinez, and communications director Christine Moses quickly formed a SEDL school adoption team to spearhead the school supply drive as a staff community service project.

SEDL staff members brought in cash donations and donations of school supplies—amounting to more than $750. And staff member Lin Harris went well beyond the standard donation—her daughter Amanda and her husband Jerry contributed more than 700 books to the school. Jerry is a retired elementary school teacher. Amanda, a former reading specialist, now lives in Alaska and teaches English as a second language to students primarily from the Ukraine, Russia, and Japan. 

The donation is a windfall to Norman because the school lacks class sets of leveled readers. The Harris’s donation includes 22-25 copies of many classics such as Bridge to Terabithia and 10-12 copies of other chapter books, such as Henry and Ribsy and A Ballad of the Civil War. The books primarily belonged to Amanda who collected the personal library over several years of teaching. According to Lin, “Amanda says the reading library for language arts makes a difference for the kids—it really contributed to her students’ success.”

Norman teachers are not only starting off the new school year with a little boost from SEDL but they are beginning the year with a new campus administration. Principal Floretta Andrews and assistant principal Jennifer Pace are infusing new enthusiasm and energy into the school staff. The duo had been at Campbell Elementary for 7 years and 9 years, respectively, and took Campbell from a low-performing campus to an exemplary school.

Norman is a high-poverty, low-performing school that serves a population of about 70 percent African American students and 30 percent Hispanic students. Austin's Women and Children's Shelter is nearby so some of the students are living in the area on temporary basis and have difficult family situations.

However, the passionate administrators celebrate the diversity while modeling and promoting academic excellence and high expectations for all, despite challenges or barriers which students may encounter on a daily basis. Principal Andrews exclaims the motto for the year is “Good is not enough when you dream of being great.” She explains that the faculty will be examining instructional practices. “We want to determine what instruction and services each child needs. We’ll be developing individual education plans for each child, and we’re going to have FUN doing it.”

Pace says, “We’re really excited. Norman has the same population as Campbell had, so it [raising achievement] can be done!” She added that she and Andrews will be incorporating some of the same structures they used at Campbell. For example, “We really fought to get full-time art, music, PE teachers instead of sharing them with another school. This way we can have an entire grade level send students to art, music, and PE so grade-level teachers can share a common planning time, which is essential for change.” Retaining full-time art, music, and PE teachers is also a major coup given the tight budget.

Pace explains the school is extremely low on resources: even pens, pencils, and paper were nearly non-existent. And because the building is older, technology is an issue. “We’re blowing fuses,” she laughs. “But we’re building a new positive climate and have a lot of dedicated staff members!”

About SEDL

SEDL (formerly Southwest Educational Development Laboratory) is a nonprofit corporation based in Austin, Texas. SEDL is dedicated to solving significant education problems and improving teaching and learning through research, research-based resources, and professional development. For more information about SEDL, visit