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Norris Parker’s daughter had been accepted to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as a biology major.
At a student orientation day, the students were asked to stand according to their major.
“They asked for biology, and a third of the class stood up,” said Parker, who is Wilson County Schools’ new assistant superintendent for human resources. “Then they asked for computer science and religion and economics and went on down the line. They finally got to education, and a sliver of people stood up. I dare say that less than 30 people stood up.”
The low number was surprising to Parker, but he had been familiar with the country’s teacher shortage for years.
“I have seen it dwindle over the last eight to 10 years,” Parker said. “It has been harder and harder to recruit because the graduating classes from our universities have been lower and lower and lower over that span.”
Parker said he believes making teachers feel valued is a huge part of replenishing the pipeline of teacher candidates.
“I think we have to really honor and value our teachers so more and more people will be willing to enter the profession,” Parker said.
It’s Parker’s job to advertise for, find, screen, recruit, interview and conduct background checks on teacher candidates who will be recommended for Wilson County Board of Education approval.
“We do all of the things that make sure that people are qualified for positions before the board hires them,” Parker said.
The school district has to think outside the box when it comes to attracting teachers, he said.
“It is not just about the conventional means of recruitment, showing up at job fairs, showing up at university job events. You have to use things on social media, advertising on Twitter and Facebook and whatever means outside of that.”
Wilson County Schools has a program where it’s trying to grow its own teachers.
“We actually have a group of high school students that we are encouraging toward entering the teaching field and returning back to Wilson County,” Parker said. “There is a myriad of ways to try to raise teacher talent. But it is a combination of recruiting college talent versus growing your own from home and getting them to return home. It really helps local communities because you want to prevent brain drain and prevent this constant cycle of young people graduating from your high schools and never returning.”
Parker said Wilson County faces competition from large, growing counties such as Wake and Mecklenburg.
“They move in a high number of people each day,” Parker said. “So hopefully you can attract some of those folks back.”
Parker said the bottom line is WCS wants people who are passionate about working with students.
“You want people who are able to have positive relationships with their student body and are able to motivate and show students how much you care about them,” Parker said.
“There is something that I learned a while ago, that parents want to know three things. They want to know that their children are safe. Then they want to know that their children are cared for, and then after those two things are satisfied, that their children are taught well. But you have to know that they are safe and cared for first before you can get the content in there and make it really worth something.”
Parker, a Franklin, Virginia, native, graduated from the University of Virginia with a Bachelor of Arts in government in 1991. He then earned his law degree from the University of Baltimore in 1995. He continued his postgraduate work at East Carolina University, earning a master’s in school administration in 2009, an educational and administration specialist degree in 2011 and a doctorate of education in educational leadership in 2015.
Parker has nearly 17 years of experience in education and 13 years as an administrator. He started his career in Martin County Schools as a social studies teacher and coached basketball, football and tennis.
He was a principal at East End Elementary School in Robersonville and then a principal at Perquimans Middle School .
“For the last three years I held three jobs in Perquimans County,” Parker said. “I started out as director of testing and accountability, then I was promoted to chief academic officer, and then the next year I was moved to chief administrative officer and director of HR.”
Parker’s wife, Regina Parker, is a chief district judge in the 2nd Judicial District, which includes Martin, Beaufort, Tyrrell and Hyde counties.
Parker started his new job in Wilson on May 1.