For this year’s 2021 Outstanding Secondary School Assistant Principal of Virginia, the award came as quite a surprise.
“I have worked with so many educators over my 38 years in this field and for someone to take the time and think that I am deserving of even being nominated was humbling,” said Dr. Austin D. Norman, a University of Lynchburg MEd and EdD graduate and high school assistant principal at Jefferson Forest High School in Bedford County.
Norman was selected by a panel of principals and superintendents representing the Principal Awards Committee of the Virginia Association of Secondary School Principals. Once he learned he was in the top five, “that was a little scary,” he admitted. “I had to go through an interview process, and I’m not the kind of person who likes to talk about myself.”
But he is passionate about his work. His job, he said, is all about the students, and the award reflects that dedication. “It is the culmination of hard work and years of making sure that I am at my best, because that is what our students deserve,” Norman said. “I see it as a true honor and a privilege to represent the assistant principals across Virginia, and I hope that I may exemplify all the traits of leadership that each of them demonstrates every day.”
Known to family and friends as “Donnie,” Norman has spent his entire career teaching K-12 in Bedford County. For the past seven years, he has been the assistant principal at Jefferson Forest High School.
“Donnie has stood out as an exemplary leader and a source of inspiration to others,” the school’s principal, Brian Wilson, said in a press release. “I cannot say enough about the admiration that his colleagues, students and parents have for him.”
Wilson added that Norman is “a kind person who treats everyone in our school community with respect and dignity. He is passionate about his role as an educator and the influence he has on the school community is profound.”
According to the press release, Norman is known for sharing his knowledge with his colleagues and collaborating often with administrators, teachers, and other staff members on ways to support students in accomplishing their educational goals.
In 2007 he was recognized by the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards as a National Board Certified Teacher, the highest credential in the teaching profession. Norman holds a Bachelor of Science in health and physical education from Liberty Baptist College, now Liberty University, as well as three graduate degrees from Lynchburg: a master’s in health and physical education (1989), a master’s in educational leadership (2014), and a doctorate in leadership studies (2020).
His Lynchburg education benefits him every single day, he says.
“I really don’t think I would be in this position or even nominated for this award without my experience at the University of Lynchburg,” Norman said. “The education program, both in the master’s and doctorate areas of education, is the best in the state. The professors gave us real-life experiences on what it looks like … and what we should consider when we are posed with a situation as a leader of a school. On multiple occasions, I thought, ‘We talked about that in class — and now it is actually happening in my school.’
“Each program focused on all aspects of leadership. Not only [with respect to] students, but what leadership should focus on within the community. That has been an added bonus for me as I work to include parents, businesses, and community leaders in our school.”
Norman stays in touch with his Lynchburg professors, who are eager to help when he has a question.
“I could not have asked for a better group of educators to help me navigate my career,” he said. “I can pick up the phone or send an email to any one of my professors or deans and will get a response within minutes. They are always there to help, and I appreciate their guidance.”
Norman will be honored for his accomplishments at the June 2021 Virginia Middle and High School Principals Conference & Exposition in Richmond, and recognized nationally at the 2021 National Principals Conference in Aurora, Colorado, with other state Assistant Principals of the Year.