Additional Texarkana ISD articles:
Introduction: A native of Texarkana, Texas, and a product of
the public school system there, Paul Norton is fully vested. He
served as principal at Texas High School eight years before
taking over as superintendent of Texarkana ISD last summer.
His vision is simple – improve the community by improving the
schools. “We’re all better when we work together as a whole,” pretty
much sums up his philosophy. Pitsco Education products used in the
district include two Module labs, two Suite labs, and LEGO® Education
robotics. Following are excerpts from a conversation with Norton
conducted in the Suites Engineering lab at THS.
TPN: The Pitsco Network
PN: Paul Norton; Superintendent; Texarkana, Texas
TPN: Why is engineering so important in Texarkana?
PN: We went to our community five years ago and said, “If we
started an initiative, what would not only be good for the district but
for the community?” In the area, we have Cooper Tire, International
Paper, Domtar, and a large number of manufacturing plants. Their
biggest struggle was finding engineers and finding engineers who
knew how to communicate their mission and goal to others. They
wanted an engineering program which taught not only the teamwork
concept, but also the importance of communication. Honestly,
that’s what brought us to this (Pitsco Suites Engineering course).
TPN: How does the Pitsco Suites lab address engineering
at the high school level?
PN: The Pitsco equipment is what makes the dream of what our
community told us they needed to happen a reality. The kids split
up to do their individual assignments, then work in partnership and
present to the class. The collaborative piece is huge.
TPN: How have you funded STEM and engineering curriculum?
PN: The Texas High School Project (THSP) has provided grants,
and we continue to work with them. The THSP is an entity that is
involved in STEM education and they have, over the years, given
us $1.5 million. Last week, we found out we were awarded another
$115,000 in a planning grant.
TPN: How many students experience the Suites
PN: Right now we’re able to hit a pocket of kids, but we just don’t
have the resources to expand it. Hopefully, we can expand so
that all students get at least a component of it, even if they’re not
interested in engineering or mathematics. All the kids love the
technology aspect of it, and they don’t realize that when they’re
doing that technology aspect, they’re doing math and science. It’s
all tied up together.
TPN: You were personally involved in hiring Brandon Burnett
to teach this course. Tell us about his background.
PN: The teacher in the class is actually an engineer. We recruited
him from Alcoa, a plant in town that shut down. His wife works in the
district and she’s wonderful. He was looking for something and we
were looking for somebody to take over this class. It was a perfect
match. We helped him secure an alternative certification, and he has
taken the program and just ran with it. He’s done an outstanding
job. All the stars lined up when we needed them to. We hated it for
Alcoa, but we loved it for us.
TPN: What do you hope students will get out of the course?
PN: The big thing is the hook – to get them inspired, whether it’s
engineering, math, or science . . . whatever it is. They might go
through the class and realize that engineering may not be their
forte, but what they do come to realize is that there is something in
the course that they do like and suddenly say, “I want to do that,”
whether it be the robotics component or something else.
TPN: Why have students shied away from engineering
in the past?
PN: A lot of it is just confidence. Kids are taught from a young age
that math is hard, science is hard, stay away from it. No, it’s not.
It’s a different thought process than English and social studies,
but it’s not hard. You just have to think a different way. If kids get
in here and do fun projects and collaborate, they then get the
confidence to say, “I can do this.”
TPN: Are more females getting involved in STEM courses?
PN: I want to say that at Texas High School, 55 percent of
the STEM kids are female. It’s amazing how we’ve gone from
starting off with probably 35-40 percent female to now they’re
the majority. That’s a neat trend to see because it means we’re
getting the young ladies who can be successful in these fields
as well as math and science. From there, they can get a solid
education and have a great future.
TPN: How do you know this program specifically and STEM
in general are effective?
PN: You know when you ask the kids, “If we took it away, what would
it do to you?” I daresay that a majority of them would reply that they
wouldn’t be interested in a STEM-type class. This is a hands-on,
kinetic need these students feel. In the current age of technology,
kids are used to an instant response or message. That is what STEM
provides. They get an instant response from their colleagues, which
in turn gives them hands-on experience that leads to success. Even if
they do something and it’s wrong, they get a chance to fix it. It’s trial
and error. You don’t get that in every subject.
TPN: How can you take STEM to the next level?
PN: You have to fund your priorities. You fund what is successful for
you, your kids, your community, your programs. This is a program
we’re going to continue to fund. Whether we search for grants,
do a push with Texas High School Project, or visit with Domtar or
International Paper on different ideas and thoughts, we have great
partnerships to assist and direct us as we move forward.
TPN: What are your impressions of students giving
presentations in the Pitsco lab?
PN: It shows that when a diverse group of students has a common
goal, they can work together under any circumstances. It doesn’t
matter what background you have. Whether the difference is
socioeconomic or ethnicity, when you have a common goal and can
work together, great things can happen and success will find its
way. It’s the collaborative effort between every level of student that
ultimately makes the program click and makes them feel successful.
TPN: Leadership seems to be a point of emphasis within the
district. Is that by design?
PN: Seven years ago, we initiated a leadership component to our
graduation diploma which requires students to take at least one
semester of a leadership class. The Suites lab has become the
leadership component for many of our STEM-focused students. It is
allowing them to gain real-world leadership as they would have in a
warehouse or engineering environment where you collectively come
to a common goal. When students gain confidence, they feel that
they can lead and they then step out to take on the world.
TPN: What is your end goal for this engineering emphasis?
PN: As Texarkana thrives, our school district thrives. When the
school district thrives, our community thrives. They build off of
each other. We want to develop a program in Texarkana where
we start the engineering process as young as possible, even at
kindergarten, and work all the way through the system. As soon as
students graduate from TISD, they will attend Texarkana College
and earn an associate’s degree and hopefully move on to enroll at
Texas A&M University – Texarkana to finish their engineering degree.
This final step will provide the workforce for the businesses we want
to come to Texarkana.