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Maria Norman is working with elementary school students.

Norman an advocate for public education as FWCS board president

By Blake Sebring

May 23, 2023

With all the graduations, retirement dinners, end-of-the-year concerts, and faculty appreciation celebrations, this is easily the busiest season of Maria Norman’s year.

And that’s all before including her full-time job as a student support services business analyst for Purdue University Fort Wayne. Norman’s “part-time” passion/hobby/calling is serving as the new Fort Wayne Community Schools Board of School Trustees president. Norman first joined the board in 2017 and was selected by her peers as president in January.

This secondary vocation started as Norman studied at PFW for a master’s degree in public management before graduating in 2018. She also worked in the Office of Admissions.

“They gave me this very broad paper topic that said you could write about anything in public affairs,” Norman recalled. “I was like, ‘You’re going to have to narrow that down a bit.’”

Then a professor asked Norman what she cared about.

A DePauw University graduate and Fort Wayne native, Norman had attended Irwin Elementary, Portage Middle School, and Elmhurst High School, and the field of education has always been a primary interest. She focused her research on public education in Indiana and soon was fascinated, continually writing studies on topics such as standardized testing, school funding, and how they are regulated.

Norman was unsure about using all the knowledge she had gained, but a co-worker suggested she should consider running for the school board. A couple of months later, a board member announced their retirement, and Norman reached out to former Elmhurst teacher Julia Hollingsworth for advice. The board president at that time, Hollingsworth encouraged Norman to apply for the position.

The board voted for Norman to complete the retired member's term, and a year later she was running her first campaign. Then Hollingsworth convinced her protégé to serve as board secretary and eventually become vice president. The board meets on the second and fourth Mondays of the month, with the executive committee meeting Fridays before the regular meetings.

“I have always loved Fort Wayne and wanted to make our community better,” Norman said. “Education has always been a very important part of who I am. It’s nice being a part of the district in that it has had such a crucial impact on who I am today.

“The one thing I didn’t fully grasp when I got on the board, I knew I needed to become an advocate for our district in terms of state policy and things like that, but then you become an advocate for public education in the entire state because 90% of Hoosier families send their children to public schools. They need to be well-funded, well-represented, and appreciated.”

Each term lasts four years, and Norman was re-elected in 2022 to one of the two at-large seats alongside five district representatives.

“One of the other things I didn’t have a complete grasp of is that we are the largest school district in the state with 52 buildings,” Norman said. “When I started, we had a fleet of 2,000 buses and 17,000 kids who ride those buses every day. We feed 28,000 students breakfast and lunch. We are a whole giant thing.”

As if she’s not busy enough, Norman is also president of the Memorial Park Middle School Parent Teacher Association. She frequently visits school buildings and continually talks to teachers, administrators, and parents. Norman understands she is serving a larger purpose.

“It is exhausting, but it makes me excited every day to go into the buildings to talk to the students and see what they are doing and what they are learning,” Norman said. “Some great things are happening in FWCS that make me really proud. Anytime I can be in one of our buildings, around students and staff, it always just fills my cup.”

Norman said she has always received overwhelming support and encouragement from PFW, including her professors as a student and now her co-workers. Several classmates toasted her first election victory.

As one of her classmates said, “We’re all doing this to make a difference in the world, and Maria made it.”