New principal takes the helm at Harper Woods Secondary School

By: April Lehmbeck | Advertiser Times | Published July 31, 2013

HARPER WOODS — After Thomas Parker resigned his post as Harper Woods Secondary School principal to take on a role as superintendent in Ecorse Schools, it seemed the district had some big shoes to fill.

Those shoes have a new owner now that the school board unanimously approved bringing on Tonya Norwood during its July 16 meeting.

“I’m truly excited,” Norwood said at the meeting. “I know that Mr. Biederwolf truly believes in me and what I can bring to the table.”

“You have to have a passion for kids, but you also have to know what you’re doing, and I do. I’m going to do an excellent job here. I thank you all for just believing in me. I am a little bit nervous, but I’m ready. I am ready.”

Norwood, who brought her husband and young son to the meeting, introduced them to the board and audience.

“My husband is an educator, too. We love kids. We’ve been married almost 10 years,” she said. “He and I are both mentors. We do sports, just everything — that’s our passion, helping kids.”

Norwood has a wealth of experience, from teaching to a background in counseling and as an assistant principal in the Detroit Public Schools.

“Ms. Norwood has an instructional background in English and speech or public speaking,” Superintendent Todd Biederwolf said. “One of the things that I like about her is that her instructional background is in a core content area.

“Being an English teacher and having expertise in reading and writing, those are the skills that most translate, if you will, to all learning and all content areas,” he said. “One of the things I like about her is the fact that she’s an English teacher and she brings experience and expertise in terms of the facilitation of the ability of her students to read and write at a high level.”

Biederwolf was enthusiastic about her experience in counseling and in a school-improvement environment, since Harper Woods continues to pursue its goals in that arena.

“She has experience teaching in a school-improvement grant environment and working under the transformational model, which is an important component of our school-improvement framework,” he said.

Since some of Harper Woods’ students are involved in dual enrollment, he mentioned her experience with that component. She also has experience with grant writing, school mediation and conflict-resolution programs, and smaller learning communities, which is something that is active in Harper Woods Schools.

“I’m absolutely convinced that Ms. Norwood is focused on improving student attendance,” Biederwolf said. “I’m absolutely convinced that Ms. Norwood is focused on student achievement.

“She has a commitment to rigor and relevance within the curriculum,” Biederwolf said. “She clearly understands instructional best practices and, we believe, can assist staff in implementing them at a high level.”

The board raised some questions and concerns before voting on such an important role in the district.

Secretary Tracy Purnell noted that she has worked in several schools over the years.

“We really need someone here who’s going to be with us for the long haul,” Purnell said.

Others were not as concerned.

“It’s two school districts and the moves make sense to me,” board Vice President David Kien said. 

Purnell also noted the great deal of experience that Norwood has under her belt.

“Hopefully, she will help again with the improvement of our conflict-resolution program … as well as our experience with grant writing,” Purnell noted.

Others also commented on Norwood’s background.

“I like the experience that I see,” board Trustee Regina Williams said.