Paul Norton, Texarkana Independent School District superintendent, has called this area home for all of his 47 years — except when he went to college.
Next month, after 19 years at TISD, Norton and his wife and children will move Central Texas as he takes the helm at Lake Travis Independent School District, just west of Austin.
The decision to leave Texarkana was not easy personally or professionally.
His parents, Andy and Rene Norton, and three of his four siblings still live here.
But he believes this is the right opportunity.
"It was back in February I received a phone call about applying for this position. I've gotten several calls over the years about several opportunities that never compared to TISD. We never dreamed of leaving here. When Lake Travis called, we had a couple of conversations with the group doing the search firm COVID-19 hit and the whole process just came to a stop."
Norton said it was his understanding about nine applicants were initially contacted from the field of 40 to 50 seeking the job.
"Then about three weeks ago, the group doing the search called and said, 'The school board wants to interview you,'" Norton said.
With months passing since initial discussion with the district, he was quite shocked to be contacted again.
"I think the reason I heard from them were the incredible things happening in TISD. There is a legacy of innovation and a willingness to take risks when appropriate and I think that was something that was intriguing to Lake Travis," he said.
"They wanted to know about the different programs we have implemented over the last five to six years and how it has benefited us. When you look at the great programs it is intriguing to their school district."
Of TISD's myriad accomplishments, Norton said the ones he is proudest of include the construction of Waggoner Creek Elementary, which was funded through a bond issued passed in 2014, and the sixth-grade center at Texas Middle School.
"Also, the realignment of Dunbar, Theron Jones and Westlawn campuses to provide a more specific educational opportunity for our most at-risk students while at the same time increasing the capacity for prekindergartetn student," he said.
Implementing the associates degree program for TISD students is another great thing going on, he said.
After receiving the recent call from Lake Travis, Norton and his wife, Jenna, traveled to Austin and had dinner with the school board. Afterwards, the school board interviewed him again.
It didn't take long for district officials to make up their minds.
"When they called and offered the job that Thursday night (June 11) about 11:15, I got excited and Jenna and I cried. This has been such an amazing opportunity for our family and this is home," he said of TISD and Texarkana.
The couple talked to their children, Emily, Julia and Caleb before accepting.
"To take a leap of faith like this was not easy, but when you take into account all the different variables, we believe this is what is best for our family and what God has in store for us.
"Professionally it has been the most difficult decision I have had to make and we have had to make," Norton said. "But when you look at all the circumstances around it and the opportunities it gives to our family, God opened so many doors at the right time and at the right moment. After lots of prayer and discussion, we decided this was the best thing for our family long term."
He was named the lone finalist by the district on June 17. The Lake Travis ISD board is scheduled to have a virtual board meeting on July 8 and officially offer him a contract and name him superintendent. His start date will be around Aug. 3.
Norton said Lake Travis ISD is growing about 3 to 6 percent annually.
"They are having conversations about adding a second high school. Right now, they have over 3,300 at the high school and just over 11,000 in the district. They are steadily growing and there are lots of discussions about future growth and planning for the future, opportunities in that aspect," he said.
"Obviously, it is a great school district. To go there and continue that and to work with the school board, the administration and the teachers is a great opportunity."
In comparison, TISD's enrollment for brick and mortar schools is about 7,100. With the district's implementation of a virtual school and its enrollment of 1,900, it makes TISD's total enrollment about 9,000 students, he said.
Norton's connection to TISD is personal and meaningful on so many levels.
"The kids have had an exemplary education in TISD and I could not be prouder of the 19 years that I got to spend as a part of this school district," he said. "TISD has a very bright future and with some of the amazing opportunities coming down the road. I can't wait to see how this district continues to grow and provide great opportunities not only for the students but also for the staff of TISD."
TISD has always factored into his life as his mother taught for the district and some of his professional mentors served as TISD superintendents.
When Norton, a 1990 Pleasant Grove High School graduate, left for Texas Tech University, he was following the pre physical therapy trek.
It was an influential woman who suggested a different path.
"My mom was a teacher and I was going through the PT program," he said. "I had gotten my degree in biology from Texas Tech and my mom said, 'have you ever though of being a teacher?' and I hadn't."
In 1994, he changed his major to education and got his teaching certificate.
He graduated from Texas Tech University in 1996 with a bachelor of science in biology. He did his student teaching in the spring of 1996 at Lubbock's Monterey High School where he developed a love for the environment of a large school district.
He returned to Texarkana that summer, taking a job as a science teacher and coach at PG Middle School.
Jack Mitchell, PGHS principal, encouraged Norton to pursue a principal certification, which led to Norton serving two years as PGHS assistant principal.
"Then I was taking administration classes and had Dr. Larry Sullivan (a former TISD superintendent) for classes and he and I had lots of different conversations and a position became available at Texas High as an associate principal. I was called about the position and hired for it in the summer of 2001 and went to Texas High then," Norton said.
He served in that position for two years and was named Texas High School's principal in the spring of 2003. He served as THS principal until June 2011 when he was named the district's superintendent when then-Superintendent James Henry Russell left the post to become Texarkana College president.
"Between Dr. Sullivan and James Henry and so many others, I had some amazing mentors that helped me along in my career and answered the phone when I called and still are (answering) today," he said.
Norton said the upcoming school year will be interesting for his family.
"I will have two freshmen this fall," he said.
Emily, 18, will start at Arkansas Tech University and his 14-year-old daughter Julia will be a freshman in high school.
Son Caleb, 10, will be a fifth grader.
Norton hasn't had a lot of time to reflect on how leaving Texarkana will affect him. But because of his deep roots, he knows it will be difficult.
"I think those moments will be really hard. Right now, it is so busy with trying to find housing and trying to get to know the lay of the land at Lake Travis and get things here in a really good spot for when I do leave. Right now, it is too busy thinking about that aspect.
"When I leave, it will be emotional for all of us. My parents, we grew up on a dairy. I grew up milking cows twice a day and my mom and dad instilled work ethic in us at a very early age and because of that, opportunities like this come up. When we get to Lake Travis, we will hit the ground running and will be doing so before we get there in some aspect," he said.
But one thing will never change.
"This is home and I have had orange in my blood for a long time," he said. "Dan Haskins (a late Texas High School principal, educator and mentor) used to talk about having orange in his blood and I feel the exact same way."