Norman Thomas’ fulltime job is principal of Meadowview Elementary School in the Gresham Park community. His other fulltime job is pastor of First Baptist Church Gresham Road.
The 39-year-old DeKalb County native has been on a bivocational path his entire adult life.
“It’s been a blessing to me to serve in both capacities,” Thomas said. “The callings are all in one. The calling to serve as an educator and the call to serve as a pastor, I think they fit together.
Thomas spent the first decade of his teaching career in the Atlanta Public School system where he taught grades three, four and five.
“I’ve been around education all of my life,” said Thomas, whose mother was a principal and father was an executive director in education. His sister Angela Bethea is the principal of Clifton Elementary School. “That was the only talk at the dinner table. Everything was education.”
Thomas joined the DeKalb County School District in 2006 as an assistant principal at Meadowview and became principal in 2010.
“Because we talked about it so much, because it was something I was around so much, I just had an affinity for teaching,” Thomas said. “I just love teaching. I love being able to see people’s ideas come to light. I love being able to have an impact on the lives of children.
“And I thought about the impact teachers had on my life,” he said. “They may not have made the most money in world, but they had a profound effect on the way my ideas were shaped. It seemed a natural move to teach.”
Thomas said he was called to preach during his senior year at Morehouse College. He preached his trial sermon in January 1996 at Greater Traveler’s Rest Baptist Church. He then served in various capacities in the church, including as a youth pastor, and in 2009 was asked to pastor First Baptist Church Gresham Road.
Thomas said it is not difficult to work at the church and at the school which are three minutes apart by car.
“I have great help here,” he said. “My assistant principal, Dr. Amelia Jefferson, is outstanding. I’m able to share my vision and meet with the leadership team and delegate where needed and I take care of whatever I need to.
“The same is true on the other end,” he said about working at the church. “My wife helps me with the ministry and a wonderful church family has come together and is able to share the vision.
“Sometimes it is a little bit tiring, but the Lord gives me strength to do it,” Thomas said. “I just count it a blessing.”
Thomas and wife Rondah have three children Lauren, 11; Norman III, 8; and Lindsay, 6. The family lives in Conyers.
First Baptist Church Gresham Road has grown from 50 members to 500 members during the five years of his leadership.
“A lot of the students and parents are a part of the church as well,” he said. “They kind of see me in two capacities…even though I never advertise. I never say, ‘I want y’all to come to my church. A lot of them walk in and are shocked to see me there as well.”
Thomas said being a pastor helps with his role as principal.
“It helps me be more compassionate toward people and understand where people may be coming from,” he said. “It really helps me to understand the side of people that we may not be able to see with our physical eye.
“I can kind of read how a parent may be feeling,” he said. “Even though they come in upset, most of the time, I’m able…to use some of that pastoral counseling without offering too much of the Christianity side. I’m able to listen and get to the heart of the problem.”
On the other hand, being a principal helps at the church. He is able to capitalize on his administrative, organizational and teaching skills.
Thomas, who attended Chapel Hill Elementary and graduated from Southwest DeKalb High School in 1992, believes his visibility in the community as a principal and pastor has led to increased parental involvement at Meadowview. Last year, the school PTA had 40 members, most of them teachers. This year’s PTA has 100 percent involvement from the school’s parents and teachers. The PTA has 420 parents, 45 school employees and 30 businesses.
Thomas said he does not get confused about which role he is in—at least not anymore.
“When I first started pastoring, …one Sunday I got up and I said something about, ‘Thank you all for coming to Meadowview Elementary School,’” he said. “They got a good laugh out of it.”
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