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Weber School District superintendent recognized nationally as digital superintendent of the year

By Emily Anderson standard-Examiner - | Mar 3, 2021
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Superintendent Jeff Stephens listens during a presentation of a potential upcoming bond initiative at the Weber School District Administration building in Washington Terrace on Friday, Feb. 26, 2021.

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Weber School District Superintendent Jeff Stephens

WASHINGTON TERRACE — When COVID-19 hit, school districts throughout the nation struggled to make the jump from in-person to online classes. The Weber School District’s efforts to help students transition successfully earned Superintendent Jeff Stephens national recognition Wednesday.

The Consortium for School Networking and the American Association of School Administrators, which is also called The School Superintendents Association, named Stephens one of two national digital superintendents of the year. The award comes one year after he won the empowered superintendent award for urban districts in the state from the Utah Technology Coordinator Council.

“I got an email a few weeks ago that kind of surprised me, so I didn’t know,” Stephens said. “I think it really speaks to a vision of how you can integrate technology in ways you can advance student learning.”

Typically, the award is given to just one district leader. But because of the unprecedented circumstances brought on by the pandemic, according to a press release, CoSN and AASA opted to recognize two — the other being Michael Hinojosa from Dallas Independent School District in Texas.

Those who win the award have “championed the use of technology to enhance teaching and learning,” the release said.

Before the pandemic forced schools to close, Stephens in 2019 organized a technology commission made up of parents, teachers and administrators. Part of its goal was to create a five-year technology roadmap for the district.

The pandemic stopped planning efforts in their tracks, but Stephens said the work members of the commission put into the roadmap put the district in a better place to tackle the challenges brought on by COVID-19.

“I was so glad that we had done that work with the technology commission because it became absolutely foundational to what we’ve been doing the past 10 or 11 months,” Stephens said.

The plans the commission was working on included providing all students access to devices, expanding access to digital instruction resources, training teachers on how to use those resources and educating students on what Stephens described as “digital wellness and citizenship.”

Beginning March 13, 2020, the Weber School District shifted to online learning, along with every other school district in Utah. And although it opened on a five-day, in-person schedule, multiple schools have had to close for a period of two weeks — sometimes more than once — due to COVID-19 outbreaks.

Consequently, the district has had to bulk up its online instructional capabilities. All teachers were trained over the summer to make sure they could use Canvas to transmit class materials and collect assignments from students, whether they taught kindergarteners or high schoolers.

To increase options for families and reduce the workload for teachers, the district also within one semester transformed Weber Online from a virtual course option for high school students to a full K-12 alternative school.

The award additionally stems from the district’s efforts to make sure all students have a device to do homework on, whether that’s a laptop or a tablet, and to ensure they have access to the internet. The district appointed technology advocates to assist families who for any reason might have difficulty accessing online materials.

Now that some of the dust has settled since the beginning of the pandemic, Stephens said the commission is working on finishing its five-year roadmap, which will shape how the district uses technology going forward.

He attributed the recognition he received to the teachers who have worked to adapt to the pandemic by digitizing their instruction, as well as the district’s technology department. The district’s success, however, goes back to Stephens’ leadership, according to George Perreault, the chief academic officer of ClassLink, which sponsored the award.

“In a year filled with struggles and unknowns, Dr. Hinojosa and Dr. Stephens stayed focused on their students, putting forth incredible efforts to support equitable access and continued learning,” Perreault said in a statement. “Both are an example of what districts can achieve with the support and commitment of exceptional leaders.”

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