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Weber’s Stephens named Utah superintendent of the year

By Harrison Epstein - Standard-Examiner | Sep 22, 2021
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Weber School District Superintendent Jeff Stephens, right, embraces his wife Leila Stephens after he was named Utah Superintendent of the Year at the school district office on Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2021.
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Weber School District Superintendent Jeff Stephens, right, listens to Lexi Cunngham, executive director of the Utah School Superintendent’s Association, on Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2021. Stephens was named Utah superintendent of the year at the school district office.
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Members of the Weber School Board and district office give Jeff Stephens a standing ovation after he was named Utah superintendent of the year at the school district office on Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2021.
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Weber School District Superintendent Jeff Stephens is surprised by his family and peers at the school district office on Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2021. Stephens was named Utah's Superintendent of the Year. (Harrison Epstein, Standard-Examiner)
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Weber School District Superintendent Jeff Stephens holds one of his grandchildren after being named Utah superintendent of the year at the school district office on Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2021.

WASHINGTON TERRACE — Orchestrating a surprise is never easy. But on Wednesday at the Weber School District office, superintendent Jeff Stephens was surprised by friends, family and colleagues for the announcement that he was named Utah’s superintendent of the year for 2021-2022.

“I just want to tell everybody in this room how much I love and appreciate you and what an honor it is to serve,” Stephens told the group. “It’s been a tough year for everybody — tough two years for everybody — and I just am so grateful for the strength of each of you and my family. I could not have made it through without my family.”

Sitting in the front row were his wife, Leila Stephens, along with his children and grandchildren. Being named superintendent of the year came as a “complete surprise” to Stephens, he said. The award is voted on by the state’s 41 school superintendents, a group he continually praised for their work and dedication.

Lexi Cunningham, the executive director of the Utah School Superintendent’s Association, was on hand to make the announcement.

The award is typically given at a meeting of the school superintendents, but due to other obligations, Stephens was unable to attend. So they decided to bring the honor to him.

“We figured, you know, if we couldn’t do it at a superintendents meeting, these are the people he works closely with each and every day, so we just decided to bring the celebration up here,” Cunningham said.

She added that this award is a testament to the work Stephens does for the district, his colleagues and for the role he plays in the community.

It was also meaningful for Stephens to have the full Weber School Board and members of the district office in attendance.

“Our school board has been simply remarkable. There are no agendas on our school board. Just men and women that want to do the right thing for children and that is so key for a school district to function well,” he said. “To have, I’ll just call them my district family, here … their leadership throughout this whole process has just been fabulous.”

The award comes just a few weeks after Weber High School theater teacher Mark Daniels was named the Utah teacher of the year. The district is also ramping up for a bond election in November that would lead to the construction of three new schools in the area and the replacement of Roosevelt Elementary.

He is the first winner of the statewide award from Weber School District since Jay Taggart in 1989, the first year the award was handed out. Stephens first joined WSD in 1984 as an English teacher at Wahlquist Junior High School. Since then, he has worked in multiple positions across the district, earned his Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction from Utah State University while working and eventually was named the superintendent in 2011.

By being named the state superintendent of the year, Stephens is eligible for the national award. He was also recognized nationally as one of two digital superintendents of the year in March.

“I’ve tried to stay focused on taking care of children and doing the right things and blocking out some of the noise and trying to help take the pressure of off others. Whether it’s our school board or our principals so that they’re not distracted by some of the other kinds of issues that could arise,” Stephens said. “Maybe it’s an affirmation we’re doing things the right way.”

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