Weber school head focused on students, teacher retention, school safety
Tim Vandenack, Standard-Examiner
WASHINGTON TERRACE — As she eases into her role as the new Weber School District superintendent, Gina Butters isn’t anticipating radical change from the focus of her predecessor, Jeff Stephens.
“It’s very important to me that we honor the great foundation Dr. Stephens laid down,” she said.
Notably, she said she plans to keep a focus as district leader on the “whole-child” approach to education — like Stephens, who retired after 11 years leading the district.
Her aim is for every student to feel validated, that “they have a safe place to learn, a positive place to learn,” she said, speaking from the main district offices in Washington Terrace. She also plans to push for an update of the district’s strategic plan, the broad framework of district goals, and put a focus on teacher hiring and retention as well as school safety.
The whole-child approach puts the focus on the outside factors that impact a student’s development, like their physical and mental health. It also aims to encompass social, emotional, cognitive and academic development, as described by the Learning Policy Institute, a nonprofit educational research organization.
Tim Vandenack, Standard-Examiner
Butters took over as leader of the district on July 1, kicking off her 31st year in the district in a new role. She was picked last March by the Weber school board to replace Stephens after a nationwide search for a replacement.
Starting in 1992, she has spent her entire professional career with the district. A school press release at the time of her selection called her a “home-grown product.” She grew up in South Ogden and attended Weber School District schools, graduating from Bonneville High School.
Indeed, Butters cited the mentorship of a coach and teacher while in high school, Carol DeMonge, as inspiration for going into education. As a shy student lacking in confidence, she said DeMonge helped pull her out of her shell, demonstrating to her the power a positive role model can have on kids.
“I wanted to make an impact on other people’s lives. (DeMonge) was the inspiration,” Butters said. One she got into education, she fell in love with the work.
Butters started in the district in 1992 as a teacher, first at Roy High School, then Fremont High School, coaching girl’s basketball along the way. She later served as principal at North Ogden Junior High School and Roy High School before becoming a district administrator, serving as executive director of secondary education before becoming superintendent.
‘BETTER THAN PROFICIENT’
Among other focuses for Butters will be updating the district’s strategic plan, probably over the next two or so years. Generally speaking, she foresees a focus on continued professional development of teachers and fine-tuning the instructional strategies used by district teachers.
“The main thrust of it is always going to be on teaching and student learning,” she said.
She also cited the importance of adequately compensating teachers and assuring school safety amid the seeming uptick nationwide in school shootings. To that end, the Weber school board on Tuesday approved a 13.7% property tax hike aimed specifically at generating funds to bolster teacher pay and augment school safety.
An audit released last April of Weber School District operations found the system performed worse in math and English in 2019 than other districts with similar concentrations of students who are economically disadvantaged, a factor that correlates to student proficiency. The Utah Legislative Auditor General conducted the study.
As such, academics will also be a significant focus. “We want our kids to be better than proficient,” Butters said.
Mental health, though, is also important, and Butters noted that five new mental health experts are coming on board for the 2022-2023 school year, bolstering their ranks in the district from 20 to 25. Mental health experts are already assigned to the Weber School District’s secondary schools and now they’ll expand efforts in the grade schools.
“We’re finding that has been such a key addition to our whole-child focus,” she said.
Beyond that, she also touted the importance of engaging, both with teachers and students, letting them know “they are seen.” The 2022-2023 school year for the Weber School District starts on Aug. 23.