An Army chaplain and Operation Desert Storm veteran has received a new medal of honor of sorts: Utah's top school boss.
Cache Superintendent Steven C. Norton, who served as a chaplain in the Army National Guard 1457th Engineer Battalion in American Fork until about 18 months ago, has been named the 2004 Utah Superintendent of the Year.
The 28-year education veteran was nominated by peers for the award, which qualifies him to be considered for national superintendent of the year honors, to be presented in February in San Francisco. He was selected by the Utah Public Education Coalition of school leaders, teachers, employees and parents based on his leadership and character, Utah School Superintendents Association executive director Gary Cameron said.
"It's a nice honor to be recognized by the people you work with and know exactly what you're going through," said Norton, who oversees 1,500 employees and 13,000 students in 24 Cache schools. "It's a particularly difficult time in public education in America right now . . . but it's also a rewarding time. With the challenges come opportunities to experiment and do things that probably in years past (we) wouldn't be able to do."
Norton, who worked as a teacher, principal and superintendent in Idaho school districts before becoming chief of Cache County schools in 1996, points to the national turn to hold schools accountable for all students' achievement.
While Norton said Cache schools' test scores have been good, recent state and national efforts to "leave no child behind" have spotlighted a few weaknesses in math and reading.
In response, the district notched up efforts to ensure middle school students don't turn away from math because of algebra — a problem that can affect their educational choices and ultimately, their futures. It has opened pre-algebra classes to advanced sixth-graders, and allowed eighth- and ninth-graders to stretch the algebra course over two years instead of one.
The district also is testing student reading skills throughout the school year. The testing program is gleaned from a model used in other states.
"It focuses on the fact every kid is important," said Norton, who has earned degrees in geography and history, education counseling and guidance, and a doctorate in educational administration from Brigham Young University. "We really pay a lot of attention to the individual child. It's a nice district to be a superintendent in."
It's also a nice district in which to send your children to school, Utah PTA President JoAnn Neilson said. "He is always open and listening to what the parents want. He wants kids to succeed, and he wants to make things run so they do."
Norton, who received the Army Commendation Medal for Meritorious Service during his battalion's deployment in Desert Storm, also has worked to improve education at the top levels. He received a five-year private grant to develop a Field Guide to School Leadership, which he has presented in part at two national education conferences.
"He certainly has stature with his peer group, and I think that is important," Cameron said. "They certainly recognize his leadership qualities and character."