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Meet Utah’s new school superintendent of the year

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Iron County School District Superintendent Shannon Dulaney, Utah’s 2020 Superintendent of the Year

Utah School Superintendents Association

SALT LAKE CITY — Iron County School District Superintendent Shannon Dulaney has been selected the 2020 superintendent of the year by the Utah School Superintendents Association.

Dulaney, who is starting her eighth year at the helm of the Iron County schools, is a career educator who decided to become a teacher while a fourth grader because of the influence of a teacher.

“I had kind of a turbulent family environment. I had a sweet fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Brown, who had been a Catholic nun. She took me under her wing and made me feel important. It made me feel like I was smart and from that time forward, it improved my self-esteem and my well-being,” she said.

Dulaney knew then that she wanted to do the same for others, she said.

Dulaney, who grew up Orange County, California, earned an undergraduate degree from Cal State, Fullerton and worked as a high school English, choir and drama teacher in her home state.

When her daughter decided to attend Southern Utah University, Dulaney and her husband had occasion to visit the area “and we kind of fell in love with the community.”

After he sold his business and retired, they moved to Utah.

“I haven’t looked back or regretted it,” she said.

Upon arriving in Cedar City, there were no teaching jobs available at area high schools. But there was an opening at a private provider home that contracted with the school district for educational services to juvenile sex offenders.

“I went out and looked at the facility, met the boys and fell in love with what they were doing there. That changed the trajectory of my career,” she said.

She pivoted to working with at-risk youth, teaching in the Youth In Custody program. It became the focus of her research when she earned her doctorate in education from Utah State University. She also has a master’s in education administration from SUU.

A few years later, she oversaw special education for Iron County schools and served as an assistant professor at Brigham Young University before her selection as Iron County School District superintendent.

Stephen Allen, president of the Iron County School Board, described Dulaney as “exceptional.”

“We are delighted that her peers are honoring her for her accomplishments. She has led our district with honor and distinction and she cares deeply about our students, our teachers and our community,” he said in a statement.

Cedar High School Principal Terri Sanders said she is “continually impressed with (Dulaney’s) drive, dedication and commitment to the Iron County School District” and she is honored to work under her direction.

Lexi Cunningham, executive director of the Utah School Superintendents Association, said Dulaney is a staunch advocate for students and role model for superintendents.

“Shannon is a calming influence through turbulent times and someone whose opinion is sought when there are tough decisions to be made. She is quick to smile and laugh and make you feel that you have been friends forever. Utah is indeed lucky to have Dr. Dulaney representing public education,” Cunningham said in a statement.

Dulaney is a frequent visitor to Iron County schools, spending time talking to students and teachers. The school district serves about 10,000 students.

She is considered a leader in supporting students’ and teachers’ social and emotional needs and has presented her work to superintendents and school board members throughout Utah.

Dulaney’s selection as Utah’s superintendent of the year means she will be considered for the National School Superintendent of the Year award to be announced in February at the American Association of School Superintendents convention.

Asked how it felt to be selected superintendent of the year by her peers, Dulaney said she was “humbled and greatly, greatly honored.”

This year has been particularly challenging for school leaders because of the COVID-19 pandemic, addressing learning loss and social-emotional needs of students. It’s has also been challenging because few people in public education were able to use their summer breaks to recharge their batteries or work on new initiatives. Much of their time, from the time school recessed from in-person learning in March, has been spent devising return-to-school plans.

Dulaney said she clung to the core principles of working to ensure the well-being of students and educators and “acknowledging the very real fears about where we’re at.”

It boils down to “taking care of the relationships that we have here and continuing to foster those in these very challenging times. For me, that’s been my mooring, that we continue to do what we know we should be doing for kids and educators, keeping in mind the difficulties and challenges of what we’re dealing with COVID,” she said.