CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo., Nov. 20, 2015 – Dr. Stephen Hefner, a 1970 Southeast Missouri State University graduate and superintendent for Lexington-Richland District Five public schools, has been awarded the 2015 Superintendent of the Year by the South Carolina Association of School Administrators.
He previously won the award in 2012, making him the first person in South Carolina to win the award twice. He is now a candidate for the 2016 National Superintendent of the Year award.
Hefner said he feels humbled to be representing his state and recognized by his peers for the second time.
“I was very honored the first time I was selected,” he said. “It was a tremendous honor then, and this one is even more special just because it is the second time to be honored, and that is the first time that’s happened in our state.”
Hefner has worked as a superintendent for 22 years and embraces the position’s responsibilities.
“It’s a wonderful position to have,” he said. “I enjoy all the things that are related to that responsibility. I like leading a system and keeping that system focused on teaching and learning.”
Hefner is dedicated to the success of his students and schools. He has been with the Lexington-Richland District for six years and oversees 23 schools with over 17,000 students.
“I’m very passionate about the work of a school system. There’s no way to describe the satisfaction one gets from seeing students succeed,” he said. “I like the challenge of making sure we function as one system working together toward having students prepared for college, careers and citizenship.”
Hefner says he particularly loves the interaction he has with all his students and the opportunity to witness their athletic, artistic and academic success.
That passion for teaching began at Southeast. Hefner said he is proud of his roots in southeast Missouri and is grateful for the supportive and encouraging environment the University provided.
“I really fell in love with teaching while student teaching when I attended SEMO,” he said. “One of the reasons SEMO is very special to me is they take students from a wide variety of backgrounds. I had a lot of opportunities to develop leadership skills. I think SEMO prepared me for the first step, and I was blessed to have many opportunities thereafter.”
Hefner graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in English. He worked as an English teacher for Poplar Bluff High (Missouri) School until he was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1971 and served for two years. He completed his Master of Education in counselor education in 1974 and completed his doctoral degree in educational administration in 1985 at the University of South Carolina.
Throughout his career, even as an administrator, Hefner says he continues to feel that his best and favorite moments are in the classroom.
“There’s nothing that tops just being in a school or classroom and watching students succeed and watching what students are able to do,” he said. “Any given day I may feel that the best thing I’ve ever seen in my life, is the kind of experience I have frequently.”
While he is honored for the recognition, Hefner says his focus is on the future of his students. His particular passion is to do what is needed to connect and prepare them for the world in which they live.
He said he finds inspiration in Jim Clifton’s book “The Coming Jobs War.” Clifton, chairman and chief executive officer of Gallup, wrote that of the seven billion people on Earth, there are five billion adults aged 15 and older, of which three billion work or want to work but there are currently only 1.2 billion full-time, formal jobs in the world.
Hefner is concerned about the shortage of 1.8 billion jobs and how to prepare his students.
“What motivates me to keep going is to make sure we’re linking our students’ learning, knowledge and skills they are developing to the world in which they will live so they may have long-term economic success,” he said.
Hefner was named Educator of the Year in 1997, Distinguished Citizen of the Year in 2003 and the South Carolina Association of Athletic Administrators Outstanding Superintendent in 2014.