SALT LAKE CITY — Rick Nielsen, superintendent of Nebo School District since 2010, is the 2020 Utah School Superintendent of the Year.
Nielsen’s selection was announced Monday during a meeting of the Utah School Superintendents Association.
A former sixth-grade teacher, elementary school principal and district-level administrator, Nielsen has worked in public education for 30 years. He leads a district of 34,000 students in 46 schools and programs.
Christine Riley, president of the Nebo School District Board of Education, said Nielsen is forward thinking and encourages employees and staff to treat patrons with kindness and respect.
“He has a solution to the problem before we even realize we have a problem,” Riley said.
Even when people disagree with Nielsen, they tend to walk away from the experience appreciating his point of view and his humanity, she said.
“He’s a very humble, very kind man. We think the world of him in our school district,” Riley said.
Nebo School District spokeswoman Lana Hiskey said Nielsen’s approach is student centered, so much so his email signature reminds recipients to keep their focus on children.
The question he invariably asks in meetings,is, “Is this what’s best for students?” Hiskey said.
Nielsen, a graduate of Spanish Fork High School, attended Nebo District schools most of his years as a public school student. His wife Karen graduated from Springville High School, also a Nebo District school, which is proof that “a Red Devil and a Don can peacefully coexist for three decades,” he joked.
There is no nobler profession than to be called a teacher.
–Rick Nielsen, superintendent of Nebo School District
The Nielsens live in Spanish Fork and are the parents of five children and have one daughter-in-law.
Nielsen earned a bachelor of science degree in education and a master of education in educational leadership from Brigham Young University.
He is also president of the Utah State Superintendent Association. His peers throughout Utah selected him for the recognition and he now moves on to compete with top superintendents throughout the country for national honors.
Over three decades in education and starting his 10th year as Nebo superintendent, Nielsen has observed and been part of many changes in education.
The expanded use of technology is perhaps the most astounding revolution during his career, noting that early on, the only people who might have technology at school were teachers who had a desktop computers or a laser disc player.
Now, “technology is transforming teaching and learning experiences for students,” he said.
“Think about what can happen now with an electronic version of a cadaver in a high school science lab. Here in Nebo School District we have a flight simulator in our advanced learning center.”
The one thing that hasn’t changed? The importance of well-prepared teachers and making great efforts to ensure they are well compensated, have good working conditions and that they know they are appreciated.
“We in the education community — really, in the community at large — we need to speak up and validate and value the role of teacher in the life of a student. I spoke at BYU’s School of Education convocation this last April and I spoke heavily about how valuable and valued teachers are,” he said.
Nielsen serves on the Utah Valley University Board of Trustees, is co-chairman of the UVU/Mountainland Technical College K-16 Alliance, and is chairman of the BYU/Public School Partnership.
Nielsen said it is humbling to be honored as Superintendent of the Year and is an important opportunity to speak out on public education and encourage people to become educators.
“There is no nobler profession than to be called a teacher,” he said.