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West Jordan Journal

New chapter for Hawthorn Academy

Aug 07, 2022 08:40PM ● By Jet Burnham

By Jet Burnham | [email protected]

After 38 years as an educator, the past 13 as principal and director of Hawthorn Academy charter school, Dr. Deborah Swensen has retired.

“I cannot imagine Hawthorn Academy without her,” teacher/curriculum coach Shannon Zobrist said. “She was there before there was a school. She has been part of everything Hawthorn has been for the past 13 years.”

Swensen, a recipient of the Circle of Excellence Lifetime Achievement award from The Utah Association of Public Charter Schools, was instrumental in opening the K-6 Hawthorn Academy West Jordan campus in 2009 and the K-9 South Jordan campus in 2015. She began as principal at West Jordan and later became lead director over both campuses.

Charter board members handpicked Swensen to implement their charter and were soon impressed with her passion, dedication, organization and perseverance.

“She took our vision and dream and ran with it and made it better than we could even imagined,” board member Jamie Dickson said.

Hawthorn Academy Communications Assistant Halley Miranda said, “She really has been the backbone of Hawthorn, pushing the school upward and onward. She helped us achieve and maintain one of the highest credit ratings for charter schools in the state and led hundreds of teachers and thousands of students throughout what could arguably be 13 of the most tumultuous years in education.”

Swensen’s leadership was always student-focused.

“I went into education because I could make a difference in the lives of kids,” Swensen said.

Swensen began her career in public schools and ended it at a charter school.

“I have come to appreciate the strength of the public charter schools and the culture of acceptance and support within a small community,” Swensen said. “And it's also helped me to better understand the power that can be achieved in education when it’s truly a partnership with teachers, administration, board, and parents and kids.”

Swensen enjoyed working with board members and mentoring her staff members, who were quick to praise her.

“I have never met or worked for a more kind, caring and selfless person,” third-grade teacher Autumn Sutton said. “Her love for education, her employees/teachers, is breathtaking.”

“Dr. Swensen is very educated and shared with us her knowledge about discipline, how to motivate students, and how to love those challenging students,” fourth-grade teacher Sherry Powell said. “She also made herself available to us at all times.”

“She is the most organized woman you will ever meet,” middle school teacher Alisha George said. “She is an advocate for her teachers and has our backs. She is approachable and genuinely listens to her teachers and staff. Her ability to balance the many hats she wears is admirable. She has left her mark and we hope to continue her legacy for many years to come.”

Even in retirement, Swensen will stay involved in education, reviewing schools for accreditation. She and her husband plan to do some traveling and to serve a service mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Swensen’s replacement as director at Hawthorn Academy is Floyd Stensrud, who has 34 years of experience in education, 26 as an administrator.

Stensrud is excited to join the Hawthorn Academy family and to work in a school that uses an International Baccalaureate curriculum at all grade levels.

“I've just been impressed with that philosophy and the fact that they were forward-thinking enough 13 years ago to incorporate that in their charter,” he said. “I think that was really what got me excited about this particular school.”

Stensrud, who believes that the focus of education should be on the learner, plans to create a professional learning community in which teachers and students collaborate to improve learning.

“It can't just be a community that is isolated to just the teachers or just the students, it's got to be a cultural shift,” he said.

Stensrud believes a good leader is a good listener and he is looking forward to collaborating with all school community stakeholders— teachers, students, parents, board members and community members.

“I'm looking forward to partnering with the community to make this a great next several years,” he said.