As parents traverse the challenges of continuing their children’s education during the COVID-19 pandemic, many behind-the-scenes educators are providing support. Helping navigate issues with remote learning is Scott Jefferies, superintendent of schools in Wythe County, Virginia. 

From his office in Wytheville, with all the physical distancing safeguards in place, Jefferies remains calm and optimistic during this time of uncertainty.

“The clichés about uncharted territory apply,” said the 2017 graduate of the educational leadership and policy studies doctoral program at the Virginia Tech School of Education. “We’re focusing on taking care of our people and making sure we stay connected through this time, and that’s easier said than done.”

But according to John Gratto, clinical associate professor in the School of Education, Jefferies is uniquely qualified to lead this effort. That’s why Gratto nominated him for the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences Outstanding Recent Graduate Alumnus of the Year Award.

“Scott was already a superintendent of schools at the time and a leader among his classmates when he started at Virginia Tech,” Gratto said. “He is smart, conscientious, and very knowledgeable about all aspects of school leadership.”

Beyond those essential attributes for a superintendent of schools, Gratto added, “I found him to be motivated and someone who works hard to improve his school, to hire high-quality people, and to create opportunities for students to excel. He is highly regarded among his peers, has already accomplished a great deal, and has a bright future ahead of him.”

Before beginning his doctorate, Jefferies transitioned into his role as an assistant superintendent of public schools for Lexington, Virginia. He was also principal for the middle school and interim principal of the elementary school there.

“When you start, people ask, ‘Are you ready for it?’” said Jefferies, who achieved his goal of earning his Ed.D. before turning 40. “You’re never ready; you just do it. I had to be creative with my time and resource management. That taught me I can handle many things if I put my mind to it, and that was a kind of affirmation. I learned a lot about myself, and about my education.”

Jefferies did not set out to be an education administrator. Like others who find themselves drawn to such a leadership position, he originally wanted to be a teacher and a coach. This was the perfect blending of both his upbringing and interests. His mother was a special education teacher and his father was an accountant. And his other role model at the time was his soccer coach, who had also taught biology. In the end, Jefferies majored in math at the University of Mt. Union in Alliance, Ohio, where he also played soccer.

“I just wanted to teach high-school algebra and geometry and coach soccer,” he said. “I got to teach for seven years, but I coached for only three because I kept getting tapped on the shoulder.”

The first shoulder tap was the opportunity to be an activities director. He pursued a master’s degree in sports management from Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. Then for three years he was the Virginia High School League Group AAA soccer director. 

Through this experience he realized he had an interest in public school administration, so he earned an education specialist degree at George Washington University. He gained experience as a high school assistant principal, a middle school principal, and then principal in Rockbridge County High School in Lexington, Virginia. 

Soon after, he became an assistant superintendent to schools in Lexington City and took part in an aspiring superintendent program through Virginia Tech.

“I could see myself doing this,” Jefferies said. “I like the idea of doing all you can to impact the lives of students from a broader perspective, not just within the four walls of a school, but within your entire school community.”

After a year as assistant superintendent, Jefferies became superintendent of Lexington City schools. He served for three years before becoming superintendent in Wythe County in 2018.

He had just settled into his new role of overseeing three high schools, three middle schools, six elementary schools, and one technical center when the pandemic struck. He now supports the county’s teachers in ways he did not expect.

“We have some infrastructure challenges here,” he said. “We have several areas that just don’t have internet service, for example.”

This means some students cannot connect with their teacher or classmates in real time. Instead, the schools may mail learning packets to them, or the families can pick up and return the completed packages through the county’s three-times-a-week meal service program. 

As of April 14, the county switched from providing district-wide learning materials to teacher-directed distance learning. Although this change requires internet service, the county is still working with students who want or need the learning packets. And then there is the task of coordinating communication through the limitations of Zoom.

“We try to meet the needs of children every single day,” Jefferies said. “We know what we need to do. I’m proud of our staff, and I’m proud of our leaders.” 

Alumni who receive the Outstanding Recent Alumni Awards of the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences graduated from Virginia Tech within the previous 10 years and have shown extraordinary service in their careers or to their communities. This year, for the first time, the college is honoring two alumni, one who earned an undergraduate degree in the college and one who earned a graduate degree.

“Scott exemplifies the true spirit of an outstanding alumnus,” said Grayson Gosney, a 1996 graduate in sociology who serves as president of the college’s Alumni Advisory Board. “Through determination, hard work, and successful achievement of goals, he has emerged as a prominent leader in his community. It is very impressive how he makes high-stress career challenges seem easy, and continues to meet the needs of his school district during these challenging times.”

Written by Leslie King