Photo: Dr. Bill Withers (right) receives the inaugural Dr. E. Robert Stephens award for his dedication to the Keystone AEA board.

Dr. Bill Withers, board member at Keystone Area Education Agency, has been selected to receive the Dr. E. Robert Stephens Award from Iowa’s Area Education Agencies. Withers received the award during a presentation at the AEA Boards of Directors’ Conference on March 30. This is the first year for the awards and it is an opportunity to recognize and celebrate outstanding candidates for their contributions to education and the AEA system.

The Dr. E. Robert Stephens award is acknowledges contributions in the areas of innovation and support to local districts, AEAs, the Department of Education and other partners/organizations. Over 50 years ago, Stephens was a graduate student at The University of Iowa. He was asked by the Iowa Department of Public Instruction and rural superintendents in the state to direct a study to find a prototype to distribute instructional services equitably and efficiently across Iowa. His vision eventually found its way to the Iowa Legislature in 1974, when Iowa’s Area Education Agencies (AEAs) were passed into law. This award is named after “Dr. Bob” to honor exemplary work by those associated with educational service agencies and AEAs.  

Withers has been on and off of the Keystone AEA Board since the AEA system was founded in 1974. In fall 1974, Dr. Bill Withers was in his fourth term as a school board member for Allamakee Community School District when Senate File 1163 transformed the 79 county and joint county school systems into 15 Area Education Agencies. In the basement of a bank building in Elkader, he recited the oath of office as an Area 1 board member in September 1974. A month later he was elected Vice President of the Area 1 Board of Directors. It was at that time that Dr. Withers started a cornerstone practice of his service as an AEA board member. Bill continues to meet with the boards of the school districts that he represents and bring those conversations to the AEA board table.  

“We are honored to present this award to Dr. Bill Withers,” said Brent Siegrist, Executive Director of Iowa’s Area Education Agencies. “His many years of service as an AEA board member is his testament to the AEA system and his dedication to the school districts he serves.”

Three other awards were distributed at the event ceremony. The Friend of the AEA acknowledges contributions by policymakers, citizens, board members, school district partners, businesses, and organizations who have been great partners and demonstrate strong support for furthering the mission of Iowa’s AEAs. David Barajas and Chad Houston were bestowed with the “Friends” awards.

David Barajas, CEO of the Marshalltown Regional Partnership, was been named a Friend of the AEA by Iowa’s Area Education Agencies. Barajas was nominated by Debra Holsapple of Marshalltown High School who stated that: “As a business leader in the community, David is always looking to support the students and members of Marshalltown Community Schools. Barajas has been instrumental in bringing Project Lead the Way Biomedical and Engineering programs to a reality at Marshalltown High School. Barajas has also been involved in raising funds to complete renovation projects at the school.”

Chad Houston, president of Kruck Plumbing in Boone, was honored for his contributions in helping  Boone High School reach its mission: "To graduate all students with high levels of academic and personal achievement, ready for post-secondary excellence." 

He directly influences students with special needs that are supported by vocational rehab and AEA staff. Currently, a Boone graduate is working with Kruck and will receive his journeyman plumbing certification following a very rigorous apprenticeship program. In addition, Kruck has offered professional learning experiences for students, such as business projects that focused on web design, social media and public relations. Kruck has also partnered with Boone High School to create only the third pre-apprenticeship program in the state of Iowa. 

Sharon Moser, library paraeducator from the Fort Dodge Community School District, has been selected for the Innovative Creator Award by Iowa’s Area Education Agencies. The Innovative Creator award celebrates innovative and creative thinking and actions to enrich student learning. Moser was instrumental in creating an elementary Makerspacer at Feelhaver Elementary School. She researched activities, contacted local funding streams, businesses and foundations to begin fundraising and redesigned the physical space in the library.