Schools cannot function without effectively communicating with parents, employees and the communities they serve — especially in a health crisis — and journalists and media outlets are vital partners in that endeavor.
Such is the guiding philosophy of Canyons School District’s Communications Director Jeff Haney who explains it this way: “Media professionals need reliable information to do their jobs, and we need their help to inform the public.”
For his work this past year to provide the media with trusted and timely information about how schools were responding to the pandemic, Haney earned the Utah PIO Association’s 2021 Media Relations Award. Winners of this statewide recognition are typically nominated by local media and chosen by their peers.
This was a heavy-lifting year for communicators, and the PIO Association received an unprecedented number of nominations for its annual awards, according to the association’s Vice President Tina Brown, Public Information Officer for Salt Lake County Emergency Management.
“Jeff Haney has earned the respect of media partners and the public with his extremely professional, consistent and honest communications regarding anything related to the school district and the surrounding communities,” Brown said, “especially during the recent pandemic and other recent school-related emergencies.”
In addition to serving as the chief spokesman for Canyons District, Haney teaches communications at Weber State University. Formerly a journalist and editor for the Deseret News, he has worked for Canyons since the District’s inception in 2009.
He says the past year has been among the most challenging of his career. “Our lives changed on March 13 when then-Gov. Gary Herbert announced the soft-closure of Utah’s schools,” he recalls. The closure was supposed to last two months, but was the prelude to more than a year of working with health officials to implement safety protocols, from distancing, face masks and the daily disinfection of schools to the rapid testing of students and staging of employee vaccination clinics.
Add to that the work schools put into preserving in-person learning while making sure students also had the tools and supports to effectively learn online when necessary, and there was a lot to communicate.
“This experience really cemented for me the importance of being as transparent as possible. I’m lucky to work for a Board of Education and Administration who prioritize community engagement, which has made it possible to build trusting relationships with the press,” Haney said. “We work in partnership with the press, because they have an important job to do and we share a common goal: educating our students and the public.”