Mountain Heights Academy – Director
PhD in Instructional Psychology & Technology, Brigham Young University
Briefly tell us about your academic/professional life:
DeLaina Tonks has been the director of Utah’s award-winning Mountain Heights Academy since 2009. Prior to leading Mountain Heights Academy, DeLaina taught high school French and Spanish, and worked as an instructional designer in Upper Arlington, Ohio. She also ran a family business for several years.
DeLaina is a frequent presenter on open educational resources and digital learning, and has been featured at national and international conferences speaking on topics such as creating open content, leveraging data-driven instruction, and implementing best practices for online teachers.
She is a 2012 Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education Fellow, a “Best of State – Principal” winner and was also named as one of Utah Business’s “30 Women to Watch” in 2014.
DeLaina is starting her fourth year in the Instructional Psychology and Technology Ph.D. program at her initial alma mater, Brigham Young University. She also holds a Master of Arts in Second Language Acquisition from The Ohio State University.
Briefly tell us about your life outside of School/Work:
DeLaina is the mother of four children; Amanda, Natalie, Paul Joseph, and Emily, who inspire her to be the best she can be. Her husband, Paul, is her greatest advocate, cheerleader, and supporter.
She is a strong advocate for serving others and believes in giving back to her community. DeLaina is the Vice-Chair of the State Charter School Board and enjoys serving on the Foundation Board of the Association of American Educators and the AdvancEd Accreditation Council, among others. She has served on a variety of local, state, and national education, civic, and political boards.
How did you know your path or decide your current path?
Growing up, my goal was to get married, have 8 children, and be at home. I knew I wanted some formal education because watching my mom go back to school in her forties looked hard. It seemed easier to get that out of the way in my twenties, and I also knew I wanted to be a teacher.
When having a family was delayed for reasons beyond our control, I spent my time teaching and earning a Master’s degree, which prepared me for my current profession.
I can look back over the last 25 years and see God’s hand in my life, removing barriers, providing opportunities I never would have dreamed of, and allowing me to fulfill the measure of my creation in ways I hadn’t known I would or could.
How have your career passions changed over the course of your career, and how have you managed transitions?
After teaching for 13 years and moving to a new state, I ran a family business for a couple of years. It was outside of the scope of my expertise and I experienced multiple stumbling blocks along the way. It was hard!
A couple of years later, I got sassy with a legislator during a school boundary change. I found my voice as I stood up and spoke out. That led to working together on a piece of legislation that resolved the issue in a special session of the legislature. There were additional stumbling blocks along the way, and I discovered a love for politics.
A while later, as a result of the boundary experience, I was invited to participate on the board of my current school. A year later, I had the opportunity to be the director; the most rewarding, challenging, and fulfilling position I’ve ever held.
Looking back, it’s easy to see how stumbling blocks became stepping stones as I learned valuable lessons to apply to future situations. This is not where I anticipated I would be mid-career, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
What do you think matters more in college: grades or networking?
Networking matters more in life in general. Forming connections with others and determining how we can help each other is one of the most enjoyable aspects of adult life for me. While grades are important short-term in helping students successfully complete a degree or determining where they will go to graduate school, relationships last a lifetime and hold long-term importance.
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