Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Leader Feature: Developing cultural responsiveness at Canyon Lake Elementary

Principal David Swank
David Swank is the principal at Canyon Lake Elementary in Rapid City. We spoke with him recently about the school’s efforts to integrate the Oceti Sakowin Essential Understandings and Standards, as part of a broader effort focused on cultural responsiveness.

“If we are really thinking about changing outcomes for students, then the Oceti Sakowin Essential Understandings and Standards need to be at the leading edge of our discussions about instruction, materials, and strategy,” Swank says.

Having said that, Swank is the first to admit he and his staff don’t have it all figured out: “It’s really required some vulnerability from our staff because the majority of our staff are non-Native, so there has been some trepidation about not wanting to do things incorrectly and not wanting to offend people.”

Just start

Roughly 40 percent of Canyon Lake students identify as non-white and most of those non-white students identify as Native American.

To combat the trepidation educators might feel, Swank says the first step, as simple as it sounds, is just to start: “I think people appreciate efforts to be better, and that can override making mistakes. And we need to make mistakes in order to improve.”

Swank assembled a group of stakeholders during the 2018-19 school year, including parents, teachers, and district administrators to develop strategy around cultural competency and culturally responsive teaching at Canyon Lake.

First steps

Tamera Miyasato, a parent of a Canyon Lake student, has also worked with the school in her role as a learning specialist with TIE (Technology and Innovation in Education). As one of the first steps in the school’s cultural proficiency work, she provided staff training about implicit bias. Swank has also worked to help his school incorporate the Woope Sakowin, or Seven Laws, which he learned about from Miyasato.
Tamera Miyasato

After the implicit bias training, Swank says staff began thinking about transforming the physical space of the building. Walking through Canyon Lake halls and classrooms, students, staff, and visitors see posters of Native American elders, medicine wheels, and signs featuring Lakota language.

With the 2019-20 school year, Canyon Lake staff is integrating the OSEUs and the Woope Sakowin into the academic experience. The school is using the social studies disaggregated standards and OSEU connections and exemplar lessons available on the WoLakota Project website to help align the OSEUs with academic content.

Additionally, within classrooms, students work with a station rotation model. Staff have oriented the stations to the directions of the medicine wheel, and each station is associated with some of the Seven Laws corresponding to the type of work being done.

For instance, in an east-facing station, students might work together on math games. The collaborative nature of this station reflects the value of wacante oganake (to help, to share, to be generous). At a south-facing station, students work independently, showing teachers what they can do, reflecting the value of woksape (understanding and wisdom).


It takes time
As Swank points out, there is a focus on Native American students because they are the school’s largest subgroup, but there is also a growing African immigrant population at the school: “So it’s really about how we provide a truly multicultural perspective that values the backgrounds of all our students. That will take years to develop, and it’s something we’ll tackle piece by piece. Ultimately, we don’t want students to feel like they have to ‘check’ any part of their identity at the door when they walk in the school.”

“That’s the amazing thing about the OSEUs—they incorporate diverse cultures into the learning experience, but they also honor people and place,” Miyasato says. “Mr. Swank understands the importance of these two things. To honor the land where the school sits and to honor the original inhabitants of the He Sapa (Black Hills), Canyon Lake uses the OSEUs and integrates the Woope Sakowin into their practices. Yet it is done in a way that still honors every diverse experience that walks through Canyon Lake’s doors.”


Don’t guess
For schools wondering where to start with this kind of work, Swank says, “Don’t guess. Reach out to people who can actually help guide you along that journey. And don’t ask your students to be the experts. That’s not a fair place to put our kids, to ask them to be representatives for their entire culture or an entire ethnicity. We can certainly invite kids to be part of the process, but they shouldn’t have the burden of being the experts in their culture.”

The power of a name

Sometimes the opportunity to help a student embrace their culture comes completely by surprise. Swank tells the story of a teacher who noticed one of her students seemed particularly reluctant to participate in the daily roll call. Through talking with the student, the teacher learned the student had been teased about their last name at a previous school and therefore didn’t like it to be said out loud.

Because the teacher had engaged in some work around cultural proficiency, particularly with Lakota culture, she was able to ask the student, “Do you know what your name means?”

“And when the teacher was able to speak to the cultural significance of the student’s name, that student was just elated to know that someone understood where they were coming from,” Swank says. “That’s a perfect example of a student who has felt like they needed to leave part of themselves at the door. And we’re saying, ‘No, bring that with you because that’s part of what will make your educational experience more valuable, and we can embrace that.’”

Friday, October 18, 2019

Helping students become successful readers

A column by Secretary of Education Dr. Ben Jones

We cannot overstate the importance of reading proficiency for all South Dakota students. October is Dyslexia Awareness Month, and I wanted to take this opportunity to spotlight the things we do at the state level to support educators in providing kids high quality reading instruction.

At the state level, the Board of Education Standards adopts content standards on a cyclical basis. South Dakota’s English language arts standards were last updated in 2018, and full implementation of those standards is now underway.

Since the standards were adopted, department staff have worked with educators to disaggregate, or “unpack” those standards, so that they are easier for classroom teachers to use effectively. This past summer and continuing into this fall, we are offering trainings on how to use the unpacked standards.


Additionally, Department of Education staff facilitate a variety of professional development opportunities aimed at training educators on the five foundational reading skills of fluency, vocabulary, comprehension, phonemic awareness, and phonics. When teachers use strategies focused on these five foundational skills, those strategies can help all readers, including struggling readers, like students with dyslexia.

This fall, we have also worked with Dr. Kari Oyen and Dr. Daniel Hajovsky from the University of South Dakota to offer trainings (which filled quickly) for district/school teams to learn about helping students with dyslexia. The trainers will then provide follow-up consultation on a suspected case of dyslexia in the team’s district to help ensure the training transfers into effective practice.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

October is Dyslexia Awareness Month

Executive Proclamation
Office of the Governor
State of South Dakota

WHEREAS, dyslexia is a language-based, neurological specific learning disability characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition, spelling and decoding, and writing; and

WHEREAS, these difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language, and secondary consequences of dyslexia may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge; and

WHEREAS, the presence of dyslexia is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities; and

WHEREAS, dyslexia occurs on a continuum of severity, affecting between 10 and 20 percent of the population according to the National Institutes of Health; and

WHEREAS, parents and educators of students who struggle to overcome dyslexia across South Dakota and the nation have come together to advocate for reforms to support their children, namely a universal definition of dyslexia, teacher training, early screening, evidence-based remediation programs, and access to appropriate assistive technologies; and

WHEREAS, South Dakotans and all stakeholders in education across the state of South Dakota will benefit from increased awareness of the nature of dyslexia, the early warning signs of dyslexia, and the value of scientifically based multi-sensory structured language interventions and teaching strategies designed to better educate students with dyslexia; and

WHEREAS, greater recognition of dyslexia is necessary to ensure that individuals with dyslexia living in South Dakota are accurately identified and provided with appropriate services so they might learn to read proficiently in order to reach their full potential and contribute to society

NOW, THEREFORE, I, KRISTI NOEM, Governor of the state of South Dakota, do hereby proclaim October 2019 as

DYSLEXIA AWARENESS MONTH

in South Dakota.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Leader Feature: Administrators implementing updated graduation requirements


Knudson
Morford
In July 2018, the South Dakota Board of Education Standards adopted updated graduation requirements. One school year later, we’re checking in with Tea Area High School Principal Collin Knudson and Spearfish High School Principal Steve Morford to see how things are going at their schools.

What are some ways your school is innovating to offer students additional course options, as a result of these new requirements?
Knudson: Tea Area High School has created ‘suggested learning plans’ for individual endorsements. Within each learning plan, students have flexibility on course offerings. We have really focused on the advanced career endorsement through creating middle school and high school programs of study for each cluster and strengthening our business partnerships.
Morford: The change has driven great curricular area discussions, which has led us to expand our course offerings and internships to better meet student wants and needs. More opportunities for kids equate to better prepared graduates, as well as a school climate conducive to interaction and positive learning.


What positive impacts have you seen at your school, as a result of the new graduation requirements?
Morford: The flexibility and ability to select classes more geared toward interests of the students has helped many students build self confidence that they can and will succeed. All students can see success and be successful with this great opportunity.


What do you like about the new graduation requirements?
Knudson: The increased flexibility has allowed us to meet our students where they are at. It has opened doors for students to create personalized learning plans that meet their postsecondary interests/goals.
Morford: I believe it will create a more focused student. Many students got "caught in a rut" under the previous graduation requirements. Now every student can find a path that interests them and take the classes needed to get them there.



How is your staff counseling students to help them most effectively align their course choices with their post-graduation plans?
Morford: Counselors and advisors meet with all incoming freshman to explain the graduation endorsements. All students are expected to achieve at least one endorsement. The continued path to success will be emphasized in our monthly advisee/advisor times. I believe many students will be motivated to attain multiple endorsements.

Celebrate the South Dakota Week of Work

A column by Secretary of Education Dr. Ben Jones

Governor Kristi Noem recently announced the South Dakota Week of Work, to be held April 20-24, 2020. The Department of Education is proud to partner on this initiative. The week is intended to provide 10th grade students opportunities to explore potential careers in South Dakota and to give employers the chance to engage with youth and develop connections with the state’s future workforce.

This fall, initial efforts are focused on recruiting businesses across the state to offer job shadow opportunities for students, offer tours of their facilities, or serve as guest speakers in classrooms. Next spring, schools will register their participating 10th grade students for the opportunities businesses are offering via an online matching system. During the week of April 20-24, students will get their chance to explore, experience, and engage with a variety of careers.

I strongly encourage all high schools to participate in this event. You can learn more at sdweekofwork.com, and the Department of Education will offer training events this fall. High school principals and counselors are invited to attend one of these events to share ideas and expertise related to building business-classroom connections across South Dakota.

What’s one of the most common questions you get from students? Based on my experience both as a parent, and in the classroom, I have a hunch that it just might be, “When am I ever going to use this?”

It’s a great question. As educators, I think we should always be prepared to answer it. Students may not always like (or even believe) our answers, but often, when we make a point of helping them understand why they’re learning something, they become more invested. With the South Dakota Week of Work, we hope they may see math, science, writing, speaking, geography, music, and government in action. This is an opportunity to show them that what they’re learning is applicable in ways they’ve not been afforded a chance to see yet.

While the South Dakota Week of Work will focus on 10th grade students, I hope teachers think about this question frequently and at all grade levels. The answer to students’ big question doesn’t always relate directly to a career. (Not all music students will become musicians; not all chemistry students will go into a career in science.)

However, the sooner we expose students to the numerous career opportunities available to them, and the myriad ways their K-12 education can help prepare them for those careers, the better informed and prepared they will be for their next step, once they leave the K-12 system.

The state of South Dakota makes SDMyLife, an online portal for exploring career and postsecondary options, available at no cost to all South Dakota students in grades 6-12. I hope your school is helping students make the most of this valuable tool.

The Department of Labor, a partner in the South Dakota Week of Work initiative, also offers engaging resources for career exploration for young students, with Career Peeks for grades K-2, Career Aware for grades 3-5, and Career Wonders for grades 5-8.


A career interest can be sparked anywhere, anytime, and at any age. Thank you for your dedication to setting your students on a path to a successful life.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

LEADER FEATURE: Superintendent Jason Bailey, Bridgewater-Emery School District


When Bridgewater-Emery School District Superintendent Jason Bailey talks with administrator colleagues, it’s not uncommon to discuss the challenges of providing the mental health support students need to be successful.


The Bridgewater-Emery School District is one of the first four school partners in South Dakota’s Project AWARE, which stands for Advancing Wellness and Resilience in Education. We recently checked in with Superintendent Bailey to learn more about how things are going as the district begins its first full school year of the program.

“Our hope is to give our staff the tools necessary to recognize and respond to these behavioral health issues,” Bailey says. “A wide variety of training opportunities have become available to us through the Project AWARE grant. We are hoping to provide mental health services previously unavailable to students and families in our community.”

The need
According to the Data Resource Center for Child & Adolescent Health, over 20% of students in public schools nationwide have a diagnosable mental health disorder that warrants additional supports. Of that 20%, more than 70% receive interventions in a school setting.


In South Dakota, 10.4% of children ages 2-17 have been diagnosed with one or more emotional, behavioral, and/or developmental conditions. That means there is an estimated gap of 9.6% of students in need of support who are not identified for care.

The framework
The Project AWARE grant, a partnership between the South Dakota Departments of Education and Social Services – Behavioral Health, is built on an interconnected systems framework, the base of which is home and community awareness, with the goals of de-stigmatizing mental health issues through awareness training, building self-healing, trauma-informed communities, and creating community partnerships.


“Continued outreach and community engagement to promote positive mental health will be a goal this coming school year,” Bailey says. “In addition, a general increase in awareness of mental health issues will continue to be a major focus. We’re partnering with the National Alliance on Mental Illness for this aspect of the work.”

NAMI gave three presentations to staff, middle school students, and parents in spring 2019 and will be back with a booth providing information for families at the open house in Emery Aug. 19. In addition, NAMI will give a presentation to all students in grades 6-12 in September. The Ending the Silence presentation features individuals whose lives have been affected by mental illness and provide real-life perspectives based on personal experiences.

Tier 1 of the framework is universal prevention, incorporating universal behavioral health screenings and support for school/home partnerships, trauma-informed training for school staff, Positive Behavior Interventions & Supports, and other prevention activities.

Bailey says all Bridgewater-Emery staff is currently receiving training in PBIS and is excited to get started on implementation. During the 2018-19 school year, the district also began using a universal screening tool to assess students’ risk level for behavioral health issues and helped those who needed assistance to access services.

The local Community Project AWARE Manager, Jenelle Sigler, is on-site daily at the Bridgewater-Emery School District and provides prevention-based social-emotional learning lessons and training at the classroom level, using a program called Second Step. Sigler is a certified school counselor and also provides targeted interventions, such as counseling, for students with Tier 2 needs.

Tier 3 of the framework encompasses supports for students in need of wraparound services. The district works with Systems of Care Coordinator, Dena Smith, through Southeastern Behavioral Health to assist students with these kinds of needs.

Data component
Bailey is also looking forward to working with the data component of the project: “There’s a data component that will help us see how things are going by looking at our own local data to ask, ‘What’s working?’ ‘What do we need to get better at?’ ‘Where do we go from here?’”


The first cohort of school partners involved in Project AWARE, which also includes Black Hills Special Services Cooperative, the Sioux Falls School District and the Wagner Area School District, began receiving behavior and mental health supports through the grant in October 2018. More schools will have the opportunity to receive supports through the grant in subsequent years.


Partners including the National Council of Behavioral Health, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI South Dakota) and Prevention Resource Centers are helping deliver evidence-based training for schools and communities.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Celebrating Attendance Awareness Month


Executive Proclamation
Office of the Governor
State of South Dakota

Whereas, Good attendance is essential to student achievement and graduation, and South Dakota is committed to reducing chronic absenteeism rates; and

WHEREAS, Chronic absence, missing 10 percent or more of school or just 2 or 3 days a month, is a proven predictor of academic trouble and dropout rates; and

WHEREAS, The impact of chronic absence hits low-income students who are more likely to face systemic barriers in getting to school – such as unreliable transportation, lack of access to health care, unstable or unaffordable housing; and

WHEREAS, Improving attendance and reducing chronic absence takes commitment, collaboration, and approaches tailored to particular challenges and strengths in each community; and

WHEREAS, Chronic absence can be significantly reduced when schools, parents, and communities work together to monitor and promote good attendance and address hurdles that keep children from getting to school:

Now, Therefore, I, Kristi Noem, Governor of the State of South Dakota, do hereby proclaim September 2019, as

Attendance Awareness Month

in South Dakota, and encourage school leaders, parents, and communities to spread the message that good attendance matters and to develop solutions to ensure all children are in school as much as possible and engaged in their learning.