Thursday, August 17, 2017

Graduating College, Career and Life Ready

A column by Gov. Dennis Daugaard:


It’s hard to believe my oldest grandchild is starting kindergarten this year. With a week-and-a-half left before his first day, Henry is looking forward to starting school.

Even though it’s been a while since I was in the classroom, I’ve learned a few things as a parent, public servant and now, grandfather. I know how crucial education is to individual achievement and how, particularly during high school, planning and forming good habits can help students succeed.

For high schoolers and their parents, I have three tips to share for the upcoming school year.

First, don’t underestimate the importance of showing up. Some absences cannot be avoided, and that is understandable. Sometimes, though, absences add up without students and families noticing. Research tells us that missing just 10 percent of a school year negatively impacts student achievement. That breaks down to missing only two or three days of school a month. So it’s easy to see how those absences can accumulate, yet escape families’ attention.

This tip applies beyond just high schoolers, as it is important to build good attendance habits from the beginning. In the earliest grades, good attendance is a strong predictor for whether students will be proficient readers. By middle school, chronic absence puts students at risk of not graduating. In fact, by 9th grade, a student’s attendance record is an even better predictor of graduation rates than are 8th grade test scores.

Second, high school juniors and seniors should consider dual credit options. Dual credit courses allow students to simultaneously earn high school and college credit. For those with busy schedules or who live in rural areas, dual credit courses can be taken online. At only $48.33 per credit hour, these courses provide students and their families significant cost savings. These are the cheapest university or technical school credits a student will ever take, and they can save hundreds of dollars by taking just one course. Last year, South Dakota students saved more than $4.4 million by using this program – averaging more than $1,000 per student in savings.

And last, enjoy the present but think about the future. High school is the time to start thinking about career paths. High schoolers should explore different fields by taking advantage of internships, job-shadowing opportunities and hands-on learning experiences. They need to begin to weigh their interests, goals, and abilities, and to consider what jobs are available and what paths will lead to employment.

The goal of our education system is to successfully prepare students for college, career and life. Whether they go on to one of our state’s public universities, technical institutes or right into the workforce, we want students to graduate with a plan in place for taking their next steps. Consistent attendance, dual credit and job exploration can help lay the foundation for that to happen.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Guest blog entry from Department of Education intern Shirley Vargas

Greetings! My name is Shirley Vargas, and I am honored and privileged to be on the land of the Oceti Sakowin. I have the opportunity to serve as a summer intern at the South Dakota Department of Education, as I work towards my doctorate in educational leadership from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

I was born and raised in The Bronx, New York, where I attended public school from Kindergarten to 12th grade. Throughout my schooling, I often wondered when someone like me would appear in textbooks, slideshows, or in a profession other than music or dance. I believed that my language and culture were more than one month out of the school year. However, the lack of linguistic and cultural affirmation and my parents’ insistence on having to "fit in," led me to believe that maybe it was best not to stand out.

My mother is from Peru; my father is from the Dominican Republic, and both experienced racism and discrimination because of their native language, use of English and cultural practices. I found it necessary to enter the education field in order to serve as a role model for other students and provide support to families and communities about the importance of language and culture preservation.

As I began my doctoral studies and heard the powerful voices of Native students on campus, I began to realize that I wasn't alone in my experience, and I had a significant “blind spot” when it comes to understanding the history, culture and education of Native youth and their communities. This realization is part of what drew me to South Dakota.

I am fascinated by the work that has come out of the Native American Student Achievement Advisory Council. Thus far, I have spent some time learning about the Oceti Sakowin Essential Understandings and their goals and aspirations as a way to impart cultural diversity and empower Native communities. I have also learned about the paraprofessional tuition assistance scholarship program, which aims to help paraprofessionals at qualifying schools earn their teaching degrees. I believe there is great potential for leveraging the assets of Native communities to further the achievement of their youth.

Coming from the hustle and bustle of the East Coast to South Dakota, I am struck by the comparatively quiet nature of the state, the wide open spaces, and at the same time, the unique opportunity to be so close to the action.

It is exciting to witness the close connection between state officials and educators. During my first week here, I had the opportunity to travel to the Statewide Mentoring Program Summer Academies in Spearfish and Sioux Falls. Getting to visit with educators who participated in this important program was powerful. I am encouraged by the intentionality of this work to elevate the teaching profession in South Dakota, so that all of our students receive the best educational experience, which they deserve.

There are great things happening here. I’m joyful to play even a small part in it during my brief time here this summer. Best wishes to you as you continue your efforts to ensure all South Dakota students graduate college, career and life ready.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Spotlight: Sturgis Brown High School

Auto shop at Sturgis Brown High School

This spring, more than 100 business and postsecondary representatives gathered in the Sturgis Brown High School gym, marking the 10th Annual SBHS Career Fair. Surrounding districts are taking notice, with several busing in students, and teachers visiting to learn how they might do something similar in their own schools.
All Sturgis Brown High School students attend the fair, and teachers help them prepare for the day with tips on dressing professionally and asking good questions.

Coleen Keffeler, the school’s director of career and technical education, leads the effort and has built relationships with many Black Hills area businesses over the years.

“We have a very active advisory board, who helps us plan the fair,” Keffeler says. “The community as a whole is also very supportive of our CTE program. For instance, Pat Kurtenbach with the Sturgis Economic Development Corporation is good about letting me know when a new business comes to town and inviting me to talk to them about our Youth Internship program.”

The career fair is one of many ways SBHS works to help students determine what careers they’re interested in and what they need to do to prepare to go into that field.

A first-year industrial technology student works on a welding project.

With 10 career clusters represented, the school’s CTE program is extensive. It was also the first in the state to offer students Youth Internship, back in the early 1990s.
One benefit of having such a large program, SBHS Principal Pete Wilson explains, is the ability to offer multiple levels of courses, from beginner to advanced. For instance, in the auto shop pictured above, freshmen work on small engines on the tables to the right. If they continue taking the automotive technician sequence of courses, eventually they get to bring in their own cars to practice routine maintenance like oil changes and tire rotations.

Some Sturgis Brown agriculture students raise animals like chicks and pigs.

“We have awesome staff here, both in CTE and non-CTE areas. There are a lot of partnerships and collaboration between CTE and other departments,” Keffeler says. “Probably about half of our seniors use either their Youth Internship, CTE classes or CTSO [career and technical student organization] membership as the basis of their Senior Experience. That’s pretty exciting.”
One example of this collaborative effort, Keffeler says, is fitness/weight lifting teacher Sage Robinson-Miller, who incorporates the Senior Experience into her Level 3 course. In addition to teaching proper lifts and mentoring less experienced lifters, Level 3 students study an area that they can use for their Senior Experience research paper.
Keffeler says a cross-curricular project in previous years involved AP English students teaming up with culinary, journalism, music and photography students to put on a medieval fair.

Geometry in Construction students built this shed.

SBHS students have also had the opportunity to obtain the National Career Readiness Certificate for the past several years. “I have seen more and more students getting their NCRC,” Keffeler says. “I stress to them that it’s something they can put on their resume and scholarship applications. They’ve really been taking it seriously. Those who end up just one or two points away from earning the next certificate level often ask to retake the test.”

Wood shop
So, what happens after Sturgis Brown graduates leave the school? Perhaps one of the greatest testaments to the power of the Sturgis CTE program is when graduates come back and visit with current students.
“A lot of the businesses that we call to come to the career fair know us pretty well, and they’ll bring in one or two former Sturgis students who are now working for them,” Wilson says. “Coleen also organizes a reverse career fair, where students go and tour businesses in the Sturgis industrial park. They get to hear from Sturgis graduates working at a number of those businesses, too.”

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Celebrating Teacher Appreciation Week in South Dakota

In honor of Teacher Appreciation Week, several teachers across the state have written guest editorials for their local newspapers:

Beth Kaltsulas is the 2017 South Dakota Teacher of the Year and the 2017 South Dakota Education Association Teacher of Excellence. She teaches math at Yankton Middle School. Read her column in the Yankton Daily Press & Dakotan.

Amanda Christensen is South Dakota's 2016-17 Milken Educator Award winner. She teaches fourth grade at Longfellow Elementary in Mitchell. Read her column in the Mitchell Daily Republic.

Sarah Lutz was the 2016 South Dakota Teacher of the Year. She teaches third grade at Stanley County Elementary in Fort Pierre. Read her column in the Capital Journal.

Allen Hogie was the 2015 South Dakota Teacher of the Year. He teaches math at Brandon Valley High School. Read his column in the Argus Leader.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Awards given at annual math and science teachers conference

The South Dakota Science Teachers Association and South Dakota Council of Teachers of Mathematics recently held their 25th Annual Joint Professional Development Conference in Huron. Congratulations to the outstanding math and science educators who received special recognitions!
Photo of four teachers holding awards.
State Level Finalists for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (l to r): Lindsey Tellinghuisen, Willow Lake Elementary; Andrea Thedorff, Black Hawk Elementary (Rapid City); Crystall Becker, Canistota Elementary and Middle School; Lisa Kissner, Huron Middle School
Tracy Moody holding award. Julie Olson standing with her.
Tracy Moody, Sanborn Central High School (left), receives the Outstanding Biology Teacher Award from Julie Olson, Second Chance High School (Mitchell), on behalf of Sanford Health.
Charles Standen holding award and book titled Flying Circus of Physics.
Charles Standen, Spearfish High School, receives the Outstanding Physical Science Teacher Award sponsored by 3M.
Lori Wagner holding award. Standing next to Paul Kuhlman.
Lori Wagner, NSU Center for eLearning High School, receives the Outstanding Mathematics Teacher Award from Paul Kuhlman, Avon Junior High and High School; on behalf of Daktronics.
Julie Olson and Patty Martin holding awards. Standing next to Tom Durkin.
SD Space Grant Consortium Kelly Lane Earth & Space Science Grant winners (l to r): Julie Olson, Second Chance High School (Mitchell); Tom Durkin, SD Space Grant Consortium; Patty Martin, Roncalli High School (Aberdeen)
Jackie Knox and Kelly Hinds holding awards, standing with Tom Durkin. Photo of Laurie Elmore.
Daniel Swets Robotics Awards (l to r): Jackie Knox, Highmore-Harrold Junior High and High School; Tom Durkin, SD Space Grant Consortium; Kelly Hinds, Simmons Middle School (Aberdeen); Laurie Elmore, SDSU Extension Harding County 4-H
Steve Caron holding award, standing next to Cindy Kroon
Steve Caron receives the Distinguished Service to Mathematics Award from Cindy Kroon, president of the SD Council of Teachers of Mathematics.
Millie Palmer standing with Cindy Kroon
Millie Palmer (right) receives the Friend of Mathematics Award from Cindy Kroon, president of the SDCTM.
Judy Vondruska holding award, standing next to Liz McMillan
Judy Vondruska (left) receives the Friend of Science Award from Liz McMillan, president of the SD Science Teachers Association.
Lisa Cardillo holding award, standing between Ben Benson and Liz McMillan.
Lisa Cardillo, Harrisburg High School (middle) receives a Sanford PROMISE Ambassador Award from Liz McMillan, SDSTA president and Sanford PROMISE program director; and Ben Benson, Sanford Research Education Specialist.
Lindsay Kortan holding award, standing between Ben Benson and Liz McMillan.
Lindsay Kortan, Bon Homme High School (middle) receives a Sanford PROMISE Ambassador Award from Liz McMillan, SDSTA president and Sanford PROMISE program director; and Ben Benson, Sanford Research Education Specialist.
Jeff Peterson holding award, standing next to Ben Benson and Liz McMillan.
Jeff Peterson, West Central High School (left) receives a Sanford PROMISE Ambassador Award from Liz McMillan, SDSTA president and Sanford PROMISE program director; and Ben Benson, Sanford Research Education Specialist.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

SD Teacher of the Year and Milken Award winner honored by State Legislature

Beth Kaltsulas (left), the 2017 South Dakota Teacher of the Year, and Milken Educator Award winner Amanda Christensen were recently honored by the State Legislature. Hear what they had to say after being recognized by the House and Senate.
Secretary of Education Dr. Melody Schopp gives Amanda Christensen her Milken Educator Award

Amanda Christensen (middle) with state legislators (l to r) Rep. Tona Rozum and Sen. Joshua Klumb

Beth Kaltsulas (middle) with state legislators (l to r) Sen. Jim Bolin, Rep. Mike Stevens, Sen. Craig Kennedy, Rep. Jean Hunhoff

Beth Kaltsulas and Amanda Christensen in the House gallery

Beth Kaltsulas and Amanda Christensen stand to be recognized in the House gallery

Beth Kaltsulas stands to be recognized in the Senate gallery

Amanda Christensen stands to be recognized in the Senate gallery

Friday, November 18, 2016

Blue Ribbon package raises the salary bar for South Dakota teachers

A column by Gov. Dennis Daugaard

During the 2016 session, the State Legislature passed a package of three bills, based on the recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Task Force. The purpose of these bills was to direct new funding to school districts to increase teacher salaries. 

I’m pleased to report that this effort has been a success.
A new survey by the state Department of Education indicates that the average teacher salary is $46,924. This represents a one-year increase of 11.9 percent.
The Blue Ribbon Task Force was convened to address the serious problem our schools faced when trying to recruit and retain excellent teachers. South Dakota had paid the lowest average teacher salary for decades, but in recent years the gap with our surrounding states had widened. For many teachers, neither the desire to stay close to home, nor South Dakota’s low cost of living, could any longer outweigh the significantly higher salaries offered in neighboring states.

The task force’s recommendations addressed the problem head-on, and I again thank the task force members for their work. I also thank the legislators who had the courage to vote for bills that raised the sales tax, that rewrote the school funding formula, and that committed funds to innovation and sharing of services. 

The Legislature set a “target average salary” of $48,500 for teachers. We knew that we would not reach that average in the first year, because it will take time for schools to become more efficient and repurpose their own funds into salaries. I am very pleased that, with an average salary of nearly $47,000, our schools have made so much progress toward that goal. 

Our smaller, rural school districts are especially challenged to attract teachers, and so I am particularly pleased to see very sizable salary increases in many small districts. In Jones County, the average teacher salary increased by 22.4 percent. In Ethan, it increased by 19.7 percent. In Mobridge-Pollock, salaries increased 25 percent. Faith increased 18.3 percent. Iroquois increased 23.3 percent. Florence increased 19.6 percent. Burke increased 18.8 percent. Oelrichs salaries improved by 20.5 percent. Gayville-Volin went up 21.4 percent. And the highest increase in the state, as a percentage, was Waubay with 26.3 percent.

Larger schools also enjoyed sizable raises, although they had higher salaries to begin with and therefore their percentage increases are generally lower. Most were close to the state average of 11.9 percent, although Brandon Valley achieved an increase of 19.3 percent and Meade County went up 14.7 percent.

I have already heard from many superintendents that these raises are having an impact. Fewer teachers are departing, fewer vacancies are unfilled, more are applying for open positions and more teachers are staying in South Dakota rather than leaving the state. I am confident that, over the next year or two, the data we collect from school districts will show a persistence in the impact that we are seeing in the first year of these salary increases.

Every South Dakotan wants to give our children a quality education, and we know that the most important means to that end is not buildings or equipment – it is great teachers. When the Legislature approved the Blue Ribbon package this year, it sent a clear message that South Dakotans were willing to invest in our teachers. I thank our school leaders for joining in that investment by using these funds to dramatically increase teacher salaries.