Monday, February 4, 2019

Celebrating CTE Month

A column by Laura Scheibe, director of career and technical education for the South Dakota Department of Education

February is Career and Technical Education (CTE) Month. In South Dakota, we have much to celebrate and even more to look forward to. Throughout the month on our website we’ll be featuring students and educators from across our state talking about their best new CTE ideas.

Last year in our state, more students than ever took CTE coursework. More students also focused on a particular career cluster and graduated in higher numbers than their peers. We launched a newly redesigned SDMyLife website to help students find their paths. But we are celebrating even more than this.

In summer 2018, the state Board of Education Standards adopted new high school graduation requirements that acknowledge success looks different for every student. We are hearing from administrators and teachers across the state that they are excited about the new structure and optional advanced endorsements now available to students.

One of these endorsements is the Advanced Career Endorsement, which will signal that a student has focused preparation in a particular career area, thus placing additional value on career coursework and work-based learning. Additionally, by providing more room for elective credit within required academic credits, schools can design rigorous courses that infuse both CTE and core content together. For example, a course could be designed that incorporates geometry and construction skills.

Additionally, the Department of Education recently entered into a unique partnership with the Department of Labor and Regulation to put career advisors in several school districts. And this summer, the scope of this project was broadened so that local DLR offices across the state are more empowered to work with the schools in their area.

We are also celebrating the recent reauthorization of the federal CTE law, known as Perkins V. This law will help us take a modernized approach to CTE in middle school, high school and at the college level.

At the state level, we’ve been busy on the career readiness front, and now it’s your turn to help shape the future of CTE. We are asking schools, businesses, students and parents for your best ideas about what can be done to better prepare students for pathways to careers after graduation.

Be bold. Be creative. Let us know how to make the next generation of CTE even better.

Send your ideas to

Friday, November 2, 2018

Celebrating American Education Week

A column by Interim Secretary of Education Mary Stadick Smith

November 12-16 is American Education Week, a time to celebrate our nation’s public schools.

In South Dakota, we all have reason to be proud of the good work our schools do to serve students. A lot is asked of our state’s educators, and they routinely step up to the challenge, supporting students of all abilities and backgrounds.

When you consider some of the common metrics used to measure school success – things like attendance rates, graduation rates, test scores – South Dakota typically stacks up well compared to other states. But our schools are so much more than a set of metrics. They are a place where young minds are challenged and nurtured, a place where personalities are formed, character is developed, and future citizens and leaders begin to find their voices. These intangibles can be difficult to measure, but in the end, they are just as valuable as the academic content we want our students to master.

Like so many parents, I know that my child’s educators are a trusted source for helping me understand her academic progress and social development. They are the experts who have devoted their lives to kids, and they constantly strive to hone their craft.

It’s not only teachers and administrators who make up the fabric of a school. Librarians, paraprofessionals, coaches, office and school lunch staff, bus drivers, custodians, and others play vital roles as well. And in many of our state’s small schools, some employees wear several of these hats all at once.

Of course, parents and families are their children’s first teachers, and they have an integral role in the formal education process as well. A student does best when he or she has a strong support system both inside and outside the school walls.

During American Education Week, let’s take time to celebrate the successes of our public school system and to recognize the individuals who have made it their life’s work to help students build a solid foundation of knowledge, skills and experiences that will serve them well in postsecondary, careers and life.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Celebrating Native Americans' Day

A message from South Dakota Indian Education Director Mato Standing High

Native Americans' Day is for all of us. 

Remember, for a lot of South Dakotans, every day is Native Americans' Day. For others, it's an opportunity to remember and respect people who have inhabited this continent since time immemorial. 

As South Dakotans, we are lucky to have a unique history to share--a history that is tied to the land that we all share and respect. When we take time to understand each other, it gives us not only greater understanding, but better perspective--perspective that helps break stereotypes and bridges gaps that were also created by history. 

If you are asking yourself, how? or why? in reading this post, that is exactly why we must make more of an effort to learn about OUR Lakota, Nakota and Dakota neighbors, friends and relatives. 

One resource that is available for this exact purpose is the Oceti Sakowin Essential Understandings. The Oceti Sakowin Essential Understandings are a resource that has been developed over the past several years by numerous Lakota elders for use in the classroom. They can be used at any level of education and should be used in every school in South Dakota. It is not just for our Lakota, Nakota and Dakota people, it is for South Dakota. 

We all share the history and, to some extent, the culture. It is an honor and privilege to have such a unique and rich history as the people of South Dakota. 

Have a great Native Americans' Day!

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Governor proclaims October Dyslexia Awareness Month

October is Dyslexia Awareness Month. The Dyslexia Handbook for Teachers and Parents in South Dakota is available to help parents and educators learn more about dyslexia and includes additional resources for teachers to access if they suspect a student may have dyslexia. Find links to the handbook, a brochure and many other resources on the Department of Education's Dyslexia webpage.

Executive Proclamation

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. 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. 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 multisensory 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, Dennis Daugaard, Governor of the state of South Dakota, do hereby proclaim October 2018 as 

Dyslexia Awareness Month

in South Dakota.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Be the One

A column by Gov. Dennis Daugaard

Suicide is a growing problem in South Dakota. Last year we had the highest number of suicides on record. It was the ninth leading cause of death and the second leading cause of death for individuals age 10 to 34.

Around 5 percent of the population experiences thoughts of suicide each year. Even more alarming, a 2015 survey of South Dakota found that those thoughts are more prevalent for high schoolers, with 1 in 6 students having suicidal thoughts or tendencies. A recent Center for Disease Control report found over half of the individuals who died by suicide did not have any known mental health issues. Although depression and mental illness can be the underlying cause, relationship issues or other obstacles in life may lead someone to consider suicide.

One of the ways to prevent suicide is to talk about it. We can empower those who struggle by letting them know they’re not alone. Many people experience thoughts of despair, and there is help out there.

At the state level, we are talking about it as much as we can. Through a campaign called BeThe1SD, we are spreading the word about warning signs and where to find help. We have a 24/7 Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK), Community Mental Health Centers that offer mental health services and supports across the state, and a whole host of resources at On the website you can find toolkits for local groups and information about suicide and support groups for survivors and family members who have lost loved ones.

I’m encouraging South Dakotans to talk about suicide as well. I have challenged community groups to hold events during the month of September, which is Suicide Prevention Month. Reaching out to someone can make all the difference, but how do we start the conversation? How do we identify the warning signs? When should we ask, “Are you okay?” I hope schools, churches, clubs, families and circles of friends throughout our state will engage in the fight to save lives by leading these kinds of discussions.

A few weeks ago, five South Dakota Department of Transportation employees made headlines as they went above and beyond their duties. Gary, Adam, Chris, Curt and Jordan were north of Sioux Falls when they got word of a young man headed toward the Marion Road overpass on I-90. The young man was in despair and had the intention of taking his own life. When he climbed onto the overpass, the five men from DOT rushed to him. They stopped traffic, broke the young man’s fall and prevented him from running into traffic.

Their actions saved this young man’s life.

Never underestimate the immense value of your life or the impact you can have on someone else. Have the courage to be the one. One question, one smile, one conversation, one instance of going above and beyond could save a life.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Teacher Feature: Back-to-school advice from South Dakota teachers

We asked some South Dakota teachers for their best advice to colleagues to start the school year on a positive note. A strong theme emerged: relationships. Thank you to all South Dakota educators for the work you do every day. You make a difference in the lives of our state's students. Have a great school year!

"Build relationships with your students. A colleague once told me that you can't teach what you don't know, and that includes your students. Take the time to build those relationships. They matter."
--Rachel Schaefer, kindergarten, Elkton Elementary
2018 South Dakota Teacher of the Year

"Always create a fun space in your classroom that makes you smile, whether it be family photos, inspirational quotes, school memorabilia or fun art some fun into your day. Whatever it takes to inspire your innovative mindset, build that fun into your space!

I also plan 'fun' throughout the coming days and weeks where I leave notes with fun messages for each staff member. (I keep a list of all our staff members and make sure that I honor fun equally for our whole staff!) I bring something different for the staff, too, like lavender hand soap for the staff bathroom, or I have an eggstra-special drawing for my farm fresh eggs that I give away to my colleagues. Plan a little bit of giving to others and yourself, and it will come back to you in bountiful ways."
--Tammy Jo Schlechter, Title I, Deubrook Elementary
2013 Regional Teacher of the Year

"Lead with love."
--Gina Benz, English, Roosevelt High School,Sioux Falls
2015 Milken Educator Award winner

"Be true to yourself! Kids appreciate honesty from their teachers...but be honest drenched with kindness. Enjoy your work as an educator. It is so important to impart your love of learning to your students. One little smile can make a huge difference in someone's often."
--Pam Wells, science, Mobridge-Pollock High School
2014 Regional Teacher of the Year

"Get to know your students. Send a note, email or make a quick phone call home welcoming your students and their families to your classroom during the first two weeks of school. It's a great opportunity to answer parent questions and to begin the school year positively. Parent/teacher communication is vital for a successful school year."
--Beth Kaltsulas, math, Yankton Middle School
2017 South Dakota Teacher of the Year

"Remember to take one day at a time and take a few minutes to reflect on your teaching to make small changes...but everything doesn't have to be fixed all at once! The first years, you will feel like a fish swimming upstream until you get everything figured out...but hang in there!"
--Shelly Mikkelson, 2nd grade, South Park Elementary, Belle Fourche
2015 Regional Teacher of the Year

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

A New System to Serve ALL of our Students

A column by Gov. Dennis Daugaard:

Nearly 50 cents of every state tax dollar goes to education. That includes funding for our public universities, technical schools, and the state Department of Education, but the majority is used to fund our K-12 system. Given that education makes up such a large portion of our budget, we need to routinely evaluate how we are doing as a state. We should often ask ourselves this question: Are we sufficiently preparing our students for what comes next?

About a year ago, we pulled together data that indicated the answer to this question, for most of our high school students, is “No.” Of our students who start 9th grade, 80-90% will finish. About 70% of those will enroll in post-secondary education.  This is less than two-thirds of those who started 9th grade.  Of those who enroll at a tech school or university, only 50-60% will graduate.  Thus, only a fraction of our students who started 9th grade will earn a degree. In other words, our current system is only working for a minority of our students.

We need to do better.

We have long emphasized the four-year degree path over other valid options – like technical degrees and certificates, associate degrees and industry-recognized credentials.  This focus has led some of our students to be disengaged and unaware of good alternative options. This disengagement, coupled with large-scale economic changes, is forcing us to think differently about the high school experience in South Dakota.

After I met with several superintendents to discuss these issues and former Education Secretary Don Kirkegaard gathered input from education leaders across the state, we decided to propose new high school graduation requirements. While our old requirements met the needs of some students quite well, many of our students are not finding relevance between what they learn in school and their expectations for, and experiences in, the “real world.” At the same time, employers tell us they are struggling to find workers who possess the skills they need – all of which is leading to a gap between employer needs and worker skills.

These new graduation requirements offer students the flexibility to explore various types of career paths. They were designed to empower school districts, school counselors and student support networks to help our young people find meaningful, personalized pathways to success through graduation and beyond. The new requirements are not a value judgment about the “right way” to success. Nor do they put students into tracks. Implemented well, they are about each student finding his or her own right way and making that informed choice.

Under the new requirements, every student must still take four units of English, but an aspiring engineer might take a technical writing class instead of a lang uage arts elective. Every student must still take three units of math, but an aspiring accountant might take a business math class instead of geometry. Every student will still be required to take three units of science, but an aspiring nurse might be able to take an advanced biology class instead of physics. Any student who seeks to go directly into the workforce after high school can find that path through these requirements. A student seeking to enter a university and progress to postdoctoral work years down the road can also lay that foundation through these requirements. The new system serves our future nurses and welders as well as our aspiring teachers and doctors.

Students need to be well-versed in a variety of subject areas throughout their high school years. But they also need to start thinking about what they will do after graduation – looking for that intersection of aptitude, interests and workforce opportunity. These new requirements will help our students – ALL of our students – to do just that.