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.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Customized learning expanding in South Dakota

A column by Secretary of Education Dr. Melody Schopp

“Mass customized learning,” “MOD/CL,” “customized learning.” It goes by a variety of names, and you are likely hearing them more and more. I recently visited several South Dakota schools that are implementing customized learning. It’s happening at different grade levels and through a variety of methods. I believe it presents the opportunity for transformative change in education.

Change is hard (but often good)
Customized learning looks much different than the traditional classroom in which most of us grew up. It has the appearance of students just “doing their own thing.” And they are “doing their own thing,” but with clearly laid out expectations from well-developed coursework. Teachers in these schools have spent extensive time developing materials and assessments. Continuing this work and expanding it to other schools will be one of the primary uses of the Classroom Innovation Grants the Department of Education awarded this summer, as a result of the 2016 education package.

This kind of learning can be a difficult switch for older students who are used to traditional classrooms where teachers tell them what to do and when to do it. Customized learning requires students to take charge of their time and choices.

The concept of mastery is another big change inherent to customized learning. This can be a difficult transition for parents who grew up with GPAs, honor rolls and valedictorians. Mastery removes competition among students, as everyone is expected to do well. There is no longer an averaging of grades because the expectation is that students cannot move on until they have mastered the content. Everyone must do well. They just do it at their own pace.

At Harrisburg High School, this year’s seniors will be the first graduating class of students who began as freshmen in the program. The school’s new wing, built for students in the customized learning program opened this fall. Students can do their work throughout the commons area and go to different classrooms if they need small group or one-on-one instruction. The common theme I heard when visiting with students was that it is more rigorous than the traditional program. However, every student I spoke to also indicated they would not want to go back to the traditional setting.

Students are committed because they see the relevance and how it is helping them prepare for life after high school. They are required to achieve mastery (defined by the learning targets staff members establish) and until they do so, they redo assignments and assessments to demonstrate their understanding before moving on.  Many are earning dual credit or taking AP courses at the same time.

In a new program at Gertie Belle Rogers Elementary School in Mitchell, three teachers are facilitating a 1st-5th grade classroom with 64 kids. All students are on individual learning plans with direct instruction provided throughout the day when and where needed. A couple of the school’s former kindergarten rooms have been converted into a large open room with tables, couches, high-top tables and bean bag chairs to accommodate students’ various learning styles. Technology is one-to-one, and the room is equipped with white boards for instruction. I spent time with students at all levels. Their ability to articulate what they were learning and how they use different strategies, was fascinating. There were kids all over the room working individually, while teachers also led some students in small group instruction.

Mitchell’s middle school program is a bit more structured. Students are all in traditionally arranged classrooms, but each student works at their own level and pace. One 8th grade student is starting geometry after having completed algebra last year. That’s just one example of the success students can experience.

In Gayville-Volin, the atmosphere of the entire district is different, as they have implemented customized learning in grades K-12. Again, students can be found sitting all over, engaged in learning at all levels. The community just supported a $2.6 million bond (about 75% voter approval) for a new building to better facilitate customized learning. The community and surrounding area sees and appreciates the student engagement and success. I walked into a room of juniors and seniors, some of whom already had 21-27 credits. They were working on courses from a couple different Board of Regents institutions as well as one of the technical institutes. Some of them will graduate with not only a high school diploma, but also an associate’s degree; others will be very close to it.

At the state level, it is our aspiration that all South Dakota students graduate high school ready for college, career and life. Customized learning is helping them get there. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Revising content standards in math and English language arts

A column by Secretary of Education Dr. Melody Schopp

Some very important work got underway this summer in Pierre. A number of dedicated South Dakota educators and other stakeholders, including parents, began reviewing and revising South Dakota’s content standards in the areas of English language arts and math. At the state level, we remain committed to our standards and confident that they are preparing our students to be college, career and life ready.

Reviewing and revising standards in all content areas is a normal process that occurs at regular intervals (on average, about every seven years) to ensure students experience the most up-to-date, relevant education possible.

Throughout the 2016-17 school year, all of our state’s K-12 educators will have the opportunity to study the standards work groups’ proposed changes and offer feedback.

This is a great professional development opportunity. Department of Education staff and standards work group participants have developed a standards review toolkit to help guide schools’ discussions. In addition, a number of these individuals will be available to give school staff presentations on these topics.

Unfortunately, there is sometimes a misperception that standards review is simply a matter of reading over existing standards and offering some minor tweaks. However, if you could be a “fly on the wall” during these meetings, I promise you would hear a good deal of energetic discussion and debate from individuals who are passionate advocates for South Dakota students. Feedback from Redfield Elementary Principal and ELA work group member Samantha Walder is a great example:

“There were educated, informed (sometimes lively) debates over the addition, amendment or deletion of nearly every word or phrase in almost every ELA Standard Strand K-12,” Walder said.

In June 2017, the math and ELA standards work groups will meet to consider feedback from the education field and make any necessary changes before the revised standards are taken to the state Board of Education for public hearings. Four public hearings on each set of standards will be held during the 2017-18 school year.

Find detailed information on the revision process for these standards on the Department of Education website:

Friday, September 9, 2016

Learning in Malawi

A column by Secretary of Education Dr. Melody Schopp

During the last week of August, I traveled to Malawi, Africa. My trip was sponsored by the U.S. Speaker program
. I was joined by the National Teacher of the Year and met with a number of individuals from teacher preparation and K-12 leadership, as well as several government figures.

Arriving in Lilongwe, capital city of Malawi, was a cultural shock. The ride to the hotel was my first introduction to what I would encounter throughout the week: lines of people walking along the roadsides carrying food, water, wood and other supplies.

We first visited some of the public schools in Lilongwe. The facilities consist primarily of brick buildings with concrete floors and stark furnishings consisting of only desks or tables. Some schools have electricity, but many don't, and in the rural areas, school could mean meeting under a tree.  Class sizes typically are over 100.  Students often have over an hour walk to get to school, which means an additional challenge with school typically beginning at 7 a.m.

In a village two hours from Lilongwe, we saw a new group of 13 Peace Corps inductees sworn in by the Embassy. After spending three months with the families of the village, they were preparing to go out to teach across the country. The village had put together a large celebration and going away ceremony for these young people. There is no electricity or running water in this village, and the huts had dirt floors. The Peace Corp inductees had learned to cook the local food, consisting mainly of maize and soy. They learned to wash clothes by hand and to speak the language with some fluency.

The next day, they would leave the families they had grown to love and depend on as well as the friendships they had developed as they headed to their schools across the country to survive on their own. With the country having gone through a devastating drought the past year, it is expected that one-third of the 18 million people will experience some level of food deprivation and starvation. Preparing these young people to deal with these sorts of conditions is beyond the normal concerns of supporting first-year teachers we discuss in the U.S.

We traveled to the eastern side of the country to visit a school for the blind and developmentally disabled in a village called Salima. Individuals at the school were very excited and prepared to present to us about their work. We gathered in a small dimly lit building. Goats and chickens surrounded the building, and women gathered at the well to pump water to take home. Teachers spoke to us about their work and had blind students "perform" their ability to read and use a computer with what they deemed to be the newest technology with braillers and printers when there was electricity available (it frequently went out).

Conditions were stark, but the students' successes were heartwarming. Parents came with their children, and it was easy to see the pride they had in their child's ability to read and learn. The dorm consisted of two single rooms for about 20 boys and 20 girls. The bunk beds had old, worn out two-inch foam rubber for mattresses and dirty blankets. Mosquito nets hung from the ceiling and beds above to protect the kids at night from the deadly risk of malaria. Showers were a single concrete room with a bucket available when the water is turned off due to the restrictions imposed across the country. Toilets were flushed by water sitting in a bucket. While facilities were lacking, the level of care and compassion for the students was quite obvious.

The culture of Malawi is one where affection is not openly exhibited. It would not be normal for a teacher to hug a child, as teachers are seen as the givers of knowledge only. The goal of the educational system there is for students to pass the national exam given at the end of grade eight to enter secondary school; once in the middle of high school and finally to leave the system. Without passing, students are moved from one level to another and have no opportunity to enter the postsecondary system. Thus, the pressure to perform academically is foremost in the minds of the students and parents without attention given to any of the social or emotional aspects we deal with in America.

The day is very short due to the distance students must travel by foot and their need to go home and do chores once the day ends. Students do not have the extras of music, art or PE and certainly don't need physical exercise after walking over an hour one way every day.

The faces, the sights, the people are imprinted in my mind. I realize more than ever how blessed we are to live here and have opportunities that we take so for granted on a daily basis. Being able to simply turn on a faucet or flush a toilet, or to switch on lights and keep food fresh...these are things we view as necessities. The same things are completely unknown to another part of the world and yet, the people appear happy and content. We can learn something from that.
Hear Dr. Schopp's recent interview about her trip to Africa on South Dakota Public Broadcasting.