Monday, December 11, 2017

Farewell message from Secretary of Education Dr. Melody Schopp

A video message from Secretary Schopp
A video message from Secretary Schopp

Forty years ago, I entered the classroom as an elementary teacher because I like working with kids. I never could have imagined the trajectory my career would take, ending here in Pierre, leading the state Department of Education.

Through all of it, my greatest joys have never changed: helping kids and working with fellow educators.

We spend our early years preparing for a career, the bulk of our adult lives working, and then what? I have been asked many times lately if I am counting down the days to retirement from state government, and I can honestly say no, as it is such a bittersweet decision.

I knew this part of my career would eventually come to an end, but I think I expected a clearer answer to the question: how will I know when I’m done?

I’ve always looked for ways to improve, whether as a practitioner in the classroom or as a public official. So I guess I should have known I’d never really feel as though the work were done.

But I hope I’ve done my part to make things better. I step away from this position knowing that the department is in good hands, our state’s education system is strong and there is clear vision for where we are headed.

Most educators retire quietly, having touched so many lives over the course of their careers. That makes writing this farewell message a humbling experience. While my role at the state level has put me in a spotlight, the work has never been about me.

It has been an honor to serve the students and educators of South Dakota. Thank you.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Celebrating American Education Week

Secretary of Education Dr. Melody Schopp
American Education Week is Nov. 13-17. I hope you take some time during this special week to celebrate public education.

I love visiting schools. From the moment the buses and cars pull up in the morning, the activity is non-stop. It takes so many people to make it a success, including those bus drivers who make sure everyone arrives safely.

A visitor’s first stop is the main office. With students, teachers, staff and visitors regularly coming and going, a person can get tired just watching the action, all of it seamlessly managed by office staff.

Next, it’s off to the classroom to see South Dakota teachers in action. As both common sense and research tell us, great teachers in the classroom are the foundation upon which the rest of our public education system rests.

Alongside classroom teachers, paraprofessionals, school counselors and school librarians work hard to equip all students with the skills they need to leave the K-12 system ready for college, career and life.

School nutrition employees fuel bodies and minds for the hard work of learning.

Parents and community members volunteer in classrooms, concession stands, book fairs and more.

And those hallways, classrooms and restrooms don’t clean themselves. Without custodians, garbage piles up, and on a snowy day, sloppy boots quickly muck up a school entrance beyond recognition.

Coaches and advisors round out a student’s experience with athletics, fine arts and other extracurricular activities.

School administrators, working with their local school board members, help ensure the whole system runs smoothly.

Quite simply, education is an awesome endeavor. In buildings full of active, inquisitive, talkative, creative young people, no day can ever be quite like another. And isn’t that worth celebrating?

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Teacher Feature: 2018 SD Teacher of the Year nominees

Meet South Dakota’s Regional Teachers of the Year. These outstanding educators are candidates for 2018 State Teacher of the Year, who will be named at a special banquet Oct. 19 in Rapid City, as part of the Systems Change Conference.
Watch video interview with Cara Biegler
Cara Biegler, English, Timber Lake Middle School
Watch video interview with Caitlin Bordeaux
Caitlin Bordeaux, computer science and multimedia, St. Francis Indian High School
Watch video interview with Jennifer Mudder
Jennifer Mudder, 5th grade, Tyndall Elementary
Watch video interview with Jeremy Risty
Jeremy Risty, social studies, Brandon Valley High School

Watch video interview with Rachel Schaefer
Rachel Schaefer, kindergarten, Elkton Elementary

Watch video interview with Jessica Zwaschka
Jessica Zwaschka, chemistry, Spearfish High School

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Celebrating Native Americans' Day

A column by Indian Education Director Mato Standing High
Oct. 9 is Native Americans’ Day in South Dakota. How does one properly observe this day?

First, don’t feel limited to one day. Let Native Americans’ Day be an opening to something bigger. To quote Lakota Elder and educator, Dorothy LeBeau: “Opening yourself to another worldview will assist you in understanding what occurs both in and outside of Native communities.”

This is a day for all of us to celebrate a rich history and people who have been here since time immemorial. Native American history is everyone’s history.

Whether you are Native American or not, here are a couple questions to consider as you think about this special day:

•    How much do I know about Native American culture and history in South Dakota?
•    What would I like to learn about Native American culture and history in South Dakota?

Whatever your knowledge level may be, I encourage you to visit, where you can access a wide variety of video interviews with Native American elders from our state discussing the Oceti Sakowin Essential Understandings and Standards, or the OSEUs, for short. The OSEUs are intended to help our state’s K-12 educators incorporate the history and culture of the people of the Oceti Sakowin (the Lakota, Nakota and Dakota people) into their teaching.

If you are unfamiliar with the Oceti Sakowin Essential Understandings and Standards, I strongly encourage you to read them. Though they are targeted to educators, they are written in such a way that the non-educator can also benefit from them. They are currently going through the standards revision process. Both the current and proposed standards are available on the Department of Education’s Content Standards Review webpage.

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