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.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Finding Enjoyable, Well-Paying Work

A column by Gov. Dennis Daugaard:

Work is an important part of personal fulfillment. True, most of us work because we must – to provide for ourselves and our families – but a job nevertheless gives us purpose. And when it’s work we enjoy that pays enough, well, that’s the goal.  

Unfortunately, many young people are struggling to find enjoyable, well-paying work. Some lack a degree or formal training – perhaps they went straight into the workforce after high school or started a program they didn’t finish. Even those who have degrees, though, often still have trouble finding meaningful work. For instance, of those who have a four-year degree, only 36 percent say their education prepared them for a job and more than half of recent graduates are unemployed or underemployed. 

It’s not for lack of jobs. According to U.S. Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, we now have more job openings than job seekers in America. A number of these jobs are higher paying, higher-skill jobs in areas like health care, cybersecurity and manufacturing. Unfortunately those looking for work often do not have the skills needed for these good jobs.

The Western Governors’ Association has spent the last year studying this “skills gap,” holding webinars and workshops all across the West to identify solutions. This week as my term as chair of the Western Governors came to an end, I hosted my fellow governors in Rapid City where we released our report on workforce. The report lists ways states can enhance career opportunities for students, graduates and displaced workers.

The recommendations include integrating state efforts, increasing the availability of training, expanding broadband access in rural communities and connecting education to careers. We need to ensure a degree isn’t the destination but a pathway to a job. That means providing students with better information and guidance so they can explore careers and make enlightened decisions about their futures. One way we’re doing this in South Dakota is through a pilot program called Career Launch. This program involving ten school districts pools resources to provide more career counseling and give students hands-on experience. 

For example, in Yankton, many high school seniors plan their schedules so that their traditional classes are compressed into half a day – morning or afternoon. During the other half of the day, the students work at a paid internship with a local employer. Each student receives high school credit, is paid at least $11 an hour, gains exposure to a career field and learns foundational skills – like how to arrive on time, dress appropriately and interact with customers and coworkers.

During my first term, I would often say, “Workforce is a marathon, not a sprint.” But now, as I’m nearing the end of my time as governor, I am realizing it’s actually more like a relay race. Over the past seven years, we have initiated several strategies. Some have worked, some haven’t and some remain to be seen. 

Next year, when my time in office comes to an end, I will pass the baton, and hope our new leaders will continue the race.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

South Dakota No Longer Last In Average Teacher Pay

For the first time since 1985, South Dakota’s average teacher salaries in the 2016-17 school year were no longer the lowest in the nation.

The news comes from the National Education Association’s 2018 Rankings and Estimates report, an annual report that was released on April 23. According to the report, South Dakota’s average teacher salaries increased from $42,025 in 2015-16 to $46,979 in 2016-17 – an increase of $4,954 or 11.8 percent. South Dakota’s average salary rose from 51st in the nation to 48th.

The increases came as a result of the 2016 State Legislature’s passage of the recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Task Force. Both as a dollar amount and as a percentage, South Dakota’s increase in salaries was the highest in the nation by far – the second largest increase as a dollar amount was New York at $2,750, and the second largest by percentage was North Carolina at 4.2 percent.

According to the NEA, South Dakota’s average teacher salary had ranked 51st in the nation in every annual report issued from 1986 to 2017.

“The primary goal of the Blue Ribbon Task Force was to make South Dakota’s teacher salaries competitive with other states, considering salaries and cost of living, and we are accomplishing that,” said Gov. Dennis Daugaard. “We also sent an important message to our teachers – that we value the work they do, that three decades in last place was enough and that we were willing to step up to improve their salaries.”

South Dakota teacher salaries rank even higher when adjusted for cost of living and taxes. According to the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, the state ranks 29th when the NEA state averages are adjusted to reflect state and local tax burden and regional price parity data, which is calculated by the U.S. Department of Commerce Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

'Why do we test?'

Abby Javurek, Director of Assessment and Accountability
I’m often asked, “Why do we test?” It’s a great question with a variety of answers. But the most important answer has to do with students.  

Teachers are constantly assessing their students. It can be as simple as asking students what they know about a given topic before delivering a lesson. This kind of assessment is called formative. Of course, there are also the bigger assessments like those a teacher might give at the end of a chapter, unit or even a semester.

Through assessment, teachers determine what students know already, whether they need additional instruction and when they are ready to move on to new, more advanced material. Assessment also helps teachers ensure that students can apply what they’ve learned.

In the latter half of every school year, students in grades 3-8 and 11 take the Smarter Balanced assessment (the state test), which is called a “summative assessment.” Results from this assessment help school, district and state officials see what students know and are able to do in the areas of math and English language arts. Assessment data is used to understand how students are performing and to inform decision-making regarding improving student learning outcomes.

There’s more to Smarter Balanced than the summative assessment, though. It’s an entire system that also includes interim assessments (which teachers can use throughout the school year) and the Digital Library, an online repository of formative assessment resources available at no cost to all South Dakota public school teachers.  
South Dakota teachers even have a voice in shaping the Smarter Balanced assessment system. A number of our state’s teachers have worked with colleagues from other states (who are also part of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium) to help develop and build the Smarter Balanced assessment system by writing test items, participating on task forces and committees, and creating resources for the Digital Library.

Starting in the fall of 2017, the Smarter Balanced assessment became even more valuable to South Dakota high school students. As part of our state’s proactive admissions process, students who score at Level 3 or 4 in English and math on the Smarter Balanced assessment are guaranteed general acceptance into the state’s public universities and technical institutes. In this way, the test provides a tremendous value for South Dakota high school students as a college admissions test. We believe Smarter Balanced is a reliable indicator of college readiness, and this is an exciting opportunity to alert students of options they may not have realized were available to them.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

State Legislature honors 2018 Milken Educator and SD Teacher of the Year

Carla Diede (left), South Dakota's 2018 Milken Educator, and Rachel Schaefer, 2018 South Dakota Teacher of the Year, were recently honored by the State Legislature. Carla and Rachel also took time to talk with us about the teaching profession.
L to R: Sen. John Wiik, Sen. Larry Tidemann, Carla Diede, Rachel Schaefer, Sen. Jim Bolin
Carla Diede in the Senate
Rachel Schaefer in the Senate

Carla Diede and Rachel Schaefer in the House of Representatives

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

9 sample lessons for teaching Native American history and culture to students of all ages

The Oceti Sakowin Essential Understandings and Standards are state content standards intended to help guide South Dakota K-12 educators in teaching Native American history and culture. A work group has been developing OSEU-aligned sample social studies lessons for teachers of all grade levels. Here are several examples, developed using the Inquiry Design Model Blueprint™:

Grades PK-5

Grades 6-8:

Grades 9-12: