Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Leader Feature: Developing cultural responsiveness at Canyon Lake Elementary

Principal David Swank
David Swank is the principal at Canyon Lake Elementary in Rapid City. We spoke with him recently about the school’s efforts to integrate the Oceti Sakowin Essential Understandings and Standards, as part of a broader effort focused on cultural responsiveness.

“If we are really thinking about changing outcomes for students, then the Oceti Sakowin Essential Understandings and Standards need to be at the leading edge of our discussions about instruction, materials, and strategy,” Swank says.

Having said that, Swank is the first to admit he and his staff don’t have it all figured out: “It’s really required some vulnerability from our staff because the majority of our staff are non-Native, so there has been some trepidation about not wanting to do things incorrectly and not wanting to offend people.”

Just start

Roughly 40 percent of Canyon Lake students identify as non-white and most of those non-white students identify as Native American.

To combat the trepidation educators might feel, Swank says the first step, as simple as it sounds, is just to start: “I think people appreciate efforts to be better, and that can override making mistakes. And we need to make mistakes in order to improve.”

Swank assembled a group of stakeholders during the 2018-19 school year, including parents, teachers, and district administrators to develop strategy around cultural competency and culturally responsive teaching at Canyon Lake.

First steps

Tamera Miyasato, a parent of a Canyon Lake student, has also worked with the school in her role as a learning specialist with TIE (Technology and Innovation in Education). As one of the first steps in the school’s cultural proficiency work, she provided staff training about implicit bias. Swank has also worked to help his school incorporate the Woope Sakowin, or Seven Laws, which he learned about from Miyasato.
Tamera Miyasato

After the implicit bias training, Swank says staff began thinking about transforming the physical space of the building. Walking through Canyon Lake halls and classrooms, students, staff, and visitors see posters of Native American elders, medicine wheels, and signs featuring Lakota language.

With the 2019-20 school year, Canyon Lake staff is integrating the OSEUs and the Woope Sakowin into the academic experience. The school is using the social studies disaggregated standards and OSEU connections and exemplar lessons available on the WoLakota Project website to help align the OSEUs with academic content.

Additionally, within classrooms, students work with a station rotation model. Staff have oriented the stations to the directions of the medicine wheel, and each station is associated with some of the Seven Laws corresponding to the type of work being done.

For instance, in an east-facing station, students might work together on math games. The collaborative nature of this station reflects the value of wacante oganake (to help, to share, to be generous). At a south-facing station, students work independently, showing teachers what they can do, reflecting the value of woksape (understanding and wisdom).

It takes time
As Swank points out, there is a focus on Native American students because they are the school’s largest subgroup, but there is also a growing African immigrant population at the school: “So it’s really about how we provide a truly multicultural perspective that values the backgrounds of all our students. That will take years to develop, and it’s something we’ll tackle piece by piece. Ultimately, we don’t want students to feel like they have to ‘check’ any part of their identity at the door when they walk in the school.”

“That’s the amazing thing about the OSEUs—they incorporate diverse cultures into the learning experience, but they also honor people and place,” Miyasato says. “Mr. Swank understands the importance of these two things. To honor the land where the school sits and to honor the original inhabitants of the He Sapa (Black Hills), Canyon Lake uses the OSEUs and integrates the Woope Sakowin into their practices. Yet it is done in a way that still honors every diverse experience that walks through Canyon Lake’s doors.”

Don’t guess
For schools wondering where to start with this kind of work, Swank says, “Don’t guess. Reach out to people who can actually help guide you along that journey. And don’t ask your students to be the experts. That’s not a fair place to put our kids, to ask them to be representatives for their entire culture or an entire ethnicity. We can certainly invite kids to be part of the process, but they shouldn’t have the burden of being the experts in their culture.”

The power of a name

Sometimes the opportunity to help a student embrace their culture comes completely by surprise. Swank tells the story of a teacher who noticed one of her students seemed particularly reluctant to participate in the daily roll call. Through talking with the student, the teacher learned the student had been teased about their last name at a previous school and therefore didn’t like it to be said out loud.

Because the teacher had engaged in some work around cultural proficiency, particularly with Lakota culture, she was able to ask the student, “Do you know what your name means?”

“And when the teacher was able to speak to the cultural significance of the student’s name, that student was just elated to know that someone understood where they were coming from,” Swank says. “That’s a perfect example of a student who has felt like they needed to leave part of themselves at the door. And we’re saying, ‘No, bring that with you because that’s part of what will make your educational experience more valuable, and we can embrace that.’”

Friday, October 18, 2019

Helping students become successful readers

A column by Secretary of Education Dr. Ben Jones

We cannot overstate the importance of reading proficiency for all South Dakota students. October is Dyslexia Awareness Month, and I wanted to take this opportunity to spotlight the things we do at the state level to support educators in providing kids high quality reading instruction.

At the state level, the Board of Education Standards adopts content standards on a cyclical basis. South Dakota’s English language arts standards were last updated in 2018, and full implementation of those standards is now underway.

Since the standards were adopted, department staff have worked with educators to disaggregate, or “unpack” those standards, so that they are easier for classroom teachers to use effectively. This past summer and continuing into this fall, we are offering trainings on how to use the unpacked standards.

Additionally, Department of Education staff facilitate a variety of professional development opportunities aimed at training educators on the five foundational reading skills of fluency, vocabulary, comprehension, phonemic awareness, and phonics. When teachers use strategies focused on these five foundational skills, those strategies can help all readers, including struggling readers, like students with dyslexia.

This fall, we have also worked with Dr. Kari Oyen and Dr. Daniel Hajovsky from the University of South Dakota to offer trainings (which filled quickly) for district/school teams to learn about helping students with dyslexia. The trainers will then provide follow-up consultation on a suspected case of dyslexia in the team’s district to help ensure the training transfers into effective practice.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

October is Dyslexia Awareness Month

Executive Proclamation
Office of the Governor
State of South Dakota

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; and

WHEREAS, 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; and

WHEREAS, 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 multi-sensory 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, KRISTI NOEM, Governor of the state of South Dakota, do hereby proclaim October 2019 as


in South Dakota.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Leader Feature: Administrators implementing updated graduation requirements

In July 2018, the South Dakota Board of Education Standards adopted updated graduation requirements. One school year later, we’re checking in with Tea Area High School Principal Collin Knudson and Spearfish High School Principal Steve Morford to see how things are going at their schools.

What are some ways your school is innovating to offer students additional course options, as a result of these new requirements?
Knudson: Tea Area High School has created ‘suggested learning plans’ for individual endorsements. Within each learning plan, students have flexibility on course offerings. We have really focused on the advanced career endorsement through creating middle school and high school programs of study for each cluster and strengthening our business partnerships.
Morford: The change has driven great curricular area discussions, which has led us to expand our course offerings and internships to better meet student wants and needs. More opportunities for kids equate to better prepared graduates, as well as a school climate conducive to interaction and positive learning.

What positive impacts have you seen at your school, as a result of the new graduation requirements?
Morford: The flexibility and ability to select classes more geared toward interests of the students has helped many students build self confidence that they can and will succeed. All students can see success and be successful with this great opportunity.

What do you like about the new graduation requirements?
Knudson: The increased flexibility has allowed us to meet our students where they are at. It has opened doors for students to create personalized learning plans that meet their postsecondary interests/goals.
Morford: I believe it will create a more focused student. Many students got "caught in a rut" under the previous graduation requirements. Now every student can find a path that interests them and take the classes needed to get them there.

How is your staff counseling students to help them most effectively align their course choices with their post-graduation plans?
Morford: Counselors and advisors meet with all incoming freshman to explain the graduation endorsements. All students are expected to achieve at least one endorsement. The continued path to success will be emphasized in our monthly advisee/advisor times. I believe many students will be motivated to attain multiple endorsements.

Celebrate the South Dakota Week of Work

A column by Secretary of Education Dr. Ben Jones

Governor Kristi Noem recently announced the South Dakota Week of Work, to be held April 20-24, 2020. The Department of Education is proud to partner on this initiative. The week is intended to provide 10th grade students opportunities to explore potential careers in South Dakota and to give employers the chance to engage with youth and develop connections with the state’s future workforce.

This fall, initial efforts are focused on recruiting businesses across the state to offer job shadow opportunities for students, offer tours of their facilities, or serve as guest speakers in classrooms. Next spring, schools will register their participating 10th grade students for the opportunities businesses are offering via an online matching system. During the week of April 20-24, students will get their chance to explore, experience, and engage with a variety of careers.

I strongly encourage all high schools to participate in this event. You can learn more at, and the Department of Education will offer training events this fall. High school principals and counselors are invited to attend one of these events to share ideas and expertise related to building business-classroom connections across South Dakota.

What’s one of the most common questions you get from students? Based on my experience both as a parent, and in the classroom, I have a hunch that it just might be, “When am I ever going to use this?”

It’s a great question. As educators, I think we should always be prepared to answer it. Students may not always like (or even believe) our answers, but often, when we make a point of helping them understand why they’re learning something, they become more invested. With the South Dakota Week of Work, we hope they may see math, science, writing, speaking, geography, music, and government in action. This is an opportunity to show them that what they’re learning is applicable in ways they’ve not been afforded a chance to see yet.

While the South Dakota Week of Work will focus on 10th grade students, I hope teachers think about this question frequently and at all grade levels. The answer to students’ big question doesn’t always relate directly to a career. (Not all music students will become musicians; not all chemistry students will go into a career in science.)

However, the sooner we expose students to the numerous career opportunities available to them, and the myriad ways their K-12 education can help prepare them for those careers, the better informed and prepared they will be for their next step, once they leave the K-12 system.

The state of South Dakota makes SDMyLife, an online portal for exploring career and postsecondary options, available at no cost to all South Dakota students in grades 6-12. I hope your school is helping students make the most of this valuable tool.

The Department of Labor, a partner in the South Dakota Week of Work initiative, also offers engaging resources for career exploration for young students, with Career Peeks for grades K-2, Career Aware for grades 3-5, and Career Wonders for grades 5-8.

A career interest can be sparked anywhere, anytime, and at any age. Thank you for your dedication to setting your students on a path to a successful life.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

LEADER FEATURE: Superintendent Jason Bailey, Bridgewater-Emery School District

When Bridgewater-Emery School District Superintendent Jason Bailey talks with administrator colleagues, it’s not uncommon to discuss the challenges of providing the mental health support students need to be successful.

The Bridgewater-Emery School District is one of the first four school partners in South Dakota’s Project AWARE, which stands for Advancing Wellness and Resilience in Education. We recently checked in with Superintendent Bailey to learn more about how things are going as the district begins its first full school year of the program.

“Our hope is to give our staff the tools necessary to recognize and respond to these behavioral health issues,” Bailey says. “A wide variety of training opportunities have become available to us through the Project AWARE grant. We are hoping to provide mental health services previously unavailable to students and families in our community.”

The need
According to the Data Resource Center for Child & Adolescent Health, over 20% of students in public schools nationwide have a diagnosable mental health disorder that warrants additional supports. Of that 20%, more than 70% receive interventions in a school setting.

In South Dakota, 10.4% of children ages 2-17 have been diagnosed with one or more emotional, behavioral, and/or developmental conditions. That means there is an estimated gap of 9.6% of students in need of support who are not identified for care.

The framework
The Project AWARE grant, a partnership between the South Dakota Departments of Education and Social Services – Behavioral Health, is built on an interconnected systems framework, the base of which is home and community awareness, with the goals of de-stigmatizing mental health issues through awareness training, building self-healing, trauma-informed communities, and creating community partnerships.

“Continued outreach and community engagement to promote positive mental health will be a goal this coming school year,” Bailey says. “In addition, a general increase in awareness of mental health issues will continue to be a major focus. We’re partnering with the National Alliance on Mental Illness for this aspect of the work.”

NAMI gave three presentations to staff, middle school students, and parents in spring 2019 and will be back with a booth providing information for families at the open house in Emery Aug. 19. In addition, NAMI will give a presentation to all students in grades 6-12 in September. The Ending the Silence presentation features individuals whose lives have been affected by mental illness and provide real-life perspectives based on personal experiences.

Tier 1 of the framework is universal prevention, incorporating universal behavioral health screenings and support for school/home partnerships, trauma-informed training for school staff, Positive Behavior Interventions & Supports, and other prevention activities.

Bailey says all Bridgewater-Emery staff is currently receiving training in PBIS and is excited to get started on implementation. During the 2018-19 school year, the district also began using a universal screening tool to assess students’ risk level for behavioral health issues and helped those who needed assistance to access services.

The local Community Project AWARE Manager, Jenelle Sigler, is on-site daily at the Bridgewater-Emery School District and provides prevention-based social-emotional learning lessons and training at the classroom level, using a program called Second Step. Sigler is a certified school counselor and also provides targeted interventions, such as counseling, for students with Tier 2 needs.

Tier 3 of the framework encompasses supports for students in need of wraparound services. The district works with Systems of Care Coordinator, Dena Smith, through Southeastern Behavioral Health to assist students with these kinds of needs.

Data component
Bailey is also looking forward to working with the data component of the project: “There’s a data component that will help us see how things are going by looking at our own local data to ask, ‘What’s working?’ ‘What do we need to get better at?’ ‘Where do we go from here?’”

The first cohort of school partners involved in Project AWARE, which also includes Black Hills Special Services Cooperative, the Sioux Falls School District and the Wagner Area School District, began receiving behavior and mental health supports through the grant in October 2018. More schools will have the opportunity to receive supports through the grant in subsequent years.

Partners including the National Council of Behavioral Health, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI South Dakota) and Prevention Resource Centers are helping deliver evidence-based training for schools and communities.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Celebrating Attendance Awareness Month

Executive Proclamation
Office of the Governor
State of South Dakota

Whereas, Good attendance is essential to student achievement and graduation, and South Dakota is committed to reducing chronic absenteeism rates; and

WHEREAS, Chronic absence, missing 10 percent or more of school or just 2 or 3 days a month, is a proven predictor of academic trouble and dropout rates; and

WHEREAS, The impact of chronic absence hits low-income students who are more likely to face systemic barriers in getting to school – such as unreliable transportation, lack of access to health care, unstable or unaffordable housing; and

WHEREAS, Improving attendance and reducing chronic absence takes commitment, collaboration, and approaches tailored to particular challenges and strengths in each community; and

WHEREAS, Chronic absence can be significantly reduced when schools, parents, and communities work together to monitor and promote good attendance and address hurdles that keep children from getting to school:

Now, Therefore, I, Kristi Noem, Governor of the State of South Dakota, do hereby proclaim September 2019, as

Attendance Awareness Month

in South Dakota, and encourage school leaders, parents, and communities to spread the message that good attendance matters and to develop solutions to ensure all children are in school as much as possible and engaged in their learning.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Bringing in a New School Year

A column by Governor Kristi Noem

Can you believe the summer is almost over? The launch of the school year is a little different for my family this year. Booker is beginning his senior year of high school in a few days and will be starting football soon (Go Chargers!). Kassidy and Kennedy are done with college now, so school supply shopping is a much easier task… though I have to admit I miss the days of picking out boxes of crayons and spiral notebooks.

With one in high school and two having gone all the way through our state’s public schools, I’ve been privileged to have a front-row ticket to the continuum of our education system. And from this perspective, one thing is abundantly clear: we do a lot of things right in our South Dakota schools.

Earlier this year, I visited Todd County Middle School in Mission, South Dakota – a school that is doing a lot of things right. Their work has been bolstered in recent years by a state-funded Native American Achievement Grant, a 3-year project to jumpstart improvements in academic outcomes for Native American students and increase student success. The project requires schools to build cultural identities, encourage academic perseverance, and develop student leadership skills. Schools that received these funds are expected to integrate Native American culture and language throughout their curriculum. It’s truly a remarkable program.

Because of this grant, Todd County Middle School has implemented several changes that are benefitting both the students and their community. They are incorporating Lakota language and culture into their school, addressing mental health, and meeting students where they are at for both behavior and academic needs.

It is a student-centered environment. Each morning, teachers and students start the day with wellness activities to get kids in the mindset for school. They make sure every student has had something to eat. Teachers collaborate and work together to instruct and support students. In addition to traditional counseling services, they have implemented a recovery room where students can go to work through anxiety or take time to sort through a difficult situation. These rooms are staffed with counselors and have proven successful in curbing violence in the school and helping students be ready to learn in the classroom.

And the results speak for themselves. The 8th grade class I talked with went from 78 acts of violence in their 5th grade year to only four incidents of violence as 8th graders. Academic gains are emerging as well. The students are articulate, confident, and optimistic – a reflection of the atmosphere throughout the school.

I was incredibly impressed by Todd County Middle School, and I know that successes like this are mirrored all over our state. Teachers are working to inspire students and prepare them for the workforce. I’m committed to further expanding opportunities in this arena, too. In a few months, we’ll launch our “South Dakota Week of Work,” which will expose students to high-demand careers and innovative businesses right here in South Dakota.

So as another summer comes to an end, let me leave our students (and teachers too!) with this back-to-school encouragement: Find things you are passionate about and act on them. Be bold. See the good in people. Focus each day on leaving this world a little better than you found it.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

TEACHER FEATURE: Bennett County teacher dives into special education alternative certification

When Bennett County School District teacher Sunny Pierson noticed about two years ago that her district had a need for more special education teachers, she wanted to know how she might be able to help.

Pierson likes to gain new perspectives in her teaching, having taught kindergarten, first grade and social studies at the middle school level over the course of her 10-year career.

Her superintendent told her about the special education alternative certification option that had recently become available through South Dakota’s 2017 overhaul of educator certification rules.

Pierson jumped at the opportunity and is wrapping up a year-long practicum facilitated by Deb Zebill with the University of Sioux Falls. The practicum has allowed Pierson to get hands-on special education experience while maintaining her regular full-time responsibilities in the district.

“It [practicum] brings teachers together who are all going through the same process,” Pierson says. “Deb will do observations to give us insight. We look at research to help with curriculum and strategies, work on writing IEPs, make sure we’re meeting all the standards, understanding the legal issues, those day-to-day kinds of things.”

Last summer, Pierson took a course in special education law, and after completing two more courses this summer, she will be ready to take the appropriate exam to earn her certification.

"Special education teachers are hard to find for any district in the state, and being rural, it is even harder,” said Bennett County Junior High Principal Belinda Ready. “Given this opportunity for our own teachers to go through the alternative process enables us to keep good quality teachers in our district to work with students with whom they already have background knowledge, relationships and history. It is positive for everyone."

“I wish I could go back in time because this knowledge is so valuable,” Pierson says. “As a [general education] teacher, you always see some kids who struggle, but I just didn’t really have a great understanding of the different disabilities kids have and how they impact their learning. Even if you are not in a special education position, the perspective is amazing.”

“USF has established criteria allowing for teachers to gain first-hand experiences with the many demands placed upon special education teachers, including paperwork, evaluations, research-aligned practices, identifying students’ individual strengths and needs, and so forth,” says Deb Zebill. “They have the opportunity to feel supported as they learn on the job from the resources through USF, mentors in their schools, and their colleagues taking the class with them.”

Pierson is enjoying adding yet another kind of teaching to her repertoire.

“I love the relationships I get to build with students, because in special education we spend a lot of one-on-one time together,” she says. “At the middle school level, building confidence is a big part, letting them know it’s okay that maybe something is a little harder for you, but you have these other areas that are your strengths—owning that, taking responsibility, and advocating for yourself.”

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Pierre students experience history, a guest blog by teacher Taylor Hamblin

In March 2019, I hosted a regional History Day competition and award ceremony. The competition and the celebration that followed were part of my incorporation of the History Day program into my 8th grade U.S. History curriculum. All of my 8th grade U.S. History students had to complete a project which began in August and ended in March. We started with student identity reflection and skills assessment, and then finished with a project that was meant to show students’ social studies abilities and the other skills they sought to learn.

For a bit of context, when completing History Day projects, students can choose to present their historical work within the media of a documentary, exhibit, paper, performance, or website. These different types of projects give students the chance to explore a variety of sources. More details can be found at the National History Day website.

The competition and award ceremony gave me a chance to behold the power of my students; from the morning of the competition to the award ceremony the next day, I cannot recall how many times I laughed, smiled, cried, and stood in disbelief at the strength, growth, and knowledge of my students. Due to my emotional experience, I thought I would reflect on what I felt.

In the end, three of my students even qualified for the national competition in College Park, Maryland: Emma Reitzel, Kate Mullett, and Dani Devaney.

The students worked harder and were more determined to turn in good work. The project has a minimum that students must reach, but at a certain point the students do not have to work. I had students who stayed after school on several occasions, including weekends, to put more time into their project when they had already met the class standards. Students went above and beyond because of competition, but also because they had some agency in what they could learn. Due to my experience teaching through history projects, I firmly believe young people are not lazy, they are merely bored in classes that do not do anything to connect the material to their interests, especially modern-day issues.

Parents were exuberant and respectful of the History Day program. At the competition and celebration events, and well after, parents expressed happiness with how their students learned, and pride in their students’ work ethic.

Parents must be included in their child’s learning, not held at arm’s length. Teachers have the ability, and the technology, to share with parents what their child is learning and should do so. Parents in turn should make an effort to help teachers with the learning. When I asked for help, parents volunteered often and were consistently in support.

Students wanted to learn from their mistakes and make improvements. The same night of the awards ceremony, a student emailed me to ask how she could make her project better (this was also the night before our spring break). Two days later, a parent emailed me asking about the upcoming state competition for the history projects and informed me that her student worked on their documentary over the last two nights. I had several other emails and stories from parents, and they go to show how much students will put in when they believe in their work. More importantly, teachers should offer chances for students to improve their work and this should be reflected in their grade.

Community support must happen. Especially in the social studies, a teacher needs the support of their community. In our information-rich era, teachers, now more than ever, need community support. The community members I partnered with supplied resources and experience to help my students move forward with their topic selection and research. For example, a judge who was familiar with theater helped direct some of my performance category students. A museum director helped students find primary sources in the museum archives. Support beyond research and project creation was also helpful, like the parents who staffed our concession stand that helped fund our scholarship program. Support is out there, but teachers need to reach out for it.

Students went beyond the textbook and learned to critically analyze history. It is true, my students did not spend a lot of time memorizing facts and dates, and they did not spend their time learning the Declaration of Independence by heart. Instead, we examined important documents, like the Declaration of Independence, challenged commonly-held American myths, and learned a set of skills that will benefit their community and American society into the next generation. We did not remove memorization and learning of historical facts completely, but we did prioritize critical thinking in an American history classroom.

Friday, May 3, 2019

Celebrating Teacher Appreciation Week

A column by Interim Secretary of Education Dr. Ben Jones

In celebration of Teacher Appreciation Week, I want to thank South Dakota teachers for your hard work and devotion to students.

I’ve had the opportunity in recent weeks to visit several schools and classrooms across our state.

In a discussion with Mitchell students, a fifth grader defined leadership as “when you make the people around you better.

If that doesn’t define teaching, I don’t know what does. With our school system producing insightful fifth graders like that, you’re doing great things.

In South Dakota teachers, I see dedicated professionals pushing their students to achieve high standards in reading, writing, and math, so that they will learn how to think, not what to think.

You know that students must graduate from the K-12 system ready for college, career, and life. You know that a career is the means to a good life, but it won’t teach what a good life means, so you push your students to achieve high standards in civics, literature, fine arts, athletics, and in appreciating our environment.

You recognize that your students have different talents and skills and seek to develop all of them in the way they should go for South Dakota’s common good.

You value students’ many cultures and shared future.

I also had the opportunity recently to attend the first Educators Rising conference in South Dakota. Educators Rising is an organization for students interested in pursuing teaching careers.

The students in attendance got to hear from several speakers about the education field, and their enthusiasm was palpable.

Your profession is honorable, and the next generation of educators comes into your classroom every day. Encourage them to follow in your footsteps.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Gov. Noem proclaims Teacher Appreciation Week 2019

Executive Proclamation
Office of the Governor
State of South Dakota

Whereas, South Dakotans believe in the importance of education for our students; and

Whereas, South Dakota teachers are our state’s greatest assets for ensuring student success; and

Whereas, teachers are at the forefront of the effort to prepare South Dakota students to graduate from the K-12 system ready for college, careers, and life; and

Whereas, highly qualified teachers are trained professionals deserving of the utmost respect for the work they do, which often extends well beyond the regular school day, week, and year; and

Whereas, our state is dedicated to supporting new and current teachers as well as recruiting future teachers from among the ranks of today’s students by elevating the teaching profession:

Now, Therefore, I, Kristi Noem, Governor of the state of South Dakota, do hereby proclaim May 6-10, 2019, as


in South Dakota, and encourage school leaders, parents, students, and communities to take time to thank teachers who have made an impact in their lives and the lives of their children.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

TEACHER FEATURE: Mentoring program pair reflects on two years of professional growth

Andrea Harstad (left) and Courtney Hentges

“As part of my job interview, my superintendent [Lonny Johnson] informed me that if I took the position, I would be participating in the statewide mentoring program,” says Courtney Hentges, band and choir teacher in the Montrose School District. “I didn’t even know what it was.”

How does she feel now, as her second year of teaching comes to a close, and she approaches the end of her time in the mentoring program?

“Without the mentoring program, I think I would be more burnt out than I could handle at this point,” she said.

Instead, she feels optimistic about her career choice. She is building stronger relationships with her students, colleagues and community.

Hentges’ mentor is Andrea Harstad, fifth and sixth grade band director and assistant high school band director in the Canton School District.

“In the band world, we talk about retaining students,” Harstad said. “We put so much time and energy into that little 10-year-old. What’s going to make that 10-year-old become an 18-year-old in our program? How do we retain them? Keep them motivated? Well, it’s the same thing with teachers.”

Harstad wants all new teachers to know, “Everybody’s got your back. Everybody wants you to succeed. Everybody wants you to do well and be happy and do good things with your students.”

Striking a balance
Early in the mentoring relationship, Harstad sought to strike a balance between giving Hentges a detailed rundown of what she sees as a band director’s roles and responsibilities versus letting the new teacher feel things out on her own before requesting Harstad’s input.

Now that the pair has been meeting for over a year, Hentges likes that they’re past what she describes as the “awkward new relationship” phase. “We know each other a little deeper,” she says. “It’s easier for me to say, ‘I’m really struggling with this. I need help.’ Whereas last year, I think I would have been a little slower to come to Andrea with a problem. I’m a little more vulnerable with her this year.”

Expectations vs. reality
Hentges remembers as she was completing her teaching degree, she was most concerned about pedagogy—knowing instrument fingerings, how to do minor instrument repairs and run rehearsals. Looking back, she feels her worries were a bit na├»ve. During her first week of school, she quickly realized her biggest challenge would be classroom management.

Harstad has been a great help. After observing one of Hentges’ rehearsals, she cheerfully said, “Oh, you’ve got some performers in the classroom!” in reference to some students playing their instruments when Hentges was trying to provide instruction.

While Hentges had been getting frustrated with the students, Harstad suggested a strategy—let those enthusiastic students demonstrate what Hentges is trying to explain, thereby indulging their impulse to play, while also helping Hentges get her point across.

Harstad has also helped Hentges change her perspective in other ways. “I kind of go into robot mode when we’re preparing for a performance,” Hentges says. “Andrea helps me remember: They are human. They are children. They are my students. At the end of the day, it’s about relationships. It’s about making your students better people, not just better musicians.”

Keeping that in mind, Hentges has noticed her relationships with students have felt more easygoing this year.

Other things are getting easier too. Hentges remembers being so nervous her voice shook as she spoke at her first Christmas concert in Montrose. Whereas she says, “This year at the Christmas concert, it was like getting in front of a whole bunch of friends and making music.”

Building a network
Harstad has made a priority of helping Hentges build her support network, by introducing her to colleagues at professional development events and other gatherings so that she always has someone to reach out to and bounce around ideas.

Hentges also appreciates the networking made possible with other new teachers of all kinds through the mentoring program: “It doesn’t matter what your content area is when you’re trying to navigate those classroom management challenges.”

As she looks ahead to completing the mentoring program at the annual Mentoring Summer Academy this June 5-6, in Sioux Falls, she says it’s a bittersweet milestone. She and Harstad will stay in touch, but she knows their contact won’t be as frequent as life moves on for both of them. But she is grateful for the resources she’s gotten through the program, as well as the professional development. And she hopes to become a mentor herself someday.

Try it
As for Harstad, she plans to continue mentoring. “A lot of thought has gone into this program,” she says. “The speakers, professional development and resources are all well done. If you’re even thinking about becoming a mentor, go for it. It’s only a two-year commitment. If it’s not for you, that’s okay—at least you’ve helped one person stay in the profession.”

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