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.