attendance and vaping.
That’s what keeps Sioux Falls School District Superintendent Jane Staffem awake at night, she told a group of dozens of business leaders during the principals’ talk Thursday morning at a major Sioux Falls Chamber of Commerce meeting.
As part of a discussion of the challenges facing South Dakota schools today, Staffim explained that attendance is still “declining” from COVID-19, and children’s use of vape products or addiction to vaping is increasing across the country.
“If I could find the person who invented (vaping) and start marketing it to children, I would strangle them,” said Staffim, adding that even students in elementary school had access to it through family members or by theft.
more:The K-12 state report card shows that absenteeism continues to be an issue in South Dakota schools
Staffim’s peers had some similar but varied answers to the question posed by Vernon Brown, discussion moderator and South Dakota State University vice president for foreign affairs.
Brandon Valley School District Superintendent Jarrod Larson said it was his “top priority” for him to complete the high school construction project in his district successfully and on time.
Meanwhile, mental health and behavior came to mind for Harrisburg School District Superintendent Tim Graf, he said.
“It’s amazing to me if you haven’t heard about some of the things we’re dealing with (and) our colleagues across the state and the nation are dealing with,” said Graf. “We’re not sure why that is, but the behaviors are off the charts. It really affects our education workforce.”
With the increase in behavioral problems, Graf added, teaching has become “a real challenge”, making it difficult to find replacement teachers and making work more difficult for permanent teachers.
more:How Sioux Falls area schools are experiencing the learning loss response to COVID-19 in South Dakota
Tea Area School District superintendent Jennifer Lowry said attendance, mental health, and students’ use of social media is what’s up.
Here are four other key takeaways from education leaders in the region and other challenges that were mentioned during the talk, including social studies standards, school growth, school safety, and the recent politicization of education.
All four supervisors in the Sioux Falls area opposed the social studies criteria
In Graf’s 25 years as moderator, there has never been a subject where everyone was on the same page, except for the social studies standards currently proposed by the state. He said it doesn’t happen very often in these situations.
“Really, we didn’t have a sponsor, we didn’t have a single teacher, we didn’t have a parent (be a supporter of) the proposed standards,” Graf said. “It was easy in my situation to go against them, and our board was in opposition too, which also makes it easy to go against them.”
There are rumors that the South Dakota Board of Education Standards may push the current proposed draft of the standards set back, due to tweaks and changes, but he said he also doesn’t know if those rumors have substance.
Laurie said she couldn’t live with the standards for her children — a freshman, a seventh grader and a first grader — or the 2,300 students she was responsible for as supervisor.
“It’s just a very complicated issue and it doesn’t suit our kids,” she said. “If I’m the superintendent of schools, I have to be an educational leader. When I look at it and listen to my teachers and other teachers, I’m not OK with saying, ‘We’ll just swallow it and move on.’ If I don’t stand up for what I think is right for my three kids, I think I’m not doing my job.” .
Brown asked Staffim and Larson what costs might be incurred by larger counties in the state to implement standards and find appropriate curricula. Some of the practicalities of adopting the standards will be very costly, Staffim said, and the standards come from “a very different education system” in the classical model.
more:Supervisors join the call against South Dakota’s proposed social studies standards
“To overlay part of that in the traditional school schedule (with) the way we arrange the curriculum and organize that scope and sequence all the way from elementary school to high school, it doesn’t fit very well,” said Staffim.
For example, the district has a Spanish immersion program, and every student has a Chromebook, but some resources won’t be available in a Spanish or digital format to integrate standards, Staffim said. She added that she did not want employees to use the time for this.
The last time a new education plan or an implementation plan to adopt new social studies standards appeared in the Sioux Falls school district, Staffim said, it cost about $3.5 million. Staffim added the cost of training first-grade teachers on content they had not seen before would be “pretty enormous”.
Larson said there is an opportunity to take the good stuff in the current 2015 set of standards, the 2021 working group draft of standards and the current proposed set of standards that can be put together to make a great product for South Dakota students.
The fourth and final public hearing on social studies standards is set for Monday in Pierre, where the Education Standards Board can choose to adopt or reformulate existing proposed social studies standards.
Where school districts grow in Sioux Falls
Both moderators spoke of the growth occurring in their areas as the populations of southeastern South Dakota and the Sioux Falls metropolitan area continue to increase.
In Brandon Valley, the high school is finalizing a $10 million addition and 35,000 square feet for more than 20 classrooms, Larson said, all paid for through cash capital spending with no additional tax burden on residents.
Graf said the Harrisburg School District is growing so rapidly that up to 150 new high school students are added to the district’s enrollment each year. While Sioux Falls continues to grow without stopping, he said it is a goal for the area to maintain its small-town feel.
The Middle East School District is nearing completion and will open in August. Up to 500 freshmen will be able to attend the Freshmen Academy which will also open in August on the West Side of Cliff Street. Graf said the district could consider adding a third high school one day if growth continues as planned. The construction of an eighth primary school will also happen this week, Graf said.
more:Where are Sioux Falls area schools set to grow in 2023? Here are the construction projects
Staffim said the Sioux Falls School District is looking at projects that include the elementary school by George McGovern Middle School, the addition of GMMS for the after-school program, recent boundary changes affecting Renberg and Rosa Parks elementary school and more. She said Rosa Parks, Hayward and Discovery Elementary Schools are filling up, while Lowell and Hawthorne Elementary Schools near downtown still have room.
The Tea Area School District is growing by about 150 new students each year, Lowry said, and the goal is for the district to stay with one high school, two middle schools, and multiple elementary schools. She said the district recently purchased land for the next elementary school, which will open in 2027. Work to expand and renovate the high school is ongoing.
How Sioux Falls Schools Keep Your Kids Safe
Another thing that keeps teachers up at night is school safety, Lowery said, in response to an audience question on the subject. She said safety plans and procedures remain confidential, but assured people that the safety team is working on the safety issue.
more:Police respond to active “hoax” shooting calls at South Dakota high schools
Schools use research-based best practices for school safety, Larson explained, adding that the safest place for a student is behind a closed classroom door.
There are also secure entrances, locked doors, school resource officers and a new employee, Dave Osterquist, whose entire job is based around safety plans and procedures, Staffim explained to Sioux Falls Schools. The county assesses threats and relies on people to say something if they see something isn’t right.
more:Books, safety, buses, and more: What you missed at a Monday night school board meeting
Graf noted that the schools also do some kind of safety training, which instructs people to rescue themselves, run, hide and fight off the attacker as needed.
Political extremism has distorted some aspects of education
Some words used in a school setting, such as “fairness,” said Staffim, become trigger words when they are meant to be well-meaning things.
“We’ve sometimes had the reputation of using the word ‘equity,’ which for our district means having the same opportunities at one high school as you do at another,” Staffim explained.
She said she’s received questions from voters about the district’s use of the term “equity,” even on budget items such as “equity travel,” money the district can use to help groups pay for transportation, for example, if they don’t have enough money collected. Money to attend an event. She said one voter made it up as “something that sounds very sinister”.
“Unfortunately, we took some things and took them to extremes,” said Staffim. “I think that’s one thing that school districts across the country are suffering from right now, and that is that political extremism has distorted some of the things that are meant to do what we want in terms of, how do we treat kids? How do we respect the differences in our community and our family, whether that be Because of race or gender or any of those kinds of things?
more:Sioux Falls Schools, Legislature has not yielded to parents’ requests to ban books yet
The district welcomes every child who comes to it, Staffim explained, and her colleagues Graf, Laurie and Larson echoed the statements.
Graf said that schools should be apolitical or politically neutral, but further education is becoming more and more difficult to be moderate and neutral in today’s society.
If you enter any of the Tea Schools, Laurie said, you will find hope and acceptance.
“It’s not as brutal as its marketing or politicization,” Lowry said.