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Letter from the Secretary
SD Department of Education Dec. 2016  
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Photo of Melody Schopp, SD Secretary of Education Letter from the Secretary

As you may have heard, I was recently elected president of the Council of Chief State School Officers Board of Directors. This is a humbling honor, and I’m grateful for this unique platform to advocate for improving education.

Sometimes at the state level, we forget to listen to our educators’ voices – the very people who are closest to our students. We all know that things like standards, assessment and accreditation are important, but if we don’t have great teachers, paraprofessionals and administrators in our classrooms and schools, it really doesn’t matter. That was my message at the council’s recent annual policy forum. We need to make sure we are listening to all of you, who are in our classrooms and schools each and every day.

At the forum, I was also able to share this video with my colleagues. It was produced by the council and showcases the great work we are doing here in South Dakota to address teacher recruitment and retention issues. The recent effort to increase teacher salaries in our state was about more than just money – it was about showing respect for the incredibly meaningful work that you all do.

Growing the profession

Looking to the future, we also need to make the education field both more attractive and relevant to the demands of 21st century learners.

Earlier this fall, I visited several schools in our state that are implementing customized learning. I saw students thoroughly engaged and teachers guiding them toward mastery – real achievement.

I saw kids working on their own and in small groups while teachers provided targeted instruction or coaching as necessary. I saw elementary, middle school and high school students who knew what they were trying to learn and understood how it was relevant to them. Those schools expect all students – not just some – to master the curriculum; to truly learn.

But this is a new way of teaching. It’s deeply challenging; even a little messy. That’s okay. Teachers who have tried it say they don’t ever want to return to the traditional school setting. Those who haven’t yet tried it need training, support and time if we expect them to do this.

We need to mix fundamentally good teaching with innovative delivery of instruction. As we do that, we will make teaching more attractive.

As South Dakota’s Secretary of Education, I see it as my job to encourage teachers and leaders to think differently and then get out of your way when you do just that.

If we really want to increase our teacher pipeline, we need to not only adequately compensate and respect teachers, but treat them like the professionals they are. That is what will encourage more young people to enter this honorable profession.

Thanks to all of you, there are groundbreaking things happening in South Dakota classrooms. I look forward to sharing our state’s valuable perspectives on the national stage over the coming year.

Have a blessed holiday season.


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