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Letter from the Secretary

SD Department of Education
April 2017  
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Photo of Melody Schopp, SD Secretary of Education Letter from the Secretary

I recently attended the Council of Chief State School Officers spring legislative conference. It is always time well spent when I can network with colleagues from across the country. As the newly elected president of the CCSSO Board of Directors, I got to speak in some detail about my platform: elevating the teaching profession.

South Dakota is part of a group, through CCSSO, addressing lack of diversity in the teacher pipeline. Beth Kaltsulas, 2017 South Dakota Teacher of the Year, and Abby Javurek-Humig, the Department of Education’s director of accountability systems, serve on this team.

Data shows we lack parity in South Dakota between the number of Native American students, our largest ethnic group, and the number of Native American teachers. Research shows that having individuals in the classroom who are familiar with the culture and ethnicity of the students has many benefits, including higher rates of teacher retention.

South Dakota has joined forces with educators and leaders in Missouri, Mississippi, Nebraska, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin to set a shared goal that, by 2040, we will achieve parity in our respective states in the demographic make-up of teachers and the K-12 student population. By coming together and crossing state divides in these conversations, we demonstrate our commitment to equity by learning together, challenging one another and engaging in courageous conversations about race and equity.

The paraprofessional scholarship program established by South Dakota’s 2016 Legislature is helping several paraprofessionals at schools with high populations of Native American students finish their college education and become certified teachers. This “grow your own” approach is a strong step in the right direction.

We have a long way to go, and it will also take each of you to help increase diversity in our state’s teaching force. There’s no easy fix, but a great place to start is by simply asking questions: What does the current make-up of our staff look like? What’s one action we can take with our next round of hiring to start recruiting a more diverse staff?

Thank you for the work you do on behalf of South Dakota students and for your willingness to ask the tough questions.


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