December 2013


Educators at pilot schools finding value in new teacher evaluation system

This story is the third in a three-part series on the continuing development of South Dakota’s model teacher effectiveness system.

Twenty-four South Dakota public school districts of all sizes are participating in this year’s pilot of the new state model for teacher effectiveness. Some districts are fully implementing the system, while others are scale-up sites experimenting with partial implementation.

The model includes a focus on professional practices, as well as a focus on student growth, using student learning objectives, or SLOs.

This month, we talked with educators at some of these pilot sites to see how things are going.

More meaningful evaluation

Some teachers at pilot schools have expressed a feeling that all of the pieces are coming together: new standards, the Danielson framework and, now, evaluation.

For example, using student learning objectives in teacher evaluations is new, but creating them is not new to teachers.

“Teachers have been doing that [making goals in the classroom] anyway. It’s making more sense now. It’s kind of tying everything together,” says Jaye Svarstad, a fifth grade teacher at Horace Mann Elementary in Rapid City.

Svarstad likes that the model system brings the principal into her classroom more often and that her evaluation will depend on more than one observation. She says now, if the principal sees her having a tough day in the classroom, the two of them have time to discuss things she could do differently.

“I’m continually bettering myself. With a one-time evaluation, they did it, walked away and that was the last you saw of it,” she says. “Now, there’s more time for self-reflection.”

Teachers take ownership

Initially, Svarstad was concerned about how the student growth rating would be determined, but after getting familiar with the model system, she feels that she has ownership in the process.

“I set the goal myself, I determine what’s rigorous, what works in my room. I see that yes, I can do this. Even if I don’t meet the goal, I’ve done the best I can and there’s been some growth,” she says.

Scott Phares is the principal of Horace Mann and he is hearing positive reactions from other teachers too: “They like the specific feedback. They like data that is useful. So if the SLO is written around something that they feel is valuable, they like that.”

Training and support

LeeAnn Haisch, principal of the Alcester-Hudson Middle and High Schools, says scheduling staff training early aided implementation. Teachers in pilot districts began receiving training in the summer.

Haisch says that training helped dispel worries: “After the summer training, they [teachers] said, ‘Ah, I get it now.’”

Gary Leighton is the superintendent and high school principal in the Florence School District. Leighton appreciates the training because it presented networking opportunities with colleagues: “Now we’ll have people to call and touch base with if we have issues come up.”

The Department of Education will offer regional training on student learning objectives for administrators in spring 2014. Over the summer and throughout the 2014-15 school year, trainings will be offered to teachers as well.

Go to: for training handouts, webinars and more from the pilot project.

Contact Carla Leingang at the South Dakota Department of Education, (605) 773-4638 or, with any questions.

Committee forming to review and revise physical education standards

Teachers, school administrators, curriculum directors, parents, university professors, and pre-service students are invited to serve on the South Dakota Physical Education Standards Review and Revision Committee. Committee meetings will be conducted in Pierre Jan. 27-28, and Feb. 24-25, 2014.

The South Dakota Department of Education will reimburse all committee members for mileage, meals, and lodging. School districts may also invoice the department for substitute teachers hired to replace committee members during the school day.

This is a project of the School Health program in the South Dakota Departments of Education and Health. The application deadline is Dec. 30. Go to: to apply.

Contact Karen Keyser, Health and Physical Education Specialist at (605) 773-6808 or, with any questions.

Improving user experience

The Department of Education will be updating its website, Please take this short survey at to help us improve the user experience for you.

State Library E-Resources Challenge begins Jan. 13, includes two new resources

E-Resources Challenge

The South Dakota State Library’s E-Resources Challenge begins Jan. 13, 2014. The challenge is a self-paced learning opportunity that guides participants to explore and discover content and features in the library’s statewide electronic resources. Learn about online journals, encyclopedias, practice tests and other resources while earning free continuing education contact hours. Find out new ways to integrate technology into lessons and how these resources can be used in conjunction with Common Core standards.

This 10-week course will examine one or two electronic resources per week. The first lesson will be released Jan. 13, 2014. The challenge ends March 31.

Go to: to register now and receive an e-mail when the first lesson is posted.

Two new e-resources to explore

The State Library has announced two new e-resources called Mango Languages and ChiltonLibrary. Foreign language teachers, ESL students and CTE teachers are just a few of the individuals who will find these resources useful.

Mango Languages offers courses in more than 60 languages. Basic courses teach simple, practical skills for common conversation, and Complete 2.0 courses dive into in-depth language and grammar skills. The courses focus on four key areas of language learning: vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation and culture. A mobile version lets users learn wherever they have Internet access.

ChiltonLibrary puts CTE students in the driver’s seat by placing their authoritative manuals online with monthly updates. No other source contains more years, makes and models.

These databases are available in public libraries and on school and academic campuses. The State Library provides free in-service training on statewide online resources to school librarians, administrators and faculty. Call 1-800-423-6665 for more information.

Any South Dakotan with a State Library-issued barcode and password can also access these resources from home at

Contact or with questions.

SDMyLife fall 2013 training webinars now available online

SDMyLife offered several webinars for educators in fall 2013. These webinars were recorded and are available to view at

SDMyLife also has a number of lesson plans and resources available through its own file manager. Register for access to this bank of resources at and see what other SDMyLife advisors are doing.

SDMyLife is a free online program that helps students navigate the career development process. With the support of teachers, counselors and parents, SDMyLife’s goal is to help students better understand how their interests, skills, and knowledge relate to real-world academic and career opportunities. Using the site, students can take interest and ability assessments, research postsecondary education and training options, build their own career portfolios, find out about scholarship opportunities, and study for the ACT with Method Test Prep. This program aids students during middle school, high school and for five years after graduation.

Contact Megan Lahr at the South Dakota Department of Education, (605) 773-4726 or, with any questions.


Alternate Assessment Road Show
Jan. 6-9, 2014, Various locations statewide

• 2014 STEP-A Pretest Workshop

The 2014 STEP-A Pretest workshop is for all teachers who administer the Dakota STEP-A Assessment. The topics covered will include but are not limited to: student eligibility for the STEP-A, selecting and developing high-quality supporting evidence submissions, completing the rating form, role of the second rater, test security, and receiving/packing/shipping test materials.

It is required that all raters who are administering the STEP-A be trained on the administration of the assessment.

An update on the NCSC Alternate Assessment Pilot will also be provided.

• Curriculum and Instructional Materials for NCSC

The focus of this session is to review some of the NCSC math curriculum and instructional materials and to introduce the ELA curriculum and instructional materials that have been developed to support students' access to grade-level content of the Common Core State Standards.

This session is appropriate for special education teachers, curriculum directors, and administrators who will be teaching or training teachers who work with students participating in alternate assessments.

Go to: for more information.

School Health Guidelines training
March 17, 2014, Pierre

Schools interested in learning how to develop or enhance their School Wellness Policy are encouraged to attend the “School Health Guidelines to Promote Healthy Eating and Physical Activity” training to be held from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Monday, March 17, 2014, at the Kings Inn Conference Center in Pierre.

The School Health Guidelines (, developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, provide evidence-based guidance for schools on how to most effectively promote the health of children and adolescents aged 5 to 18 years.

Physical education and health teachers, school nutrition directors, school health council members, other school staff, community members, policy makers, parents, and students are all encouraged to attend this FREE training.

Sponsors include the South Dakota Departments of Education and Health and the Alliance for a Healthier Generation - South Dakota. For more information, call Karen Keyser at (605) 773-6808, or email

For more information and to register, go to:

These are only a few upcoming events. Go to for a complete listing.


Avon math and science teacher named National Rural Teacher of the Year

Paul Kuhlman was recently named the Monsanto Fund National Rural Teacher of the Year. He has been teaching for 25 years, the last 21 in Avon, where he currently teaches physics, chemistry, physical science, geometry and seventh-grade math.

Kuhlman’s interest in science was sparked by his rural upbringing—his backyard playground was a creek and small wooded area. And while he had never really considered a career in teaching, an advisor suggested it as a possibility when he was a junior in college. After teaching a middle school class a lesson about the tap root of a dandelion, Kuhlman says he was hooked.

Kuhlman encourages his students to be inspired by the world around them as well. Computers and graphing calculators are common tools in his classroom, but so are jugs of milk, loaves of bread, a Thanksgiving turkey and even a clothes dryer. In his chemistry class, students separate milk into its component parts, discover how a pop-up turkey timer works, and bake bread with different leaveners. In his physics class last year, a group of students constructed and tested a heat exchanger for a clothes dryer, which captured some of the dryer’s wasted heat.

The Avon School itself becomes a scientific laboratory when Kuhlman drops objects of different masses off its roof, three stories up, repeating an experiment inspired by Galileo.

Those three stories house all of Avon’s K-12 students and getting to see them progress from early elementary to graduation is one of the things Kuhlman enjoys about teaching in a small school.

“My wife Benita teaches first grade in Avon, so I often teach her former students six years later,” Kuhlman said. “The strong bonds between students, teachers and the community at large really make rural teaching special.”

This award is presented by the National Rural Education Association. As the National Rural Teacher of the Year, Kuhlman receives a $2,000 honorarium and the Avon School District receives $1,000 towards instructional materials and school supplies, courtesy of the Monsanto Fund.

Kuhlman credits this award to the efforts of all his current and former students: “Their enthusiasm and excitement for science make teaching an immense joy.”