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SD Department of Education
Aug. 2019  
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SECRETARY’S COLUMN: Supporting educators; supporting students

Welcome to a new school year. I hope you had some time to relax and rejuvenate over the summer.

First, please allow me to formally introduce myself. I stepped in as Interim Secretary of Education in January and had the opportunity to meet a few of you through the spring. In May, I accepted the position on a permanent basis. Previously, I served as Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Dakota State University. I hold a Ph.D. in history from the University of Kansas.

I couldn’t pass up this chance to impact K-12 education in our state, and I’m eager to get to know all of you better as we work together for South Dakota students.

Just as summer was getting underway, I had the opportunity to attend the Statewide Mentoring Program Summer Academy in Sioux Falls, where more than 700 teachers—mentors and first- and second-year teachers—gathered to celebrate, reflect, and learn. Having been in that convention hall, I can tell you, the enthusiasm for teaching was palpable among mentors and mentees.

As we know from the research, students do best when they’re supported by excellent classroom teachers. To get excellent classroom teachers, we must first keep them in the profession. That is the primary goal of the mentoring program.

Through the program, trained mentors support new teachers for two years in a structured, meaningful way. Mentoring pairs establish goals together and meet for a minimum of 34 hours per year, with 18 of those hours face-to-face.

As the program enters its fourth year, we are seeing increasing percentages of new teachers participating.

2016-17 2017-18 2018-19
New teachers in Mentoring Program 180 220 239
Total number of new teachers 590 558 549
Percentage participating 30.51% 39.43% 43.53%

Even more importantly, we are seeing promising retention numbers. Of first-year teachers in 2016-17 who completed the mentoring program, 88% are still employed in education in South Dakota. Of first-year teachers in 2016-17 who did not participate in the mentoring program, 81% are still employed in education in South Dakota.

If you have first-year teachers starting their careers in your district this year, I hope you’ll encourage them to sign up for this powerful program if they haven’t done so already. Time is running short to register as kick-off events have already begun, but our staff will do their best to accommodate those who still wish to enroll.

We are also continuing a partnership with School Administrators of South Dakota to offer the Principal Leadership and Development program for a third year. Research indicates that principals are more effective when they develop instructional leadership skills and understand how instructional leadership impacts student achievement and school culture. This program supports early-career principals in their growth through professional development, resources, and a network of support.

Georgia Morse Middle School (Pierre) Principal Dr. Kyley Cumbow has participated in the program as a mentor. “The principal mentoring program is a great professional development opportunity for both new principals and for mentors,” Cumbow says. “The greatest outcome for the program is the ‘cohort’ that naturally develops and creates a greater networking system for both principals. This is an avenue that helps alleviate some of the isolation that principals in South Dakota can experience.”

This year’s PLD kick-off is being held in conjunction with the ASBSD/SASD Convention in Sioux Falls, with a number of events scheduled throughout the coming school year.

When educators invest in themselves, we see the payoff in student success. These programs are just a couple of ways the South Dakota Department of Education is here to support you. Please reach out any time you have questions or concerns.

Thank you for all you do for South Dakota students.


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