Superintendent Column


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Vaping: Facts and Concerns

October 2019

Fads and fashions always have a way of adding new words to the English language. But there is a new word showing up in headlines that doctors are calling a public health crisis.

Vaping, or the use of e-cigarette devices to inhale a flavored liquid, has quickly become popular with teens and pre-teens. Originally marketed as a safer alternative to smoking traditional tobacco, new reports of severe respiratory illnesses, and even death, are prompting organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics to issue warnings.

While the work of the Sioux Falls School District primarily focuses on delivering an academic education, we are deeply committed to helping our students and their families develop safe and healthy habits that allow them to live long, productive lives. That’s why the District acted quickly to put together a townhall meeting last month. Our health partners at Avera provided the medical research and information while our school staff provided the reality of use of vaping products by Sioux Falls teens. It was a powerful and educational event. We encourage you to view it on KLRN-TV: Your Sioux Falls Classroom Connection or by accessing it through the Sioux Falls School District’s social media channels, including YouTube.

The use of tobacco products is illegal for teens, but we all know that does not stop them. There are discipline consequences if students are caught with these products on school property. While that does deter some young users, fear of discipline certainly doesn’t stop all of them. What matters most in prevention efforts? Researchers tell us it is a clear, no-use message delivered by parents, teachers, and other caring adults.

Your public schools will continue delivering a clear no-use message with posters, discussions between school nurses, counselors and teens, and through the health curriculum. We encourage parents, community leaders, and anyone willing to join us in these efforts.

While we are learning more each day about the health risks of e-cigarettes and vaping, there is still so much more we do not know. Please discuss the facts about this alarming trend with your student. Use information from reputable sources and rely on your family’s medical provider if you or your teen needs help to quit the habit. Together we can prevent a child we all care about from becoming one of the statistics.

Ready to Connect?

September 2019

Despite even the highest level of preparation, first few weeks or months of a new school year are often a blur until routines are established and lazy summer days are long forgotten. By now, I hope the whirlwind of back-to-school shopping, schedule changes, and the like, has settled.

This month, I’d like to remind you of some of the tools and resources available to parents and guardians to keep you informed and organized. In August, the District mailed its Ignite publication to more than 80,000 households to provide detailed information on the progress of two new schools being built following last year’s bond election. We included information about social-emotional learning efforts in our classrooms, the new dual-immersion program at Hayward and Rosa Parks, and a feature story about a staff member who came to Sioux Falls as a refugee and is now a teacher. If you missed this publication, I would encourage you to find it on the District’s website:

While you’re on the website, I would invite you to spend some time watching original produced videos of classroom activities, make note of middle and high school flu shot clinic dates, September 2019 and spend a little time getting familiar with our Strategic Plan. The website contains a wealth of information on many topics. We also spent time over the summer redesigning the school pages to feature building-specific information. Many school newsletters are also taking on a new look thanks to an easy-to-use software that is new this school year.

The District’s mobile app is also a great place to find everything from breakfast and lunch menus to the latest news to job openings in the District. One of the best features of the app is that you can choose the school(s) your child(ren) attend so the information you receive through the app is more specific. If you prefer that information be delivered in a specific language, you can change that in the settings tab. This is great feature for our new families coming from other countries!

And finally, I’m certain you’ve received important information from your school through our mass communication tool which allows us to send phone calls, emails, texts, and push notifications. This is a tool we simply cannot live without. Due to its wide use, the District is now encouraging all teachers to use the texting feature to connect with parents. We know you’re busy. This will allow you to stay connected to monitor the progress of your student and build a relationship with their teacher.

Of course, face-to-face communication is always preferred. If you have a concern, I invite you to call or set up a meeting with your building principal to discuss. Meaningful two-way communication between schools, teachers, parents, and the community is the best way for us to work together to ensure the success of our students!

“New” Never Gets Old

August 2019

Pencils are sharpened and floors are shined! Welcome to the 2019-2020 school year! The start of another academic calendar brings so much anticipation; not only for students, teachers, and staff, but also for parents who are excited to see their student flourish. A new year never gets old! This new school year brings with it plenty of excitement as your Superintendent, as well. Now entering my fifth year as Superintendent of the Sioux Falls School District, I can’t help but look back with pride on all we have accomplished together. Four years ago, we mapped out a plan to improve student learning, support our staff, make our schools safer and more welcoming, and to engage the community in all facets of the educational journey. This work is recorded in the District’s Strategic Plan, which monitors progress, allows us to design initiatives to improve goals, and holds us accountable for that work. The Strategic Plan guides us in every decision we make with the sole purpose of providing the highest quality education possible.

Last fall at this time, our community overwhelmingly supported a $190 Million bond to pay for three new schools (two of which are currently under construction) and upgrades to August 2019 14 existing buildings to account for growth and safety. In June, we broke ground on Thomas Jefferson High School in northwest Sioux Falls. In July, we broke ground on Ben Reifel Middle School in southeast Sioux Falls. These two new schools really serve as “book ends” to the thriving business community and strong schools we already enjoy.

While increasing enrollment in our schools is exciting to see, our number one priority has been and will continue to be the safety of our students and staff. The Strategic Plan addresses this. Construction projects address this. Staff routinely train. School Resource Officers paid for by the City of Sioux Falls work shoulder to shoulder with us to build relationships with students and to address concerns when they arise.

As we begin this new school year, I invite you to be an active participant in your child’s education. Volunteer. Attend parent-teacher conferences. Ask your student about their classmates and what they are learning. Before we know it, we will be wrapping up another school year and setting our sights on the next one again. Time is a gift we cannot waste. Have a great year!