Superintendent Column


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Social Media Challenges

January 2022

South Dakota laws govern everything from the age teens can drive to when they can work, marry, vote, own a gun, and drop out of school. These laws exist to protect the best interests of children who are not yet socially, emotionally, and medically, considered “ready” to make potentially life-altering decisions.

Yet, there are currently no laws governing the use of one of the most challenging tools of our time – social media.

Medical research indicates the prefrontal cortex of the brain – the portion that controls judgment and an awareness of the impact of long-term consequences – is not fully developed until the age of 25. Until then, decisions may be the result of impulses and emotions rather than facts and logic. These medical facts, coupled with the availability of multiple social media platforms, are causing significant challenges for schools across the nation, and quite possibly in your homes as well.

There are clear benefits to the appropriate use of social media. Maintaining relationships with family and friends who live far away or are deployed across the world, entertainment, and self-expression are all positive uses. Conversely, unhealthy uses can create negative self-esteem, encourage secrecy and bad choices, and create chaos and even fear. These uses may result in school discipline, as well as criminal consequences in extreme cases.

This year, our district, like many across the nation, has experienced more instances of negative social media that cause harm to individuals and the culture of schools. Some posts have traveled nationally and disrupted schools, while other negative effects have been felt locally.

That’s why it is so important that we all work together to help our students know what healthy boundaries are when using their devices. With the help of parents, guardians, mentors, and friends, students can use devices to be better organized, find information, communicate positively with their friends, and have fun with appropriate apps and tools.

It is important to note that numerous studies link high levels of social media use with lack of sleep, isolation, depression, and anxiety.

If your child has a phone:

  • Check it regularly.
  • Ask questions.
  • Set rules and talk about your expectations.
  • Use apps that allow you to set screen time limits and make sure your child understands the power of social media - a digital footprint is forever. A post made as a teenager could mean getting passed over for a scholarship, an apartment, a job, or any number of other opportunities in the future.
  • Model the same healthy habits and expectations you set for your children.

As we start a new calendar year, we invite you to partner with us and recommit to your child’s online safety. When we all work together to help children stay safe, we all reap the benefits both now and in the future.

Stakeholder Listening and Learning

December 2021

Education is a true partnership between schools and families. Research shows when all parties work together, student achievement increases. This year, the Sioux Falls District is fostering 24,000+ unique school/family partnerships. The goals are the same with each, creating a positive educational experience and successful student outcome.

Parents are key to ensuring school success. They commit to making school attendance a priority. They set expectations for adequate sleep, balanced nutrition, and homework completion/test preparation. They encourage student participation in school activities and clubs because they know it adds value.

Teachers are key in these partnerships, too. Educators commit to creating engaging and informative lessons. They assign meaningful projects and issue grades that reflects the curriculum standards taught. Teachers are also influential in encouraging students to step out of their comfort zone to take part in activities.

This school year, and into the foreseeable future, the Sioux Falls School District is taking a purposeful approach to learning more from our parent partners. We are hosting community engagement sessions for voices not always represented in public forums.

Community Engagement is one of our five focus areas in our District Priorities. Our belief statement says, “We believe when stakeholder relationships are intentionally cultivated, students grow through hands-on learning experiences and real-world work and career opportunities. Through these school-community partnerships, we believe students develop a deeper connection to living and working in Sioux Falls.”

By mid-December, we will have listened and learned from three communities. Native American families, Hispanic families, and Kunama families accepted our invitation to meet. We asked these families to share their hopes and dreams for the future of their children. The conversations were powerful. Topics like safety, transportation, preservation and celebration of cultures, after-school and extracurricular activities, and more were on the table.

Community engagement events like these continue in 2022 because SFSD values partnerships. Our schools cannot do it alone. Successful students need school, parent, and community support. We look forward to continuing these conversations. We cannot wait to turn the information we learn into action in the new year.

Community Engagement Center Supports Families

November 2021

Despite our best efforts in planning, life has a way of throwing us all curve balls at times. An accident or medical diagnosis, an unexpected job or family change, or some other issue that becomes difficult to manage can impact student attendance and school performance.

The impact may be temporary or long-term. It may result in the need for help with food, clothing, or shelter. It may require the support of one of Sioux Falls’ many non-profit agencies that partner with the Sioux Falls School District to fill the gaps when needed.

That is why the District is pleased to unveil the new Community Engagement Center at Axtell Park that opened this fall. In addition to supporting our students in their academic journey, the Sioux Falls Public Schools are also interested in supporting the basic needs of the entire family.

Just inside the doors of Axtell Park, is a welcoming environment, located conveniently in the center of the city on West Avenue south of the Premier Center. Our staff are ready to connect students and their families with everything from school supplies to winter weather gear, assist families with language barriers, or fill out forms for housing assistance, medical benefits, and more. District counselors, social workers, and school-home liaisons will refer families to the Center so they can get connected and move forward.

In addition to all the required and elective courses available to students in our schools, our staff consistently embeds lessons on resilience through grit and perseverance. We cheer on and encourage students to try again when things don’t go as planned the first time. We know life can be hard. And, we also know that when we work together to solve challenges, everyone benefits. We are excited to see how the Community Engagement Center can positively impact families across Sioux Falls.

After-School Activities

October 2021

Sioux Falls is a great place to live and work. National Top 10 lists shine a spotlight on the strong economy, safety, entertainment, friendliness, and opportunities we all enjoy here. Yet, our community is not immune to the worker shortage impacting all aspects of our lives. From restaurants to banks to schools, “Help Wanted” signs are out on all street corners and marquees.

Workforce needs are changing. Social pressures for students are changing. Both may be reason enough for Sioux Falls to sharpen our focus on the after-school care landscape.

Each week, during my school visits, I pull an informal group of students together for 15 to 20 minutes to talk about what’s going well for them and what could make their lives better. Many tell me they don’t have a lot of structure after the last school bell rings, especially those in upper elementary grades and in middle school. Some go home to an empty house to “game” or pass time on social media. Some hang out at parks or in other public areas, and some are looking for an activity that captures a special interest, but it isn’t available.

Many tell me they would really love a place to get homework help where they can connect with positive role models. Thankfully, many quality programs like that already exist in Sioux Falls. I’m confident all of those programs would love to serve more children, but more and more, the shortage of workers mentioned above may be preventing access.

Why should a public school district be so interested in after-school care? says, “School-age children and youth spend 80 percent of their waking hours outside of school, while 1 in 5 young people in the U.S. are alone after the school day ends.”

Research shows a strong return-on-investment with after-school programs. For every $1 invested, a child’s earning potential increases $3 with better performance in school, fewer run-ins with the court system, and better physical, social, and emotional health. Those statistics have short and long-term impact on our community as we look to the future.

Quality after-school care has been a priority in the Sioux Falls School District for more than 25 years. In 1995, Kids Inc. started small at Cleveland Elementary. Today, the District’s after-school program is available in all 23 elementary schools. Kids Inc. extends learning for 1,300 children each school day and keeps them safe and engaged until parents get off of work. More students could be added, but due to the requirements for the number of adults that must be present, we’re limited by current workforce shortages.

When students are engaged in an organized activity outside the regular school day, parents/guardians can contribute to the wider Sioux Falls workforce with fewer worries. While we haven’t solved access to after-school care yet, we are working with many passionate community partners who have the same goals in mind.

Working together, we can overcome any challenges we currently face because when children benefit, this community has a proven track record of being “all in.” Collaboration that recognizes opportunities for greater efficiencies, wider participation, and coordination of services helps all students find a place to belong after school. It’s good for kids - it’s good for Sioux Falls.

Working Together to Be the Best

September 2021

Once the first jitters of the year wear off, the start of a new school year often marks the start of new friendships, new experiences, and new opportunities. At the District and school levels, we are excited to launch some new and innovative practices and projects with a goal of putting our schools on track to become the best in the nation.

To do that, we have developed District Priorities for the coming year. Our focus is on five key areas: Academic Success, Well-Being, Community Engagement, Staff Excellence, and Effective Use of Resources. SFSD staff own this work collectively and we are committed to continuous improvement in these areas. We invite parents/guardians to partner with us in these efforts because we are stronger when we work together.

One such initiative is simple, yet powerful. We are teaming up with the Siouxland Libraries to elevate and promote literacy. Our “Reading Together” initiative is just starting to take shape and will be a year-round effort to strengthen the community focus on this important and enjoyable skill. There are many reasons to read: to learn and increase knowledge, to expand vocabulary, to improve focus and comprehension, to reduce stress, and to improve your overall health and wellness. You will hear more about our plans through your schools and through your local libraries.

Another goal we have is to link every student with an out-of-school activity that is meaningful to them. Research tells us engaged students are more successful and more hopeful about their future. Sioux Falls has so much to offer, and we’ll be encouraging students to get connected through clubs, fine arts or sports opportunities at school, the various after-school programs throughout the community, doing volunteer work, and mentoring.

When students know a caring adult is in their corner, cheering for their success, research tells us they are less likely to participate in risky behaviors. Instead, they are more likely to see value in activities that propel themselves into a positive future. We hope you will join us in these efforts. It will take all of us working together to become the best school district in the nation. It is a big goal. With your help, we know we can achieve it.