Superintendent Column

2020-2021

Big picture

150 Years: Celebrating Public Education in Sioux Falls

April 2021

ses·qui·cen·ten·ni·al - /ˌseskwəsenˈtenēəl/

adjective

1. relating to the one-hundred-and-fiftieth anniversary of a significant event.


If the Sioux Falls School District was holding a spelling bee in 2021, a good word to

stump even a few of our best spellers might be “sesquicentennial.” A common practice at spelling bees is for the announcer to say the word, define it, and then use it in a sentence. That sentence might be “The Sioux Falls School District is celebrating its sesquicentennial in the 2021-22 school year.”

The Sioux Falls School District was formally established on July 3, 1871. Old records indicate the first school opened in 1870 in the Government Barracks under the direction of teacher Mary A. Benton who trained 17 pupils. However, it was the summer of 1871 when newly elected Minnehaha County Superintendent John Bippus divided the county into seven school districts as one of his first official acts. District #1 was comprised of the entire Sioux Falls township. Still, it took another two years for its first school board to be established with elected members being A. Gale, Director; R.F. Pettigrew, Clerk; and D.S. Goodyear, Treasurer.

It is humbling to think what value public education has brought to the hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, of students who have graduated with a Sioux Falls School District diploma in the past 150 years. We have turned out doctors, lawyers, NASA engineers, successful business leaders, and potentially students who have filled every career and job title currently and previously needed and known. We believe this is a feat worth celebrating!

A Planning Committee made up of parents and community members has been meeting since February to determine a theme and design activities that can be embraced by all stakeholders. Before school starts again in the fall, we will launch our plan for activities and events to be held throughout the 2021-2022 school year. The theme is “Rooted in Our Past ~ Reaching for Our Future.” The committee is hoping to engage with former staff members, alumni, community members, current parents, students, and employees to highlight all we have achieved in the previous 150 years and to establish new and exciting goals to launch us into the next 150 years. If your path took you through SFSD, dig out your old photos and memorabilia. If you are a transplant to Sioux Falls, dig out your shovel because there will be opportunities for you and your neighbors to leave your mark long after you are gone.

The launch of the District 150th Anniversary celebration will also include the unveiling of new strategic priorities to guide our work as we aspire to be the best school district in the nation. This is a lofty goal, but who better to achieve it than a school district that as 150 years of success in its rearview mirror and one that is committed to continuous improvement for the next century and beyond.

Sesquicentennial isn’t an easy word to say or to spell. But, paraphrasing the great Theodore Roosevelt, we believe nothing worth doing comes easy.

A Vision for the Future

March 2021

The Sioux Falls School District enjoys a long history of academic success. Formally established July 3, 1871, our community will celebrate the District’s 150th Anniversary with some fun and engaging events planned over the next several months. We hope you will join in the sesquicentennial activities when they are announced in celebration of public education in Sioux Falls!

From the early days of education in a one-room schoolhouse at the corner of 13th Street and Main Avenue to opening two new schools in the Fall of 2021, it is humbling to think of the thousands of students who have walked the halls and earned a diploma from the Sioux Falls School District. Those graduates with the help of their teachers have, indeed, impacted our community, state, and nation with countless, positive contributions.

Looking back to reflect on success is always inspiring. However, looking ahead to chart the course of education in Sioux Falls for the next 150 years brings with it an even more exciting opportunity. For the past month, our team has been visiting schools to meet with staff and listen to their ideas for how we can make the Sioux Falls School District the best in the nation. These conversations have already identified some consistent needs across the District. Further, they have allowed me to see the passion and commitment of our staff and the hopes and dreams they have for their students on a raw and personal level.

This month, we are meeting with parents and community members to learn what priorities they believe will propel our students into future success. We are asking for input on factors that need to be considered as we start this work, barriers to be addressed if we are to achieve our goals, and key priorities that will move our schools forward and bring exciting opportunities for our students.

While challenging in many aspects, the COVID-19 pandemic has allowed public schools to reassess educational delivery and the social and emotional needs of students. It has challenged us to question and, where necessary, change the status quo. Now is the time to dream big and set our expectations for the future. It is exciting to think of the possibilities that lie ahead for students in the Sioux Falls Public Schools.

The Truth About Tests

February 2021

At the start of the 2020-21 school year, no one knew what it would hold. Would the intense efforts to make classrooms safer be enough? Could students stay focused enough to learn or would they be distracted by masks? Was it possible for schools stay open so parents could work, and the local economy could keep chugging along?

COVID-19 has certainly presented challenges for all of us. Now, solidly in the middle of third quarter and with vaccinations becoming more readily available in our community, there is a great possibility that, with continued hard work and diligence, we can make it through the entire year. Yes, there have been bumps along the way and there will be some down the road. But, with true Midwestern grit and perseverance, students, staff, and parents have faced these challenges head-on and worked hard to make in-person learning a reality. Still, we know the effects will linger.

For many months now, school leaders have been talking about how the pandemic’s ripple will be felt in the future. Families who have experienced job loss will need time and resources to get back on their feet. Isolation and the cancellation of milestone activities created a void even the most grounded students feel. Loved ones who succumbed to the virus are missed. Learning loss is evident.

The academic benchmarks our students and schools strived to achieve not long ago may need to be adjusted. Gaps exist and will need to be filled. We can take some solace in knowing this is not just a Sioux Falls problem or a South Dakota problem, but rather a world-wide problem. The good news is that public schools stand ready to provide the support students need.

Teachers use many tools to assess student learning. They observe a student’s understanding of content through conversation, daily work, journal entries, and through exams. This spring, Sioux Falls School District students in grades 3 through 8 and 11 will also complete the South Dakota Assessments. Results inform teachers on the individual support or acceleration needed for each student. They help teachers refine and refocus instruction so targeted supports can be used when working one-on-one or in a small group with your child.

Thomas Jefferson liked to use the phrase “Knowledge is power.” While few people really love taking tests, it is easy to understand that when data drives instruction, students achieve more, teachers can be more effective, and society benefits. Future leaders will have the skills they need to conquer any problem that comes their way. That is powerful.

Mentoring Matters

January 2021

A quick search of the internet reveals no shortage of inspiring quotes about the value of a quality mentoring relationship. Leaders, past and present, recognize the power of walking along side someone to share in the learning and growth of ourselves and others.


  • “The delicate balance of mentoring someone is not creating them in your own image but giving them the opportunity to create themselves.” - Film Director and Producer Steven Spielberg
  • “Our chief want in life is somebody who will make us do what we can.” – Poet and Philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • “A mentor is someone who allows you to see the hope inside yourself.” – Actress, Author, and TV Host Oprah Winfrey
  • “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember involve me and I learn.” – Inventor and Founding Father of the United States Benjamin Franklin


Positive mentoring relationships exists in all successful businesses and industries, on the fields and courts of professional sports, and perhaps more importantly, in the classrooms and hallways of our public schools. The Sioux Falls School District is better because veteran principals guide those who aspire to become administrators, seasoned teachers support those leading a classroom for the first time, and thanks to established programs like Lutheran Social Services School-Based Mentoring and TeamMates, community volunteers build meaningful relationships with students.

While COVID-19 limited in-person meetings between mentors and mentees at schools during the first semester of this year, those who truly understand the value of those relationships have been working hard to overcome the challenges for second semester. With the support of the Sioux Falls Downtown Rotary Club, which is championing Mayor Paul Ten Haken’s “Sioux 52 Initiative,” virtual mentoring will be piloted in a few schools during the second semester. This means students will be able to re-connect with their mentor to continue to learn and grow with the support of another caring adult. I could not be more pleased with the way in which our community has responded to finding a way to make mentoring happen, even amidst the pandemic.

In my short time in Sioux Falls, not only have I been impressed with the philanthropic ways in which the community supports its public schools, I have also been impressed by the fortitude of the many genuinely caring individuals who recognize that time is the real gift we can give those most in need. Where there is a will, there is a way!

January is noted as National Mentoring Month. If you have time to listen, share about your own personal experiences, appreciate honest and candid conversations, and want to make a difference in the life of a child, I encourage you to try mentoring. Contact one of our schools to get started. While the immediate rewards are smiles, laughter, and friendship, the real return on investment is the kind of learning and personal growth that is hard to teach from a book.

Who Do You Know?

December 2020

As educators, we often say graduation is the culmination of a student’s K-12 experience. But, in our school district, there are a number of learners who choose to never graduate. It’s not because they didn’t complete their coursework or fulfill all of the requirements for graduation, but rather because they are life-long learners who stay in school to teach others.

These people are voracious learners, always searching for something more to accomplish, some way to make an impact, and approach their work with an attitude of service. They embrace the challenges presented by their students and enjoy the conquest of cracking the code that allows them to connect with each learner.

It takes a special kind of person to be a teacher, and a super-human person to be a teacher during a pandemic.

Nominations are now open for the 33rd Annual Dr. John W. Harris Sioux Falls Teacher of the Year. For more than three decades, local business Vern Eide Motorcars has sponsored this award because it believes success is a two-way street. Strong businesses need strong schools and successful public schools need successful, locally owned businesses that are invested in the community.

Perhaps that reciprocal relationship became even more apparent during the 2020-21 school year. After schools and businesses closed in the spring, teachers went to work transforming in-person instruction to online learning in a matter of days. Was it perfect? No. But the school closure heightened the need for students, parents, staff members, and the community to access quality education, maintain a sense of normalcy, and practice resiliency.

Sioux Falls teachers turned their kitchens into classrooms mounting white boards and projecting virtual lessons on the walls to help their students stay on track. They held virtual meetings with students to check on their health and well-being. They managed their “classroom” of 25 students, some while also occupying their own young children in the background because daycares were closed.

Teachers were heralded as heroes at the start of the pandemic and they are still heroes today. We know they will continue to be viewed as such far into the future when the pandemic becomes a distant memory.

While the concepts they are teaching have stayed the same, nearly every other aspect of their profession has changed. Classrooms look different. Routine practices like lunch and recess have been modified. They wear face coverings, making it harder to teach and to connect personally with each student. These people, whose hearts are bigger than their bodies, pour every ounce of energy they have into children who are “educationally” their own.

Do you know a teacher who has gone above and beyond? Do you have a few minutes to tell us how that teacher has supported your child and others during the past year?

You have until Monday, January 25, 2021 at 5pm to submit a nomination. Thanks to Vern Eide, the winner of this prestigious award receives a $4,000 cash prize. While that prize is certainly a generous perk, we can guarantee that every nominee on the list will feel even richer just seeing their nomination and knowing their hard work is recognized and appreciated.

Challenges Spark Opportunities

November 2020

Every day we are faced with the possibility that every word spoken, and every action taken will be scrutinized through a political lens. While it is the right of every American to choose how they align their values, and with whom, it is also imperative that every citizen respects the rights of their neighbors to the same degree they value their own.

While our nation and the media continue to dissect the news of the day and the actions of those in power, your public schools are a place where we will continue to encourage diversity of thought and unity between people above divisiveness.

This year, we chose the theme of #together to characterize those values. As we face the ongoing challenges of COVID-19, we are stronger when we are #together, encouraging one another, serving each other, and caring for students. As we see the needs of our country and community, we are better when we seek to understand all viewpoints and choose to work #together for the common good.

Every day in our Sioux Falls classrooms, teachers are delivering meaningful lessons in the core content areas, in the arts, and in the subjects that teach students how to analyze and express their own ideas and viewpoints. As we teach the mathematical principles of Pythagorean Theory and the difference between a noun and a verb, we are also developing independent thinkers and the leaders of tomorrow. These lessons help students weigh information from many sources and use critical thinking skills to make important decisions throughout their lives.

As I meet with students across the district, I am continually encouraged and uplifted. They believe in the power of listening to others, understanding and building on the ideas of their peers to make things better, and respecting the value of diversity and the importance of inclusion. I believe if we invest well in these leaders of tomorrow, we have a brilliant future ahead for both Sioux Falls and our country.

These are challenging times, and from challenges come opportunities – in politics, in learning, and in life. Each day is a new opportunity in your public schools, and we are grateful for every moment we spend with your child, supporting them as they grow into a unique individual who will bring their gifts and talents to shape the future.

Our Work Amid COVID

October 2020

I recently worked on a document and before sending it, applied a watermark to indicate it was a DRAFT copy. You’ve probably all seen a document with a watermark at one point or another. You can clearly see the copy, but on every page the watermark serves as some type of reminder.

That’s how COVID feels this year. There is an ever-presence about it, yet we recognize other priorities can’t be overlooked.

  • Student achievement data must be to reviewed to guide instructional decisions.
  • Two new schools are opening next fall with construction going on every day.
  • Seniors are beginning to make post-graduation plans.
  • Decisions about summer program offerings are upon us.
  • Winter sports and activities will be starting just around the corner.
  • Work on the updated strategic plan begins second semester.

No matter what challenges lie in front of us, each day students, staff, and parents/guardians have an opportunity to get better. How can we incorporate a mindset of continuous improvement into everything we do? John Maxwell says that continuous improvement “comes to the steady people who keep working at getting better.” That means hour to hour, day to day, week to week, month to month, and year to year.

As stakeholder help the District envision the next strategic plan, a continuous strategic improvement mindset must be embedded in everything we do. But long before we have that document finalized, we can all be putting this firmly in place now, despite COVID or any other barrier.

  • Are more students present and engaged in their learning today than yesterday?
  • Did my child read more pages this week than last week?
  • Are we, as a family, focused on doing our best today with a goal of being even better tomorrow?

COVID has proven to be a challenge. But, we cannot let it win. As educators and parents, our work never ends – that’s the “continuous” in continuous improvement. We need to celebrate successes, and when we have the mindset of getting better, every day is an opportunity for celebration – for students, for staff, and for our district.

I’m trying to see the gray word in the background less and focus on the real work at hand more. I hope you will, too. Together, we’re going to keep moving forward and help our students do the same.

Public Schools Rise to Challenge

September 2020

Though daunting, at times, I am proud and humbled to say, “We are back!”

After months of planning, adjusting, and redefining education amid the Coronavirus pandemic, the Sioux Falls School District successfully opened the doors to smiling faces on August 27, 2020 following the March 13, 2020 closure.

Classrooms look a little different where plexiglass and PVC are now as common as desks. Dots and arrows guide the way on our floors, and face coverings that were added to school supply lists have now become a daily item and a fashion statement. While practices and protocols may be different, one thing has not changed.

Public schools continue to rise to the challenge.

The first tax-supported public school opened in Massachusetts in the late 1630s. Though it took the framers of the U.S. Constitution some work to ensure uniformity and access, public schools today largely operate on the same principles on which they were founded.

Horace Mann is often credited for the organization of public schooling. He believed:

1) the public should no longer remain ignorant; (2) that such education should be paid for, controlled, and sustained by an interested public; (3) that this education will be best provided in schools that embrace children from a variety of backgrounds; (4) that this education must be non-sectarian; (5) that this education must be taught by the spirit, methods, and discipline of a free society; and (6) that education should be provided by well-trained, professional teachers.

Those principles hold true today whether students are learning in a traditional classroom or virtually from their home. Time and again, in addition to teaching academics, public schools have added services to solve challenges in America. In recent history, public schools have:

  • Answered poverty concerns through nutritional breakfasts/lunches;
  • Added vocational training and a detailed focus on science, technology, engineering and math;
  • Ensured equitable access to education for all students, no matter their ability;
  • Educated students who did not speak English;
  • Provided nursing, counseling, and crisis-intervention services to improve social/emotional well-being;
  • Established safety protocols for protection from violence;
  • Expanded cultural understanding and embraced diversity.

Whenever a societal issue presents itself, public schools rise to the occasion, and never has this been more apparent than our current work to keep education going during the pandemic. Public schools are creative, responsive, and most importantly, inclusive. Any student who comes through our doors is provided with the opportunity to learn.

This is not the first nor the last time public schools will endure hardship and challenges. Thank you for standing with us as we navigate COVID-19 and for supporting our school district in so many ways! We stand ready to serve students and families now and in the days ahead no matter what comes our way.

We are #proudtobesfsd!

A Fall to Remember

August 2020

No matter the age or the circumstances, the start of a school year is always an exciting time. This year, however, could be one of the most memorable since few of us have ever returned to school during a pandemic! The Fall of 2020 will certainly be an unforgettable milestone in my career as I begin my role as superintendent of the Sioux Falls Public Schools.

It is a role I eagerly embrace, especially amid this challenging time. COVID-19 has touched the lives of all of us in some way. It has altered plans. It has renewed our focus on basic practices like washing our hands often. It has even helped some of us recognize we are not cut out to be teachers!

While I add that line to lighten the mood, it is true that COVID-19 has given us an opportunity to experience the value of a strong public education system. There is an “art” to teaching and to helping students use their knowledge to problem solve and think critically.

District leaders have been using their problem-solving skills all summer to reimagine classroom configurations, develop new routines for simple things like lunch and recess, and create staggered dismissal times and one-way hallways to relieve congestion during passing periods.

We have defined learning expectations and added technology to streamline communications and connections with students and families. These tools will be valuable whether we are offering education “in-person” in our classrooms, remotely where students learn from home, or through some type of hybrid calendar.

We have involved hundreds of stakeholders in our planning, including parents, teachers, principals, community members, local and state medical professionals, and too many more to mention. Preparations for this school year look different than preparations of the past. While classrooms will “look” a bit different this year, too, it is important to remember that school is still school, and we are all capable of doing our best!

Thank you for partnering with us. Welcome to the 2020-21 school year!

Superintendent of Sioux Falls Public Schools

July 2020

Greetings Parents, Staff, Students, and Stakeholders in the Sioux Falls School District! I am so honored to join this incredible District as, together, we continue moving forward to take teaching and learning to a new level of success in the next decade!

While I come to you from the State of Washington, I am a true Midwesterner with deep roots previously established in Minnesota and Nebraska, and family ties bring me back home. Transitioning to a new superintendency is challenging at any point, but transitioning during a global pandemic brings a whole new set of challenges - especially for a people person like me!

While meeting others over technology has become the "new norm," I much prefer face-to-face introductions and interactions. I'm looking forward to meeting our teachers and staff members when I visit schools and see all the ways they bring teaching and learning to live in the classrooms. I am also looking forward to the days when I can be a visible champion in the bleachers and auditorium seats to cheer on our Sioux Falls Public School students as they discover and develop their unique gifts and talents.

In the coming months and years, we'll work together to strengthen the already high-quality academic and extracurricular programs and I look forward to hearing your ideas and feedback because strong community support is vital to the continued growth of our students and our schools.

- Dr. Jane Stavem, Superintendent