Superintendent Column


Big picture

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