Superintendent Column


Big picture

March 2023

Snow Days

February felt like a relative who stayed too long this year. You were glad to see them when they arrived, but you were more than happy to say goodbye when they left! As the calendar turns over to March, we all become aware of the short distance between now and the end of the school year.

The big unknown is whether it will continue to snow in March, and if it does, will we still attend school in June? State basketball tournaments have a way of conjuring up snow storms, but I am hopeful the spell will be dormant this year!

No matter how often we answer, I continue to hear the question - why don’t we build in days for snow days instead of making them up? Usually, it’s said with a bit of a tone that implies a lack of common sense or basic intellect, but I can assure you that there is a great deal of thought and planning by many people that goes into how our district deals with snow days.

School districts have to be accountable for the time missed due to multiple factors, including weather. First, we ensure that we meet state requirements for the number of minutes for student instruction. Second, we have contractual obligations to meet with staff.

We arrange the school year with a designated number of days, and if we “built-in” two extra days for snow, the end of the year would simply be two days longer. Those two additional days have to go somewhere during the year, which just pushes the end of the year out. If we didn’t need those two days, we would take them off, but speaking from experience, this adds a lot of confusion when calendars have already been published.

Our District's ending date stays unless we have a snow day. Everybody knows a day is simply added at the end when that happens. But this year is an outlier, and this is the most snow days we’ve had in recent history - 5.5 days.

So back we go to our requirements - do we have enough minutes built in for students, or do they need to make them up? If we don’t get any additional snow days, a proposal will go to the School Board for students to attend two additional days, May 25th and 26th. High schools will also plan ahead to account for semester tests and state track happening that week.

In addition to those additional dates, staff will fulfill their contractual obligations by attending May 30th, 31st, and June 1st. For future years, we may consider e-learning as a potential option for use during inclement weather days.

Is it ideal? No.

Does it work? Yes.

Do I want additional snow days? No

If we have them, will we make adjustments? Yes

This winter is a big reminder of some good life lessons for all of us:

  • Sometimes conditions just aren’t ideal, and we move forward.

  • Sometimes circumstances are outside our control, and we make the best of it and adjust.

  • Complaining doesn’t do any good, and at some point, you just have to pick up a shovel, and start clearing the driveway…again.

February 2023

Planning for the Future

The Sioux Falls School District strives daily to live out our mission “to educate and prepare each student to succeed in a changing world.” This is no small task, as more than 25,000 students count on us to deliver engaging lessons and encouragement each day. We pride ourselves on using the latest educational research to help students achieve their full potential.

One such area that requires forward-thinking is community growth and its impact on school enrollment. In 2018, voters agreed to support a $190 Million bond to build a high school and middle school to reduce overcrowding. We opened Jefferson High School and Ben Reifel Middle School in 2021. Another part of that plan included the construction of a new elementary school to address rapid growth on the west side of Sioux Falls. That school, slated to open in 2025, will be built on the same section of land already home to George McGovern Middle School.

During those 2018 community discussions and task force meetings, it became evident that small boundary adjustments would be needed to prepare for the new elementary school. Construction of apartments and single-family homes on the east and west edges of Sioux Falls is driving the need for those boundary adjustments.

The School Board reviewed a plan at the February work session to shift approximately 200 students to another school. Parents/Guardians from the impacted elementary schools – Rosa Parks, Anne Sullivan, Susan B. Anthony, Harvey Dunn, Renberg, and Hawthorne schools are invited to attend a question and answer session to learn more about the proposal. You can also click this link to view the proposal.

The School Board intends to vote on the final plan on Monday, February 27, 2023. Additional conversations about forward-thinking boundary adjustments will be needed this fall to ensure student success as we continue adapting to our growing community in 2025 and beyond.

We encourage families to review the proposals and attend meetings to learn more. Questions can also be submitted through the Let’s Talk! portal on our website:, where you can expect a response within 48 hours.

We understand that moving to a different school can be challenging, but we are proud to offer an excellent education at every one of our 35 schools. Growth is exciting. It means Sioux Falls is doing many things right. Your schools are proud to be partners in this growth.

December 2022

SFSD Heap of Happenings

By now, our bodies have somewhat adjusted to the shortage of daylight that comes with the winter season. The cold weather pushes most of us indoors for activities, yet the dream of a slower pace is quickly replaced by holiday concerts, long to-do lists, and for our high school students - preparing for semester tests.

The District Office doesn’t slow down either. This month, I wanted to share some exciting, education-related news with you that demonstrates our ongoing commitment to becoming THE BEST school district in the nation:

  • SFSD is delighted with the ongoing interest in the Avera Family Forum Series launched in September. After an out-of-state company approached SFSD about offering monthly sessions to support families, SFSD knew it had one of the best resources available just down the street. We contacted our partners at Avera Behavioral Health, and as we anticipated, they eagerly jumped at the opportunity to participate. Our first online collaboration in September focused on suicide prevention. In October, we tackled the topic of anxiety, and in November, we provided practical advice for parents on setting parameters with digital media. The 40-minute video had been viewed more than 700 times just two weeks after presenting the digital media topic. This video, along with others offered on the third Tuesday of each month, can be found at under the Counseling Services tab. This partnership is a perfect example of how schools and the community work together to benefit everyone.

  • Another exciting collaboration turns the spotlight on student ideas. SFSD is now accepting applications for participants in its first-ever TEDxYouth Event to be held in late March. Any high school SFSD student with a big idea and the drive to perfect it for a live audience is invited to apply. Judges will select 15 participants who will bring their ideas to the stage in a ticketed public performance. We’re excited to have the Sioux Falls Public Schools Education Foundation as our premier sponsor, along with Thad Giedd of Pinnacle Productions, whose talent has secured TEDx licensing for this Sioux Falls youth event. Student voices are critical to the success of our schools and our community, and I can’t wait to hear what’s on the minds of our selected speakers.

  • Top-notch students are always due in part to top-notch teachers, and the Sioux Falls School District is proud to employ so many of them! Nominations are now open for the 2023 Dr. John W. Harris Sioux Falls Teacher of the Year award sponsored by Vern Eide Motorcars. This is the 35th year for the award showcasing the never-give-up tenacity of teachers who believe in, encourage, and challenge students to stretch and grow daily. You’ve likely encountered one or more of them, so why not make a nomination today? The nomination is easy to complete by the January 16, 2023, deadline. The spring celebration is one of the best ways to show appreciation for an exemplary educator.

This update demonstrates our drive to support parents, students, and teachers, and as we close 2022, your public schools are eager to ring in another new year by giving our very best every day. Thank you for your partnership this semester!

November 2022

Building Up or Tearing Down

Raising children is difficult. Working with children can be difficult. But parenting and working with children can also be the most rewarding and meaningful things we can do.

When we care for our babies, we focus on their basic needs, and our entire lives are consumed with feeding and sleeping schedules. I often looked back and wondered why it was so hard to get something done when my children were babies when all they did was sit in one place and smile at me!

When we reach the toddler stage, we deal with busy hands and feet that require constant monitoring to keep children safe from power outlets, falling objects, and eating dog food. Well, maybe the dog food was just at my house! There are tantrums in the toy aisle, bargaining over candy in the grocery store checkout lanes, and the continual need for reteaching and redirection as we train children about what is right and wrong.

Finally, children are ready for school, and the focus shifts to helping them learn, dealing with friendships and social settings, and learning accountability and responsibility through activities and new challenges.

At last, independence arrives, and worries shift to safe driving, safe choices, and hoping they don’t head down a path that leads to failure or hinders their adult trajectory.

My youngest child graduated, and I felt this overwhelming relief. We had run the gauntlet and come out on the other side. Now I had to worry about my children from a distance. I would no longer be able to monitor their daily life, and it was time for them to be responsible for their adult choices.

When I think about the community of Sioux Falls and the Sioux Falls School District, I am continually amazed and reminded of so many things that have been put in place to support children and families through the journey of parenting and school. From essential resources to awesome activities, we live in this fantastic place where the focus is on helping families thrive.

As we look to the future, there are new challenges and opportunities, and for me, there is a clear line for determining what should become part of our Sioux Falls life.

  • Does it build kids and families up or tear them down?
  • Does it make it easier to be a child in Sioux Falls, or does it make it more difficult?
  • Does it help families thrive or create new avenues for challenges?

Every day, thousands of people come to work in Sioux Falls to make a difference in a child's life. It has never been easy work, and it never will be. Let’s make sure we’re doing everything possible to increase those things that make parenting and working with children better and reduce and eliminate obstacles to that goal whenever possible.

Our children depend on us for a bright future!

October 2022

SFSD Views & Voice

Maybe you’ve heard the phrase, “Don’t ask the question if you don’t want to know the answer.” Here in the Sioux Falls School District, we believe meaningful and two-way communication is invaluable to achieving our mission ‘to educate and prepare each student to succeed in a changing world.’ That’s why we are, once again, launching our SFSD Views & Voice surveys where students, parents, business partners, and community leaders can provide ideas to improve education in your public schools. We are committed to continuous improvement and feedback is truly important to us.

Recently, we surveyed parents and teachers for feedback on what went well and what could be improved specifically at the start of the school year. You responded in a BIG way! More than 1,200 parents gave us suggestions about how to improve traffic flow for pick-ups and drop-offs and provided ideas about teacher meet-and-greets, school pictures, and a host of other topics. Nearly 500 staff members took the opportunity to share details about their favorite in-service sessions and ideas that help them prepare their classrooms before students arrive on the first day.

While in-person communication is always favored, it is not always possible in a district of our size. Short surveys through SFSD Views & Voice provide a quick opportunity for you to share your thoughts on a specific topic each month. We value that feedback and rely on it to shape plans for the coming year. If you haven’t participated yet, there will be more opportunities this year as we are posing questions each month. We are asking the questions, and we want to know the answers!

Community engagement is a priority for us. We are committed to making improvements to the experiences you and your children have in our public schools. We are aiming to be the best school district in the nation, and with your input, we will continue working toward that goal.

September 2022

Same and Different

I was recently asked, “How was the start of the new school year?” My reply? “It was very normal!” As I said it, I realized how good it felt to have some of the concerns of the past two years fade into the rearview mirror and how wonderful it is to welcome our students and families with many of our traditions and events back up and running in true form.

Back-to-school activities abound and schedules have accelerated as we start to enjoy the many things our students are involved in at all levels. We want to make sure you don’t miss a thing, so be sure to download our school district app and visit our website at

Even without a pandemic, there are changes that happen every year as we adapt to the needs of a growing school district. Some of those changes are easy to deal with and others can be more challenging or have other factors that impact the pace, the complexity, or even the quality of the change.

Some big realities that continue to influence many things in our school district are workforce shortages and supply chain delays and disruptions. A wise person once told me there is a difference between problems and dilemmas. Problems can be solved, but dilemmas can only be managed. I would say both workforce and supply issues are dilemmas that we will have to deal with over time until they can be resolved at some point in the future.

We know we are not alone, and some of the daily challenges our school district faces are small in comparison to other places across the country. We were able to start school on time with a regular schedule. We are able to provide bus transportation. We have a school nutrition program at all schools.

Those things sound simple and part of regular school district expectations, yet significant changes and cutbacks are happening in many places, even to the point of full elimination of some basic services. My hope is that we won’t be faced with decisions that feel catastrophic, and that over time, we are able to fill all open positions and restore our regular flow of supplies and services.

Even with the challenges and opportunities of each day, we know one thing stays the same - students come to school for an education, to be with their friends, and to learn and grow as they develop their gifts and talents.

We’re glad you’re part of the Sioux Falls School District, and as we move through the school year, we hope you’re taking the time to connect with your child’s school and with other families. We appreciate your patience as we continue to implement many changes this year - all with the goal of improving your SFSD experience.