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Education Reform

June 12, 2012, 8:58 PM by Erich Schaffhauser

Education Reform

Education reform in South Dakota, including reward pay for top teachers and bonuses for those teaching math and science, is moving forward.

The controversial measure made it through the South Dakota Legislature and now the state is working on implementing the law in the schools, even though it may not make it past voters in November.

A committee tied to the new education law is meeting this week. Many more meetings connected to the law will come.

"There were six committees that were identified within the bill. And we have three that have been officially appointed," Education Secretary Melody Schopp said.

Schopp says the groups should give guidance to districts throughout the state when their meetings are done.

Within House Bill 1234 are some mandates mixed with flexibility. The groups should come up with different models so districts have a better idea of what they can and can't do within the law.

"I think there are a lot of school districts including ours that are waiting for that guidance to see exactly what will be allowed and what won't be so we can decide what direction we're going to go with that," Parkston Superintendent Shayne McIntosh said.

McIntosh is on a committee that's working with plans for teacher evaluation.  There's another for principal evaluations. There's a group that will come up with different ways to use money sent to schools for reward pay and another to approve or deny plans that districts come up with on their own.

Then there's a board for the portion of the bill that provides scholarships to students studying to fill teaching positions in needed fields. And there's a council to work with education reform as a whole.

When talking with committee members Tuesday, Schopp said she's going to check in with them but not dictate their work.

"It comes from the field, comes from teachers; it comes from educators; it comes from school board members who are on the ground working," Schopp said.

As the committees meet in the coming months, the South Dakota Department of Education is fully aware that the new law could end up going to a public vote and might not pass.

But Schopp says she'd rather be criticized for being aggressive than for sitting around and waiting. And Schopp argues that a lot of good can come from the meetings, even if the law doesn't make it past November.

"When you get educators together and we're talking about education, we're talking about ways we can improve and move our education forward in South Dakota.  This work is going to be really informing, really important,” Schopp said. “None of it's lost."

Schopp hopes the meetings will serve to inform the education field how this law can be molded to fit schools in different situations. The committees are made up of members from different areas in the state and various sized schools.

"It's not going to be just a one-size-fits-all, state-mandated plan that we're putting in front of them," Schopp said.

Different model plans committees come up with, Schopp says, will only be guides. Districts can tweak them to fit individual needs.

"Because we have districts from very tiny districts to very large districts we'll definitely have a variance in what they are thinking they want to do," Schopp said.

As he waits to see what comes of all the meetings and how his district can move forward, McIntosh is happy he'll have input on the teaching evaluation portion.

"We're always looking for ways to improve instruction and the teacher being the number one source of that. If we can find new ways to help them improve, that's always the goal," McIntosh said.

Schopp appointed the committee members after taking nominations and seeking feedback from districts, community members and legislators.

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