PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — South Dakota has a new secretary in the Department of Education after Tiffany Sanderson left the position to be president at Lake Area Technical College.

Joseph Graves is ready to serve students and educators across the state in his new role.

“I just love a challenge, and I love a learning curve, so this has allowed me to have to engage and learn just a ton of things. The last six days have borne that out, and so I’m just excited to be in the role. I’m excited to see what I can make of it and if I can actually make some changes that are positive for the students of the state,” Graves said.

Graves has been in education for 37 years and was superintendent at the Mitchell School District for almost 23 of those. He started in this new position on January 10.

“Right now, and I would hope for a good long time, I can understand the challenges of the educational process because I’ve been there. I’ve been a teacher, I’ve been a principal, I’ve been a superintendent, and so hopefully I can bring that to bear. And hopefully that will also earn me the trust of my fellow educators,” Graves said.

Joe Childs, who is principal of Mitchell High School and now interim superintendent, worked with Graves for 17 years. He says Graves’ leadership and work ethic will carry over into the new position.

“Dr. Graves, for one, is willing to do as much work as it takes to get the job done. He doesn’t shy away from that. He’s extremely well-informed. And because of that, he keeps his administrative team and his school board members well informed so that they can make decisions with the most information that they need to do so,” Childs says.

Graves says there are a number of issues he’d like to focus on.

“We had learning loss during the pandemic. Our proficiency rates have fallen since then. They’re starting to recover, but we need to refocus on that. And one of the biggest issues in there right now that we’re seeing that we’re not recovering on is absenteeism, so our student absenteeism rates have fallen,” Graves said.

He also talked about addressing the teacher shortage, and of course, the proposed social studies standards.

“We need to find some way to bring people together and get them trained and whatever the standards happen to be, move forward and do so in a positive manner,” Graves said.

Graves is still helping the Mitchell School District some during this transition through the end of this month, including the planning and building of a new high school there.