Eye on KELOLAND: Nebelsick’s lessons and legacy


HURON, S.D. (KELO) — A fixture in South Dakota education is retiring; Huron School District Superintendent Terry Nebelsick’s final day is June 30. He says a new chapter is upon him.

“There’s a time and a season for everything,” Nebelsick said. “I turn 65 this summer, we’ve been in school 42 out of the last 44 years across various parts of South Dakota, and when we could retire with relatively good health for our age and dedicate things more to family and adventures of she and I getting to travel across the United States, we just soon do that while we’re healthy, so it’s time.”

He’s been superintendent since 2011. Prior to that he was principal at Huron High School for 17 years. He’s seen the rise of the internet and the prominence of the digital age.

“The dramatic thing has been, can you stay focused on the love for children while the means of communicating with them and the means of educating them changes, because if you allow change to take place so that you’re just a technology machine and not creating relationships with children, you’ve lost the essence of teaching,” Nebelsick said.

He sees core truths.

“There’s that much that has not changed since day one,” Nebelsick said. “Every kid deserves to be loved, no matter what their background, no matter their hurts, no matter their setbacks, they deserve to be loved.”

Recently he has experienced the dramatic challenges to education resulting from a pandemic.

“When kids need support, they need relationships with people who are there for them,” Nebelsick said. “If you’ve got a huge support base at home, and you’ve got some access to technology and quite frankly some access to educational experiences, then you’ll be fine. But many, many children do not have that.”

He doesn’t dismiss technology.

“Yes, we want the technology ready for those kind of outreaches when necessary but I’ll go down as an absolute advocate for person-to-person teaching,” Nebelsick said. “That’s really what the essence of teaching and learning is all about.”

Huron School Board President Tim Van Berkum says Nebelsick’s legacy in the community includes belief.

“When he took over, confidence was at an all-time low in our district, and he’s built that up,” Van Berkum said. “He’s been a great advocate for our district over the years, whether it was getting ESL funding locked in place permanently.”

Asked about his legacy with the district, Nebelsick brings up concern for diversity of thought.

“I hope that when people reflect back that they see that I tried to understand where everybody was coming from,” Nebelsick said. “I tried to be as respectful of people who were angry as I was of people who were happy, and I have tried to remember that most conflict comes from people loving their children so much that the emotional tie to their love is bigger than the issue we’re trying to deal with.”

He also highlights diversity among the students.

“We’ve become a school that looks like the world rather than looks like rural South Dakota and that has been one of the great blessings of my professional life was to be able to have that kind of an experience during the quarter century that we’ve lived here,” Nebelsick said.

Communities and kids become who they’ll be because of leaders investing and believing in them.

“I just want you to know that for Diana and I to raise our three children here and then spend the rest of our career here, we love this community,” Nebelsick said.

“How much he loves our district, loves the kids, treats everyone fair, just highly respected as an individual and a leader, very trustworthy, too,” Van Berkum said.

“We’ve really been blessed, and we just want the Huron community to know how fortunate and thankful we are,” Nebelsick said.

The new Huron School District superintendent will be Kraig Steinhoff, who has been a superintendent in Oaks, N.D.

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