SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — A new high school, new middle school, and a lot of building updates in between. The Sioux Falls Schools superintendent has overseen a lot of growth, but says that isn’t the accomplishment he’ll remember most. Brian Maher will officially resign from superintendent in just a few days. He just announced he will become the new executive director and chief executive officer of the South Dakota Board of Regents. He’s looking back at his five years as the leader of the state’s largest district and looking ahead to what he says will strengthen education for students.
To understand the educator who is passionate about shaping the future for students, you have to look at Maher’s past.
“My dad had a sixth grade education. And was a custodian, raised a family of seven. But he knew how to work,” Maher said.
Maher says his dad treated everyone equally.
“Seeing him and watching him work, seeing how he treated people. Seeing how he was treated as a custodian. And I think those left some real marks on me,” Maher said.
These traits continue to be Maher’s guiding principles in his career. He says the move to the Board of Regents will put him in the student’s chair, because he plans to listen and learn when he starts next month.
“I’ve been inundated in K12 education for my entire professional career. Now to make the leap to higher education means I’ve got to make a leap in my learning,” Maher said.
It’s not the first time Maher has made a big career move. In 2015, he left his role as Superintendent of schools in Kearney, Nebraska. His resume in Sioux Falls includes helping convince voters to pass a $190 million bond to build Jefferson High School and Ben Reifel Middle School. He has also overseen shaping new boundaries in the district. However, he considers boosting the graduation rate to be his biggest accomplishment here.
“We did it right, in my opinion. We did it without reducing rigor. We didn’t reduce requirements,” Maher said.
According to the district, the graduation rate in 2018-19 increased to 84%, which is a 3.4% increase since the 2015-16 school year.
“Think about those individuals who have a high school diploma who otherwise wouldn’t have had one. I would rank that up there above the brick and mortar and cool factor with passing the bond issue,” Maher said.
Former school board president Kent Alberty was on the board that hired Maher, and says his years of experience as superintendent were evident.
“He was able to hit the ground running, because of that and know what expectations of the job were going to be,” Alberty said.
As for what’s next for the district, Maher says he would like to see his successor continue to boost graduation rates, educate the public on new boundaries, and improve race relations within the schools.
“When you see things in the community, and you wonder if they’re going on in the school system, you need not wonder. Our school system is reflective of the city of Sioux Falls,” Maher said.
Jane Stavem, a superintendent in Washington will replace Maher on July 1st. Alberty says Maher has helped pave the way for any further improvements in the district.
“It’s been his leadership style. His management style that has helped the success of the district. Bottom line, we have better employee management we have better employee morale. And, in the end, that then helps to make sure all of the kids that are students in the district get a better education,” Alberty said.
However, if you ask Maher, he is quick to point out progress isn’t just about the superintendent.
“Here’s what I’d want people to do. Whether they remember me or not would be irrelevant. But, if they would remember this, and that is to take care of themselves, to take care of others, and subsequently take care of this place,” Maher said.
Maher says it takes a team, and everyone is equally important.
“We all have our water to carry, and the water I carry is no more important than the water the custodians carry or the education assistants carry or that the teachers carry,” Maher said.