TEA, S.D. (KELO) – An elementary school principal in Tea is being recognized nationally for her dedication to her students as the 2023 South Dakota National Distinguished Principal Honoree.

Samantha Walder has been the principal of Legacy Elementary in Tea for five years. While she’s just now getting recognized nationally for her dedication to education — her teachers have seen it all along.

“We’re just thankful she’s always looking for new ideas and collaborating and getting our input as well,” fourth grade teacher Kristi Desaulniers said.

In a school of over 500 students, one of the ways Walder has been innovative is by using social media to connect parents with what is happening.

“As we have really one of the youngest, the youngest communities in the state — according to our last census, Tea Area has a much lower average age — we know that we need to reach families in a different way,” Walder said.

Her work goes beyond these hallways too as the president of the South Dakota Elementary Principal’s Association as an advocate for her teachers.

“I was able to serve on the social studies revision commission last summer and with that, I was able to, you know, promote concerns that were brought up about some of the things that were happening. I think that that’s extremely important for us to be advocates,” Walder said.

“As a fourth grade team, my teammates here, we very much are promoting South Dakota history in our grade level and Dr. Walder was very instrumental in helping secure funding for an artist in residence,” Desaulniers said.

Walder doesn’t take all of the credit for herself either.

“Being recognized by my peers is wonderful but it’s the whole team here at Legacy that makes those kinds of changes and innovative practices possible. It’s not just one person’s effort, it’s everybody’s effort together,” Walder said.

Throughout her five years at Legacy Elementary, Walder has handled transitional challenges as the Tea area grew, prompting the school district to split elementary students up into two schools.

The executive director of the School Administrators of South Dakota says Legacy Elementary is one of the fastest growing elementary schools in the state.