Start of the second half

Blake Gardner

We are in the fourth week of the second semester and we have been busy. At the time of submission, we are still without a positive student or staff COVID case in the second semester. I encourage everyone to stay vigilant to ensure that we continue to trend downward as a state by washing our hands, wearing a mask if you can’t social distance and staying home if you are even minimally ill. Our low COVID numbers have allowed our school district to keep our focus on educating our kids to the best of our ability, which is in-person five days per week.

Our STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) program has received grants and continues to be a priority in our district.  Mr. Ronish was awarded a grant that would give our district drones that will have the ability to serve many functions, including mapping our community. The program is geared toward facilitating mentorship between high school and lower level students. Exxon also provided a grant to our STEM program to advance our makerspace.

Next fall, one of my goals is to have an open house event that will allow community members to come on campus and get a tour of our facilities. Many people in this community have never stepped foot in the school, STEM lab or the gymnasium. We have a wonderful community and our taxpayers provide tremendous support. In addition to being one of the top schools academically, I would love for everyone to come to our campus and see the amazing return on their investment.

I have been busy with different committee meetings ranging from technology, transportation and the calendar. As we look at the 2021-2022 calendar, our team prioritized indicators that would guide our calendar creation. First, what’s the best calendar for our kids? Second, what’s the best calendar for our teacher instruction? Third, what’s the best calendar for our parents? Fourth, what’s the best calendar for our community and stakeholders? Each one is important to us and we are taking those into account as we develop a good calendar.

PIPTO will meet on Feb. 9 in the elementary commons area at 3:15 p.m. I am inviting anyone reading this to attend. Childcare is provided for those who have little ones. PIPTO does some amazing things for our students, teachers and parents so the more ideas we can share the better.

We will complete a school safety and security audit next week with Brett Garland from the Department of Homeland Security. We believe it is important to continually evaluate our school security and safety and we are very lucky to have a neutral observer from the Department of Homeland Security.  Our district is A.L.I.C.E trained, and we perform a couple drills per year. We have buzz doors, security cameras, upgraded intercom systems in the elementary and, while we are not perfect, we are continuously improving.

The legislative session in Pierre is in full swing. Our representatives for District 30 are Tim Goodwin (Hill City), Trish Ladner (Hot Springs) and Julie Frye-Mueller (Rapid City). I serve as a delegate for the state superintendent’s group and will be in Pierre in February to advocate for education. There aren’t many controversial education bills dropped for this session yet, but I want to assure all of our stakeholders that civics is being taught in Hill City. We embed civics into all of our social studies courses that kids at nearly every grade level take. Trust me, civics is being taught in Hill City! I had our social studies teachers create a list of the civics concepts that are taught in their classes, and I will share that with anyone upon request.

Hill City finished third out of 149 schools that took the ACT scores taken last spring. Arlington and Chester finished ahead of Hill City, but over the last three years our school has ranked in the top five every year! In general, South Dakota experienced fewer students take the ACT because of COVID and about a third of our graduating class took the exam. Our average was 23.82, which is two points greater than the state average.

This is my 15th year in the Hill City School District and I have always known we are one of the best schools in South Dakota. I love that indicators such as the ACT and School Performance Index support my belief! It is a blessing to serve as superintendent of this amazing school. We have awesome teachers, smart kids, supportive parents and an engaged community. We are all on the same team with the same goal: the best education for our kids!

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