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For evaluating school administrators, state board approves softer approach

PIERRE — State government's Board of Education Standards gave more flexibility to school superintendents in evaluating their principals and assistant principals Monday.

State board members made rules broader because superintendents said they wanted more local control.

School districts would still need to adopt an evaluation system based on standards that are in state rules, according to Becky Nelson. She is division director for learning and instruction in the state Department of Education.

But, Nelson said, there won't be requirements that school districts issue professional-practice ratings for principals or assistant principals.

She said school districts also won't be required to rate principals and assistant principals on school-growth goals.

Nelson rewrote those parts of the proposed rules during a break Monday morning.

That came after state board members took telephone testimony on behalf of 10 superintendents gathered in Chamberlain. Watertown Superintendent Jeff Danielsen spoke for the group.

"We feel like the principal effectiveness model should be a recommended model but not a required model," he said.

Danielsen is incoming president for the South Dakota School Superintendents Association.

He said the group's executive board confirmed its position in April and there wasn't any wavering Sunday night when they discussed the topic again.

"We realize we can ask for waivers but we feel we should not have to," said Baltic Superintendent Bob Sittig. "We urge you to not pass this rule."

The state board adopted the amended proposals on a voice vote without opposition. The next step is acceptance by the Legislature's Rules Review Committee.

Don Kirkegaard, the state board's president, said it would be important to have the changes in place before students return in August.

As superintendent for the Meade School District, Kirkegaard said he has used the district's process and the state's process.

"I truly believe we are doing it to the schools and not for the schools," Kirkegaard said. "The gamut of schools in South Dakota wants more flexibility."

Milbank Superintendent Tim Graf said they prefer a recommended model but want flexibility for districts to handle evaluations "according to their own local needs."

Board members generally sided with the superintendents.

"Changes are required, from what I can see," Gopal Vyas, of Mitchell said.

"We need to take into consideration what the superintendents have said," Sue Aguilar, of Sioux Falls said.

Nelson said approximately 12 districts currently have waivers. Those districts' officials had to convince department officials the local approaches aligned with the state standards, Nelson said.

South Dakota has approximately 150 public school districts.

"The reality is, there's a lot of schools that are just ready to start the (waiver) process," Kirkegaard said. "It was happening, but maybe not as much."

Several board members praised Nelson when they considered her revised changes later in the meeting.

"I think you really hit what we heard earlier," Kirkegaard said. "This gives them the flexibility."

"Kudos. Well done," Kay Schallenkamp, of Spearfish, said.