Officials at local schools say education scene in Mitchell remains strong
School leaders give update on state of the schools
MITCHELL — The state of education in Mitchell is strong.
That was the takeaway from the State of the Schools luncheon Thursday afternoon at Dakota Wesleyan University, where officials with the Mitchell School District, Mitchell Technical College and DWU presented reports on each individual institution to members of the public.
The program, sponsored by the Mitchell Chamber of Commerce Government Affairs Committee, is a chance for school leaders to provide information and updates in a casual setting with the public.
“Part of our community planning is to boast about the educational opportunities we have in Mitchell, and we first need to start here at home and let our community know what we have to offer so they can also help the institutions and the city and chamber disperse that information,” said Tiffany Batdorf, director for the Mitchell Chamber of Commerce and the Convention and Visitors Bureau. “They’re our best outlet to get the word out and everything is going well in our educational world."
Mitchell School District
The program opened with Joe Childs, the interim superintendent for the Mitchell School District.
The district is in the midst of several changes, including the recent departure of longtime superintendent Joe Graves and the recent approval of a base bid to build a new Mitchell High School building.
But there are also other factors to celebrate, such as the continuing strong academic performance of Mitchell Public School students. Mitchell students continue to exceed average test scores on common high-level tests, such as the ACT.
“We do a lot of testing, but if you spend enough time in education, the state tests change and the benchmarks change,” Childs told the audience. “We often rely on the ACT test, which is widely taken across the state and it gives good data. Mitchell is doing a fine job and scores well above the state average.”
Mitchell High School seniors continue to find their way to the next phase of their lives, with many going into post-secondary education. Childs said 77% of students go on to post-secondary education, 16% enter the workforce, 4% enter the military and 3% graduate undecided or pursue other pathways.
Many of those students, about 42% of graduates, stay in Mitchell and pursue further education at either Mitchell Technical College or Dakota Wesleyan University. That number has increased over the past several decades, said Childs, a DWU graduate.
“They’re staying in Mitchell and that wasn’t the case in the mid-1990s. There weren’t a heck of a lot of Mitchell kids at DWU at the time. It was a hurdle and we’ve cleared it by a ways,” Childs said.
Childs also gave a breakdown of the high school building project that was officially set in motion with the Mitchell Board of Education approval of the project base bid in late January. The project encompasses about 140,000 square feet of structure that will bring modern classrooms and learning spaces to a district that hasn’t built a new high school since 1962.
The athletic portion of the proposed project was not included in that base bid. That means the board of education will need to find alternative funding sources to complete the project as envisioned. Those plans could include a public bond issue, but Childs said one thing is known for certain: more athletic space is needed.
“The building was built in 1962, and in 1962 we had four male sports: football, wrestling, basketball and track,” Childs said. “We have five times as many sports as we did, and five times more students competing.”
Mitchell Technical College
Carol Grode-Hanks, who serves as vice president for academics at Mitchell Technical College, said that while much has stayed the same at the institution over the years, there have been major steps forward as well.
“Our demographics have been mostly the same. I feel like I say the same thing year after a year, which isn’t a bad thing, really,” Grode-Hanks said.
Student demographics, for example, have stayed relatively the same. Most students come from within a 75 mile radius of Mitchell. In terms of students, 65% are male and 35 are female. While the school is always looking to increase female student numbers, the current numbers are relatively reflective of that demographic dating back to the school’s founding in 1968.
Students from South Dakota make up about 88% of students, Grode-Hanks said.
The top programs at the school remain electrical construction and maintenance, agricultural technology, powerline construction and maintenance, accounting and business management and welding and manufacturing.
Grode-Hanks echoed some of Child’s comments when she talked about the cooperative efforts between local educational institutions. She mentioned a program where Mitchell Tech students can experience some of the programs at DWU, such as athletics, while still studying in Mitchell Tech programs. There are also 140 students at Mitchell High School who are taking advantage of the dual enrollment program.
“There are such great partnerships we have. There are students at Mitchell Tech who are earning specialized degrees who also want the four-year experiences, such as playing sports and collegiate life, but who also want to go into ag or construction or geo spatial or culinary,” Grode-Hanks said. “We have those specialties at Mitchell Tech. It’s been great. It’s all about building those relationships.”
Those partnerships extend to businesses in the community, with whom Mitchell Tech has cultivated over the years to the mutual benefit of students and workers on the job. Those partnerships include cooperation with entities such as LifeQuest, Riverside Industries, C&B Operations, POET and South Dakota State University Extension.
Grode-Hanks also noted several upcoming building and expansion projects, including a campus drainage project, an addition to the Norby Trades Center, expansion of the radiologic technology program and a remodeling project set for the nursing program.
In the end, the symbiotic relationship between Mitchell Tech, its fellow educational institutions and the community at large makes everyone stronger, she said.
“We’re doing it right here in Mitchell. The community is what makes us stronger with all the support we have locally, the governor’s office and our alumni, as well,” Grode-Hanks said.
Dakota Wesleyan University
Dakota Wesleyan University has seen the diversification of the student body over recent years, said Fredel Thomas, vice president of admissions and marketing at Dakota Wesleyan University.
There are about 900 students enrolled at DWU, and those students now come in a variety of styles. There are traditional undergrads right there on campus, but there are also online students, hybrid students in Pierre and Sioux Falls and certificate programs.
Thomas said she’s heard from officials at other schools and realized that DWU was ahead of the curve in this diversification.
“Speaking with colleagues — DWU is ahead in this game,” Thomas said. “It’s nice that we have started diversifying already. We serve all kinds of markets with these.”
Student stats also paint a nice picture of how Dakota Wesleyan students and graduates are performing in the real world. According to Thomas, 96% of graduates are employed full-time or attending grad school, there is a 100% placement rate at the school for teachers and nurses and 60% of Dakota Wesleyan University graduates have stayed in South Dakota over the last 10 years.
Thomas also noted a recent Mitchell Republic story that showed Dakota Wesleyan had 282 varsity athletes, with 148 being natives of South Dakota, a rate of 52%. That’s higher than some comparable programs, such as Mount Marty University and Presentation College in Aberdeen, which recently announced that it was ceasing operations at the end of the summer.
Top programs for the school continue to be studies in business, nursing, athletic training, natural sciences and criminal science and psychology. The school is also making headway in some unique programs, such as its practical church leadership program, which helps seminary graduates grasp the complexities of general church and people management.
“Pastors who graduate from seminary are theologically trained, but not so much in fundraising, human resources and people management,” Thomas said.
That program is growing both in participation and across denominational barriers, she said, with the school first focusing on the Methodist tradition before seeing other denominations show interest.
“(The program started) with Methodists, but now the Lutherans want in,” Thomas said, raising a laugh from the gathered audience. “It’s very, very unique. They do certification that have an impact right away in the churches that they’re serving. Many of those pastors finish their certificate and go right into enrolling into our MBA program.”
Dakota Wesleyan University has also entered into a Teach-Out arrangement with Presentation College, the first South Dakota university to do so, though others have since come on board. That agreement could see an influx of new students from the closing Presentation College coming to DWU in order to finish up their education.
It’s a bittersweet time, Thomas said, as nobody in the education world celebrates the closing of another school. But students interested in coming to DWU will find a solid institution, whether it be in academics or athletics.
“Many, many programs align nicely. It’s a somber time, I’m not going to lie, but I also feel like we can be a nice option for them,” Thomas said.
Batdorf said the yearly roundup of information from the three educational entities is an important source of information for the public. That public, with its individuals and businesses, is crucial to helping foster a strong educational environment in Mitchell, as well as spreading the word to others across the state.
It’s a partnership that continues to benefit the students and community of Mitchell, Batdorf said.
“There are a lot of things that are going well. To me, it’s just another reminder to everyone that we have a great community and partnerships that are working here,” Batdorf said. “To see them continue to build is something we need to be excited about and get behind.”