Tyler settling in as Mitchell Middle School principal

Mitchell native reflects on first semester as administrator for MMS

Mitchell Middle School Principal John Tyler is adjusting to his new role after being a longtime teacher in the Wagner Community School District. (Matt Gade / Republic)

Like many administrators do when they take a position at a new school, John Tyler decided he needed to acquaint himself with the building he would now be overseeing.

Or in his case, reacquaint himself.

“I’ve been kind of relearning the (Mitchell Middle School) building. I did attend middle school here, but it’s almost been 30 years,” Tyler told the Mitchell Republic. “You know, the building has not changed drastically. I think when they built it, they did it right. It’s stood the test of time.”

Of course, there have been some changes. The swimming pool has been filled in and replaced with a basketball court, and Tyler, a Mitchell native who took the position of principal at the school after 21 years in the Wagner Community School District, still remembers certain classrooms by the teachers who occupied them during his time at Mitchell Middle School as a student.

Tyler took over as principal at the school July 1, stepping in for Justin Zajic, who left the district to take over as superintendent of the Chamberlain School District. He taught primarily math in Wagner, but has been involved in multiple aspects of the district, including coaching wrestling for 21 years and track for 15 years.


And thankfully, despite the changing faces at Mitchell Middle School, some things tend to remain the same.

“Once we got the kids in the building in August, the routine of the day set in, and I was able to get into the classrooms and spend more time with teachers and students,” Tyler said.

Those first few months helped him settle into his new positions and surroundings, and thankfully, the full impact of COVID-19 had yet to make its mark on Mitchell Middle School. He’s grateful for that short time frame in which he was able to concentrate on learning names, faces and procedures instead of worrying constantly about disease control.

“I’m thankful that August, September and most of October I did not have to spend a lot of time dealing with those issues. (Late) October and November have been a different story, but it was awfully nice in the year of 2020, dealing with COVID-19, that I was able to get a good month and a half under my belt with the kids in the building before starting to see an uptick in cases,” Tyler said.

He has developed a knack for learning names after more than two decades in the classroom, but he admits learning 700 names in a single semester is a significant challenge, and one that he will likely be working on for some time. Learning about his staff was also a high priority entering his first year.

And he soon found out he inherited a great faculty and staff, and that has helped guide him through the early part of a new stage in his career.

“I got lucky in the fact that not only am I new to the school, but also so is my assistant principal, Bobby Reindl, who came over from Longfellow Elementary. He knows a lot of the district ins and outs, and he’s willing to take on anything. We are learning together on the go as first-time administrators,” Tyler said.

A new administration is going to bring about changes, and Tyler said his arrival at Mitchell Middle School is no different. He said he wants to continue the development of culture at the school and on making it a place where students want to go and parents want to send their children.


“One of my goals was to work on the culture of the building. I want Mitchell Middle School to be a place where they want to go to school and where parents want to send their kids. I really want to build on that. I want this to be a place where people want to be,” Tyler said.

Of course, COVID-19 has thrown a curve ball into some of those plans, but he praises the students and staff for their flexibility and understanding when it comes to mitigating the spread of the disease. When students are required to be sent home due to symptoms or quarantine requirements, they tend to do so quickly and with an eye on not missing any time with their classes.

“The kids have done an outstanding job of adjusting. They go home, and I have had teachers tell me that after sending them home at 9 a.m., they are logged into their eLearning class at 9:15 a.m.,” Tyler said.

He said without a doubt, addressing the COVID-19 crisis has been the most dominant aspect of the new school year. While the early months of the 2020-21 school year were relatively slow in regard to the disease, the spread picked up at the school, as it did in much of the rest of the district and other schools statewide. While many students were out for a period of time, Tyler, 46, was happy to see a large swath of those students return after the Thanksgiving break.

“Today we are up 52 students in the building from the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. We got a ton of kids back from quarantine over the holiday break, and I’m hoping we can maintain those numbers” Tyler said. “I know COVID-19 is part of our life now, it’s not going away in the short term, but I sure hope we can continue to address it. The kids and teachers have done an outstanding job. I cannot tell you how amazing the staff has been working with parents and kids.”

While COVID-19 has soured his arrival somewhat, there have been highlights as well. Mitchell Middle School teacher Amanda Hargreaves was named South Dakota Teacher of the Year earlier in 2020, and Tyler said he’s grateful for professionals like her who bring their talents to the classroom. He said he sees traits similar to those that serve Hargreaves so well in other teachers in the building, as well.

“As happy as I was for Amanda, I truly believe we have multiple teachers here that could vie for that title any day of the week. I’m blown away by the staff,” Tyler said.

While the pandemic has affected the local educational system, it has also impacted social life in Mitchell. Used to being heavily involved in the community -- Tyler served on the Wagner City Council and the volunteer fire department -- stepping back into his hometown culture has also been throttled by COVID-19.


Fortunately, his family remains close. His wife Amy serves as an assistant volleyball coach with the district, and his three children all attend school in Mitchell, either in the Mitchell School District or Dakota Wesleyan University, which is also his alma mater. It keeps everybody busy, but he’s also anxious to get back into life in Mitchell.

“We’re definitely looking forward to being more active and involved in the community, but COVID-19 has thrown such a monkey wrench into the works for community plans,” Tyler said.

There is plenty of work for Tyler as he continues to navigate the school through uncertain times. With administration, staff, students and parents all on the same page, he hopes the 2020-21 school year will be successful and a springboard to better days ahead.

“One of my philosophies is to try to be better than the day before. As a school I hope we can do a little better each day,” Tyler said. “I have a feeling we’ll be dealing with the social and emotional factors dealing with COVID-19 for far longer than this virus will be around. I hope we can help kids understand that this is a crazy year and that we want to get back to normal. We’re going to take it one day at a time and we’re going to make the decisions that are best for them, and hopefully we can look back on this year and say we did the best we could, and did a pretty good job all things considered.”

Erik Kaufman joined the Mitchell Republic in July of 2019 as an education and features reporter. He grew up in Freeman, S.D., graduating from Freeman High School. He graduated from the University of South Dakota in 1999 with a major in English and a minor in computer science. He can be reached at
What To Read Next
Get Local