Cynthia Mickelson has been on the Sioux Falls School Board since 2017, but this summer, her seat will be filled by someone new. Sioux Falls Simplified caught up with Mickelson about her time on the board, what she's most proud of and what's next.
Answers are edited for length and clarity.
How did you “get smart” about the Sioux Falls school board? What in your background most prepared you for your six years on the board?
Many meetings with school board members past and present, PTOs/PTAs, principals, teachers, administrators and legislators.
Probably practicing transactional law in my legal career.
- You are always looking for solutions instead of just saying, no this cannot be done or this is how we have always done something.
Furthermore, it teaches you to ask questions and listen to those you are involved with the transaction.
- My mentor also had a rule about communication: we must respond to a client within 24 hours of them contacting us. Even if we did not have an answer, just to let them know we had received their question/concern and to give them context as to when we would be able to assist them or provide the answer.
We’re all about simplicity here. Can you describe what the Sioux Falls school board does in 10 words or less?
Listen to all stakeholders and formulate action within budget.
Reflecting back on your term, what’s something you’re particularly proud of being a part of?
Relationship building with communication even when there were difficult conversations to be made – re-drawing boundaries, dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, etc.
- This includes within the board since we can only operate successfully if we are healthy. None of us are an island, we must operate with consensus.
To get more specific, there are many, but I'll focus on three:
- The ($180 million bond to build new schools) process that was overwhelmingly supported by our community.
- Implementing the Community Learning Center model to improve after school programming for the community of Sioux Falls.
- Working with Promising Futures Fund to add additional supports to our school district in reading, graduation rate and educational access.
What’s your advice for whoever takes your seat?
Meet with as many people as you can to gain knowledge and listen, then see where you can effect change.
School board elections historically have very low voter turnout. What would you say to Sioux Falls voters to encourage them to vote?
Public education is necessary, and a good school district equals a good community. Pay attention, and be engaged so that Sioux Falls does not become a donut community.
If you could snap your fingers and add a new resource or facility to the Sioux Falls school district, what would it be?
Well, there is no name for this resource, but I'd choose the imbedded fortitude in our students and parents to know the importance of attendance and showing up prepared every day.
- I know many of our students have circumstances beyond their control. However, we see many who do not have those difficulties still not appreciating the importance of attendance. Unfortunately, this is a nationwide (and statewide) problem, not just a Sioux Falls issue.
What’s next for you? And any final thoughts about your tenure on the board?
No big plans at this time.
- I will still be involved with Promising Futures Fund, so I will be involved in the Sioux Falls School District and an advocate for public education.
I thank the community of Sioux Falls for allowing me to serve in this role, I have greatly enjoyed it and feel extremely lucky to have worked with so many amazing people.