This is a paid piece from the Sioux Metro Growth Alliance.

Simplified: Tea Area schools are pushing for a strong employee culture, and the work they've done to put people first in their organization is making them a nationwide example of a strong, value-based culture.

Why it matters

  • Tea has seen tremendous growth in its not-quite two decades as a school district. It started in 2003 with fewer than 700 students, and now there are more than 2,000.
  • With that growth, teachers have become more spread out throughout the district, but Superintendent Jennifer Nebelsick Lowery wanted to create an employee culture where everyone is on the same page in working toward the same goals.
  • For the past couple years, Lowery has led the district through the work of identifying four core values.
  • The goal is to attract and retain employees, especially as more competition comes to the area workforce with an influx of commercial businesses in Tea. There's also some regional competition as Amazon and CJ Foods look to open up more than 1,000 jobs in the Sioux Falls area.
"What will make or break us is the next six months," Lowery said. "Can we sustain this culture?"

What are the district's values?

Tea discovered its four core values largely with the help of programming from Studor Education, a group focused on helping people be their best at work.

The idea is to start with people, ask them what they value and build a company culture from there.

The values that arose from this process in Tea are:

  • Accountability
  • Teamwork
  • Communication
  • Innovation

How Tea is setting a national example

Lowery and her team have presented their work to put people first in identifying employee culture at two different national conferences in the last year.

The Tea Area School District was also featured in a four-page spread in the April issue of "School Administrator" magazine, a national publication put out by the American Association of School Administrators.

What's unique about Tea is the focus on putting action behind the mission and values.

They're working to recognize the high-performers in all levels of the district, and they want every employee to know what the district stands for.

What people are saying:

"Mission and vision focus is very common in schools," Lowery said, "but taking your mission to the values is something that I hope goes so well that others are able to emulate and learn from what we did well in this process and what we didn't do well in this process."
"I am so proud of our district for pioneering this program in the state of South Dakota," said Kristin Daggett, school board president. "The program will positively impact all of our students, employees and our community."
"Strong schools support growth," said Jesse Fonkert, executive director for the Sioux Metro Growth Alliance. "Seeing the school district's efforts to engage with employees get national attention just goes to show how strong of a foundation the district is providing for the greater community of Tea."

What happens next?

Tea will continue to work to make sure every employee at every level knows the school mission and feels like they're a valued member of the team.