Simplified: Superintendent Jane Stavem is in her fourth year leading the Sioux Falls School District. She sat down with Sioux Falls Simplified to talk about her priorities and what she expects to spend the most time focused on in 2024.

Why it matters

  • The Sioux Falls School District is the largest in the state with a more than $300 million annual budget. There are about 24,000 kids within the district, all of whom are affected by the leadership decisions Stavem makes.
  • When she was first hired as superintendent in 2020, Stavem set a goal to make Sioux Falls the best school district in the nation, a goal she's often repeated during her tenure.
  • As federal pandemic relief funds dry up in 2024, the district will have to make some choices about which COVID-era programs need to continue in the district and which areas will have to be cut. It's about an $8 million question, Stavem said, which could look like about a 4% reduction across the board between this year and next year.
"There shouldn't be drastic things," Stavem said of the budget. "It's not a slash and burn, but it's a gradual adjusting so that the sustainability factor is there."

Q&A with Superintendent Jane Stavem

Interview is edited for length and clarity

Let's start with the 10,000-foot view. What do you expect you'll spend the most time thinking about and workign on in 2024.

Stavem: A lot of our time and our thinking will be on going deeper with the things that we've put in motion over these last four years, and even prior to when I came.

  • Our staff have done a great job of adapting to those changes. We've put in a new learning management system this year, Canvas. That's still very much in its infancy, and so as we continue to grow capacity for using that tool well.

Some of what we'll be looking at is where we're going to have to pull back on a few things as we try to avoid a cliff effect with our funding, but maintaining those things that are a priority. So it's going to be really taking a close look at where we need to preserve what we've put in place and where we need to trim around it.

The fun part that we'll be focusing on is our new (northwest elementary school) building will be in process, as well as the addition to McGovern, the naming process is underway – just watching the construction, making sure that's on target and just as a district focusing on everything it takes to open a new building.

Those are kind of the big things, and then it's whatever emerges from our legislative session.

  • We still have to get the social studies standards layered in ... We have some pilots happening with deepening our reading instruction, and then we just have a number of new staff every year.

Over all of that we're still about continuous improvement.

Federal pandemic relief funds are all running out at the end of 2024. What kind of choices are you guys facing, and how are you approaching that knowing there's potential for a cliff?

Stavem: We've been planning for that. It's no surprise that those (federal) dollars are going away.

The figure is about $8 million discrepancy between what was added, what we're going to want to keep and what measure of that we keep.

There were some things we did for academic purposes that we may pull back on but not eliminate. We don't know what that looks like yet because we have to go through this next budget cycle, but we always want to look at what's viable and what's working.

  • There were some things that were funded through ESSR that really should've been funded, best practices, through state and federal funding anyway. And those are tough choices because you can't keep anything if that funding wasn't sustainable.
  • Even though people know that (federal funds were temporary), it's still hard when you go to make those adjustments.

We'll keep adjusting and fine-tuning, and that's what it should look like and not "slice and dice," and "slash and burn."

Let's talk after-school care. Can you share how the new Community Learning Center (CLC) model has been going? What does that look like moving into the next year?

Stavem: It's been fun, but every time you make a wholesale shift in how you're doing things there's always challenges that come with that.

  • We've increased the number of students who are participating. We've got staff firmly in place in terms of the ongoing management of that, and there's a lot that goes into that – staff, quality, partnerships, programming.

Editor's note: The district increased the number of kids in after school programming by 435 between the 22-23 school year and the current year. Right now there are more than 1,700 kids in CLC programs.

We're so proud of the community partners that have been part of getting funding for that. And then our primary partners who do the programing – they're doing a great job.

We're doing what we can to add to the availability of school-based childcare, but it's a big picture.

  • Within that, workforce is an issue for everybody. Our viability and availability of those slots is going to continue to depend on having good quality staff who are able to serve kids after school.

While we're on the childcare discussion, what role do you see the Sioux Falls School District playing in the ongoing city-wide and state-wide conversations on the childcare crisis?

Stavem: Our service lane, if you will, is childcare for school-aged children. we also care deeply about that preschool experience because that plays into school readiness ... we also serve in that preschool space.

  • That's one thing we've asked our state to continue to look at because right now the funding formula doesn't include 3-year-olds.

Then you have daycare, and daycare is where infants, toddlers, preschool-aged kids go ... and that affects (SFSD) staff. That has not been our lane.

It all comes down to workforce. We have a number of daycares and preschools in our community that have room for more children, but they can't serve them because we don't have the workforce.

  • I also think our community has to take a look at business, industry and economics, and what do we need. And right now, childcare is a need.

Let's talk school safety. What are your priorities there? Are there any changes coming to school safety in 2024?

Stavem: We have two people now who are in charge of those things that fall under that large heading of school safety and security.

  • That covers a lot of different things from preventative measures to also planning reactively. It encompasses what you do with physical buildings – we have secured entrances, cameras. Then, what you do from there is you work on your practices and your protocols so everyone knows what to do if something bad does happen.

We have a great partnership with the Sioux Falls Police Department with our school resource officers.

There are also things that we do as preventative measures that happen within our schools. We have to make sure we're being proactive with student behavior and with the expectations that we have for kids.

  • Unfortunately, it's getting easier and easier for kids to access unsafe things like drugs, alcohol, weapons or lookalike weapons. And with social media, we see those things like false threats, so how do you respond when you think they're real and when you don't think they're real.

One component that we are going to bring in even more intentionally is what we call restorative practices.

  • Sometimes we do a really good job of taking care of the incident ... but we don't always restore the relationships that get broken in the process. We have to pay attention to the relationship aspect of that.

As the legislative session is going on, what's the number one topic you're bringing up with lawmakers?

Stavem: One of the number one topics we've been bringing up is related to our judicial services and how we address students that we are trying to support so they stay out of that long-term judicial setting.

Right now, one of the things that's being talked about is putting more money into diversion. I would argue that the mechanism for how those funds are distributed is flawed because it follows what's termed as "successful diversion."

  • Well, if you're incentivizing those dollars rather than just having the dollars follow the need, you're going to continue to stay in this cycle of not being able to adequately address diversion.
  • We have way too few resources to support those students and families who are diverted compared to some other places in the state. We have to be able to have the resources so that kids can go through a successful diversion experience so they stay out of the judicial system.

We're trying to do what we can within our district. We're trying to advocate for our systems city- and county-wide, and we're trying to advocate for changes at a state level that provide more resources, more opportunities, more systemic, sustainable funding and get that picture shored up.

We have kids who are making some pretty drastic choices at an early point in their lives that are not going to serve them well if they don't have a chance to undo those choices.

Is there anything else your average parent in Sioux Falls should be paying attention to this year?

Stavem: Yes, we still need to talk about teacher compensation as part of the legislative session.

  • We're really happy that the governor came out with the initial figure of 4%, but as we look at legislation that leads to long-term sustainability for teacher compensation, we have to look at all of the pieces of this picture. Part of that picture is compensation.

In order for South Dakota to move up in the ranks consistently, we can't see an infusion of dollars as an outlier. It has to be a consistent investment in public education, and it has to be over a number of years.

  • We're one of the largest employers in Sioux Falls. I compete with all of those other businesses and industries for our workforce. I don't have the same mechanisms that they do to attract, retain, pay. I don't get to adjust my service costs. I don't get to raise prices. I can't do those same things.
  • I'm dependent on state fuding for the largest part of our funding.

The people who get into education do it because they care deeply about kids, they love to teach, they love school, and they know what it does for our society and our community.

The fabric of healthy communities like Sioux Falls is going to fray and pull apart and have gaping holes if we don't pay attention to the health of public education.