Really, What do you do at “Inservice?”

Yesterday, I was having a conversation with a parent in the District.  In our conversation, he told me that he received the notification reminding him of our 1:30 dismissal today for “teacher inservice.”  Next, he asked, “what do you guys do at ‘inservice?’  What is it, really?”  I am so glad he asked!  I am certain that he wasn’t the only parent in the district wondering the same thing.

In our District this year, we have three full days and seven 1:30 dismissals for “teacher inservice,” or professional development. The specific agenda for each session is set by the school administration, with direction and consultation with a committee of five teachers along with the principals, technology director and the superintendent.  The specifics regarding each professional development experience is determined based on a variety of factors.

The early dismissals will follow along with two main sets of priorities.  The first is to build skills in teaching, specifically focused on using technology as a tool for students learning, and the use of real-world, project-based learning experiences for our students in the classroom.  We plan to build these development experiences as collaborative time where we work together to learn from one another.  The second priority is to use our time in the analysis of student achievement data, and then ask that key question… now that we know this, what do we do about it?  We plan to use a variety of data points in order to see where our students are at compared to where we believe that they should be and then work together to design plans to do something about it.  Those plans may be designed for the individual student, for the classroom, grade, or possibly even the school as a whole.

The full-day inservice experiences are designed around a variety of priorities.   Our specific plan for the October 5thfull-day experience is not yet set in stone, but we do know that we will spend our time in three main areas.  We plan to spend about 1/3 of the day taking a deep look at our student achievement data. We plan to dig down into the data standard-by-standard to identify trends in that data to show us strengths and areas for growth within our curriculum.  Another 1/3 of the time will be spent improving our skills in the use of technology to enhance our students’ experience in the classroom, and the last 1/3 of the time will be spent training all staff in first-aid procedures, CPR, the use of an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) that is on-site, the use of epi-pens in case of a severe allergic reaction and also the use of Narcan in the case of an opioid overdose on or near school grounds.

Our intent with respect to professional development is to help our staff to grow in ways that directly have an impact on our students in the classroom.  We are very aware that time spent in training may cause some inconvenience for our families, but we believe that the payoff for that inconvenience is that we become more effective in the classroom.   We appreciate your patience and understanding as we use this time to learn with and from one another as we work to fulfill our mission – to prepare every student to meet the challenges of learning, living and leading in a changing world.

GHS Weight Room Will Get a New Look

Garretson HS 3226platmockup
New equipment will have that Blue Dragons look!

Some relationships get better with age.  Our district has worked with the Orthopedic Institute (OI) over the last 24 years, with OI providing athletic training services to our school district once a week, and for all football, wrestling and other “big events.”  Over the past year, Mr. Steckler and I have met with a number of prospective vendors related to athletic training services offered in our District. After looking at our options, we have renewed that relationship with the Orthopedic Institute and the Sioux Falls Specialty Hospital (SFSH).  It has been a great relationship in the past, and we look forward to further developing that relationship in the future.

Two aspects of the new relationship are significant.  First, we will see much more service provided to our student athletes.  In the past, a trainer has come out once per week to assist with rehabilitation and injuries.  Next year, we will have a trainer out to the school five days per week, before practice and during practice to provide our students with injury rehabilitation as well as taping and injury response during practices. This is a 5X increase in services for our district!  In the past, we have only had a trainer available for home football and wrestling. Next year, we will have a trainer available for all of our home athletic events to provide services for injured athletes.  Our student athletes will see better services provided to them in Garretson than we ever have before.  We appreciate OI’s commitment to our school and our athletes.

The second aspect of this new agreement is also exciting.  As part of the discussions about developing our athletes in Garretson, we talked about our summer and in-season strength programming.  Our student athletes will see significant improvement in this area starting THIS SUMMER!  This includes a complete remodel of our weight room facility.  We asked staff from OI to come out to look at our current set up and asked them what they would recommend to maximize the space available.  Not only did they recommend some significant changes to how the room is organized, but they also recommended that we replace our current equipment.  As part of our renegotiated contract with OI and SFSH, they agreed to upgrade our weight training equipment as part of the enhanced services offered to our school.  Equipment has been ordered, production has begun, and we expect the equipment to be delivered in June.

New equipment is only part of the story.  OI has experts in maximizing performance in athletes.  We will be able to tap into that expertise.  They have agreed to come out to train our coaches in not only the proper use of the new equipment, but also in biomechanics – how to train kids with proper technique to get the most out of lifting weights and developing speed. We will have one of these experts out in Garretson weekly, working with our coaches through the summer to ensure we get the most out of our time working this new equipment.

We had some additional ideas for ways we could really improve our weight room, including replacement of the flooring and the addition of cardio training equipment that was beyond the scope of our agreement with OI and SFSH.  We are proud to announce that the Garretson Blue Dragon Booster Club has pledged an additional $13,000 for flooring and equipment that will really make our training area something to be proud of.  We can’t thank them enough!

It’s a great time to be a BLUE DRAGON!


An Open Letter to the Appropriators

An Open Letter to the Joint Committee on Appropriations:

I appreciate the efforts that the Legislature made in order to provide increased funding for schools in the 2016 session.  In South Dakota, any increase in taxation is not taken lightly, and our public insists that tax money be used appropriately.  In the Garretson School District, we have taken very seriously the responsibility to be good stewards of the tax money entrusted to us for the education of our students.  We appreciated being able to share our District’s story with the School Finance Accountability Board (SFAB).  However, we left the meeting frustrated by what appeared to be an irrational reliance on projections in favor of real student enrollment numbers for the purpose of accountability.

As we approached the SFAB, we relied on the Administrative Rules of South Dakota (24:44:01:06) that spell out the factors that the Board was required to consider when recommending a waiver of accountability rules.  As we presented our case, board members informed us that the committee had set precedent that morning, and that they would not consider the financial impact of retirement in the District or the financial impact of declining enrollment as appropriate justification for a waiver of the accountability rules.  These two factors had a financial impact in our district of $35,393 and $48,203 respectively.  We plotted our course thoughtfully, with knowledge that the ARSD spelled out these specifically as factors that would be considered for a waiver.  How were we to know that in the eleventh hour, these two factors would be removed from consideration?

Over the past five years, we have depleted our General Fund reserves by spending more money than we would receive in revenue.  Our General Fund balance ended the year at approximately 13.5% of expenditures.  We knew we could not sustain the trend of deficit spending, so we asked our community to opt out of the property tax limitations in order to preserve our programs.  We have done the things at the local level that many in leadership positions in Pierre have asked us to do. When presented with the funding package of 2016, our district negotiated with our teaching staff in good faith, knowing that we would fall short of DOE projections for enrollment, and therefore, receive less in new funding than the projections indicated.  When opportunities to bring our expenditures in line with expected revenues presented themselves, we took advantage of them.  We had two experienced staff members retire, to be replaced with first year teachers.  We also took advantage of an opportunity to develop a shared services grant by sharing a full-time Spanish teacher with the Baltic School District.  We made these decisions in a conservative, thoughtful manner, based on the factors clearly laid out in the ARSD for consideration of a waiver of the accountabilities.

We urge you to reconsider the recommendation from the SFAB.  We ask you to recognize the difficulty of being a school in which enrollment declined, and therefore, received less “new” revenue from the funding package of 2016.  As South Dakotans, we believe in using “common sense.”  We believe very strongly that the accountabilities should be based on the common sense of real, accurate numbers (for both enrollment and revenue) rather than the fiction of projections.  We ask that you give full credibility and consideration to factors that are delineated in the ARSD (24:44:01:06), and ask that you grant our request for a waiver to the accountability rules.  Thank you for your consideration.


Guy Johnson,