New Secretary of Education lays out priorities for department

New Secretary of Education lays out priorities for department
Published: Jan. 26, 2023 at 5:32 PM CST
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - South Dakota’s newest Secretary of Education has been on the job for a few weeks, starting as the 2023 legislative session kicked off in Pierre. There’s a lot that he expects the department to get to in the coming months.

Before his appointment to the secretary’s job by Gov. Kristi Noem, Joseph Graves was most recently the superintendent of the Mitchell School District. Graves said there’s a lot that he’s still learning about his new role, but he said he’s ready for the challenge to learn something new.

“It’s very much different from the superintendency, a lot of moving parts. But again, it’s very excited with lots of opportunities to try to make things better for students. I’m sure that in the coming weeks things will settle in for me, and I’ll understand them better,” Graves said. “The advantage has been that so many of the issues, I’m very familiar with. If we want to talk about school lunches and debt limits, and all those kinds of things like curriculum. I’ve been steeped in that stuff for decades. I’ve got a definite advantage there.”

The change in scenery doesn’t mean that his goals have changed, he said, focusing on the education of South Dakota’s children and preparing them for the future. Some of those priorities he said were rising rates of absentees from students in the past couple of years, as well as making sure students with disadvantaged backgrounds keep up with their peers.

“That’s what we’re about. We’re about producing proficiency in kids in literacy, in numeracy, in civics, science and the rest. So that’s always got to be the priority.” Graves said.

Graves said though that he recognizes the Department of Education is at odds with different educator groups in the state. The current discussion over the latest proposed social studies standards being one of those issues.

MORE: Educators still question proposed social studies standards after revisions

Those education groups, including the School Administrators of South Dakota and the Associated School Boards of South Dakota, hope that with Graves’ background in education that they’ll find common ground when trying to solve those issues, and have constructive discussions between themselves and the state. But they say they’re excited for Graves’ appointment.

“Can we air those out? Can we have access to the Secretary, can we talk about solutions? I don’t see those changing with Dr. Graves at all.” ASBSD Executive Director Wade Pogany said.

“We both work for the individuals we work for. We’re passionate for our side of the fence. You just do the best to come together, and try to move education policy and positive things.” SASD Executive Director Rob Monson said.

For Graves’ part, he hopes that the same will be true.

“Hopefully the fact that we both have similar backgrounds, and that we’ve had experiences and that we’ve worked together in the past. Hopefully that can transfer into continuing to work together as we go forward” Graves said.