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20th Anniversary Series:District works to improve in all aspects


[Editor’s note: The Tea Area School District will be celebrating their 20th birthday on Friday, July 7th with a bus tour and community potluck. In preparation for the celebration, Tea Weekly will be featuring articles showcasing the changes in the District over the past 20 years. The following is the second installment:]


With the Tea Area School District in its 20th year, they have been working on improving all aspects of the district.

Curriculum director Elizabeth Herrboldt noted the high school was designated as a targeted school improvement by the state.

“The district acknowledged it needed to take a systemic approach to improvement and the continuous school improvement work began,” she said.

Superintendent Jennifer Lowery said the district started working with Studer Education in 2019 on continuous school improvement (CSI). Lowery likes to read and study effective systems.

“When I began to study improvement science, its foundation is that you have amazing things happening in your own organization. Those individuals are working with the same students, the same materials, the same logistics, the same resources,” Lowery said. “If you can get all of those resources going in the same direction and learn from each other, your best professional development is right next door to you and it makes sense to me.”

Lowery believes that the CSI concept makes sense. It is a process and you’re not jumping from one thing to the next.

Herrboldt said CSI provides teachers, staff and students with support in setting academic learning goals through short cycles of improvement called Plan, Do, Study, Act (PDSA) cycles of improvement. The cycles allow teachers, staff and students to monitor progress on all academic learning goals.

Since the district has adopted CSI, the teachers and staff have embraced the work and utilize it daily in their classrooms.

“The work is made visible to others through district collaboration and through district events that allow teachers to share the work they are doing with students,” Herrboldt said. “Students are talking about their academic learning goals, how they achieve those goals and what strategies help them learn best.”

Lowery noted improvements in academic achievement and fiscal efficiencies since starting CSI. In the middle school, since sixth graders began goal setting and using the PSDA cycles, they have seen a 30 percent increase in proficiency over one year as measured by the state assessment. AP history scores were always at the state average. With the implementation of CSI methods, they have seen a 13 percent increase.

“We’re seeing some huge student achievement changes and pockets that we can replicate because we have amazing people who we can learn from each other,” Lowery said.

From a fiscal standpoint, the transportation department has saved thousands of dollars by restructuring the department, reallocating those dollars, eliminating hassle and getting different equipment to maximize their time and effort.

Since adopting CSI, the district has been able to share their experiences with others. They hosted their first Network of Improvers event in October. They plan to host their second one this fall. They have provided multiple presentations at the Associated School Boards of South Dakota joint convention in Sioux Falls, Destination High Performance in Oregon and the Carnegie Foundation Summit on Improvement in Education in San Diego.

“I work for an amazing group of teachers and group of administrators who really don’t now how special they are. It’s just really humbling that others are asking how we’re being successful and how they can learn from what we’re doing,” Lowery said. “I don’t think they realize how much others are learning from them.”

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