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South Dakota Principals honored at Annual ‘Difference Makers’ Conference


The South Dakota Elementary Principals’ Association (SDAESP) and the SD Association of Secondary School Principals (SDASSP) came together for their annual professional development conference, titled “Difference Makers,” held in Deadwood from June 12th to 14th. The event brought together principals from across the state to network, exchange ideas, and recognize outstanding leaders in education.

The highlight of the conference was the annual banquet, where both organizations celebrated the accomplishments of exceptional principals from various school districts in South Dakota. The 2023 SDAESP and SDASSP Principals of the Year and Principals of Excellence were acknowledged for their outstanding contributions to their schools and communities.

Among the distinguished honorees was Samantha Walder, Principal of Legacy Elementary in the Tea Area School District, who was named the SDAESP Elementary Principal of the Year. Walder’s dedication to creating a positive learning environment and fostering academic success earned her this prestigious recognition.

Several other principals were also nominated for the SDAESP Principal of the Year award. Nominees included Susan Foster from Fred Assum Elementary in the Brandon Valley School District, Kim Aman from Simmons Elementary in the Aberdeen School District, and Janel Guse from the Madison School District

In addition to honoring principals, the conference provided an opportunity for professional development and growth. Esteemed keynote speakers, Dr. Earl Franks, the National Director of the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP), and John Steigelmeier, former South Dakota State University Football Coach, shared their expertise and insights with the attendees.

The Principal attendees also had access to a wide range of professional development opportunities. They participated in breakout sessions conducted by professors from Northern State University (NSU), Dakota State University (DSU), and the University of South Dakota (USD). The SD School Safety Center also delivered presentations on school safety, ensuring that principals stay up-to-date with the latest strategies to keep their students and staff secure.

The conference also featured breakout sessions led by principals and school cooperatives from different parts of the state, offering valuable insights into successful leadership strategies and innovative approaches to education. This collaborative environment allowed principals to learn from each other and develop a stronger network of support.

The SDAESP Community Leader award was bestowed upon Heather Hiltunen from the Sioux Valley community for her exceptional dedication to fostering partnerships between the school and the local community.

Other notable nominees for the SDAESP Community Leader award included Barb Hansen from the Tea Area School District, Ethan Dschaak from the Meade School District, Danae Paxton from the Timber Lake School District, April Moen from the Siseton School District, Laura Morrow from the Watertown School District, Heather DeBoer from the Watertown School District, and Kelly Neill from the Elkton School District.

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