Tea Area School District hosts school improvement event for other districts

By Wendy Sweeter

Area districts participated in the CSI event held at Venture Elementary. Courtesy photo


Since late 2019, the school district has been working on continuous school improvement (CSI).


On Oct. 27-28, they hosted a CSI event for 14 school districts and two universities. During the event, they got to see firsthand how students and teachers are working on reaching goals.


Curriculum and instruction director Elizabeth Herrboldt said they offered the event to allow other districts to see some of their strategies in action.


“The event was offered in order to grow the network of individuals and schools who are looking to create a culture founded on improvement science practices. We wanted to invite others to Tea Area in order to explore our continuous school improvement practices in action and to introduce systems and strategies that can be used by staff and students,” she said.


Superintendent Jennifer Lowery said part of the reason to offer this event was to share with others what they have done and gather other ideas from other districts.


“There are amazing things that the Tea Area district’s teachers are leading in that we want to share with others and when you bring others in, it not only highlights and motivates, but it also allows you to get other ideas as we expand a group of people that we not only can impact our kids but if they bring pieces of this to their district then we can learn from them what’s working and what’s not working and we can altogether keep talking the same language and come together and say how can we meet the needs of public school kids in South Dakota,” Lowery said. “If you build that common language, build the understanding of what this would look like, and then expand your footprint then you expand your impact.”


Five-year school board member Tara Johanneson presented at the event and noted that the district really started exploring continuous school improvement when a couple of groups of teachers, administrators, and school board members went to a similar event in Menominee Falls, Wis., in late 2019 and early 2020.


As they saw in Wisconsin, the district invited other teachers and administrators into classrooms to see firsthand how different teachers do their implementations. They were in kindergarten classrooms, special ed classrooms, and high school classrooms.

Herrboldt said participants saw the Plan, Do, Study, Act (PDSA) goal-setting work in classrooms and saw how teachers and students use classroom purpose statements to drive a sense of culture.


Dakota Valley superintendent Tonia Warzecha brought 16 teachers and administrators who saw those techniques being implemented. Warzecha was the curriculum director in Tea through 2019.


“The facilitator did a great job giving us as visitors time to interact with the students and also saw how she led the process with first-graders. I thought that was extremely beneficial,” Warzecha said. “I also saw a kindergarten class do a very fine job and saw the excitement as she really built a community of learners and supporters in there.”


Lowery said other districts saw how their students set goals, used their data, and made adjustments based on their data. They talked to them about how their kids work with the teachers for improvement and to meet their goals.


Part of the mission of the district is to educate and empower all people in their district from students to janitors, to teachers, to administrators. By continuing to pursue continuous school improvement, they are empowering people in the district to make goals and execute them.


“How you empower someone is to show them that you can have a plan and you need to act or execute that plan and you need to study how that went. Then you need to react to that because no one else is carving your way in life,” Lowery said. “It’s your decision in how you react and what you do when those things happen. We want people to change in real-time and own the connection between the actions and the results.”


Herrboldt said the feedback from attendees has been positive.


“We have received overwhelmingly positive feedback that highlights all of the incredible work staff and students do in our district each day. Participants praised our students and teachers for their engaging classroom work. Participants were excited by the work our district is doing and would like to visit us again,” Herrboldt said.