State education secretary announces retirement Gov. Bill Janklow praised state Education Secretary Ray Christensen for his many accomplishments and thanked him for his leadership the past six years in wiring all of South Dakota's schools and helping make South Dakota the world leader in school technology.
Christensen, 55, announced his retirement effective Dec. 20 after a 34-year career in South Dakota as a mathematics teacher, technology coordinator and leader in education policy. He joined the Janklow administration in 1996 to coordinate the Governor's Wiring the Schools program. Janklow appointed him as secretary of education and cultural affairs starting in January 1999.
"He never asked for a leadership role, he was always reluctant, and I kept saying, 'Ray, we need you, and the kids of South
Dakota need you'," Janklow said. "The man's never sought a headline for himself. With Ray, it's always about the kids and about making things better. He's just incredible."
For three years in a row, South Dakota has ranked No. 1 in the category of education technology in the annual Digital States survey.
But, Janklow said, Christensen also helped make South Dakota a leader in a variety of other ways, such as development of school content standards; creation of the world's best education Web site, www.sdedweb.com; helping elementary teachers learn to better teach reading; creation of a South Dakota history course for elementary students; and providing the summer training academies for thousands of teachers and administrators to develop skills in using technology.
Janklow said Christensen was part of the team that transformed South Dakota's public schools by opening a world of opportunities for students through technology and teacher training. Others include Otto Doll, commissioner for the state Bureau of Information and Telecommunications (BIT); Jim Edman and Dennis Nincehelser, both members of the BIT senior staff; Jim Soyer, the governor's chief of staff; Harris Haupt, from the Technology and Innovation in Education office in Rapid City; Tammy Bauck, director of the state Office of Educational Technology; and the staff at Northern State University in Aberdeen and at Dakota State University in Madison.
"It's dangerous to start naming names when literally thousands of people have pulled together to get this done for our
school kids, but Ray was one of the pillars of a system that couldn't have been built without him," Janklow said.
Christensen earned a bachelor's degree in mathematics from Augustana College in 1969 and a master's degree in secondary education from Augustana College in 1978. He taught mathematics in the Sioux Falls school district from 1969 to 1993. For the next three years, Christensen coordinated technology deployment and technology staff development in the Sioux Falls schools. He joined the Janklow administration in 1996.
Christensen has also served a two-year term as the president of the Sioux Falls Education Association and a four-year
term as the president of the South Dakota Education Association. He has also served as a member and chair of the State Professional Practices and Standards Commission for five years, the chair of the Sioux Falls School's Technology
Committee for ten years and was a member and chair of the State Board of Education. Christensen has also been a state director and national trainer for the National Council of Teachers.
Christensen said he'll take some time off and then decide what to do next.
"It will be something interesting, probably having to do with education and technology," Christensen said. "I came to Pierre to help Gov. Janklow for four years as secretary, the four years are up, and what a ride this has been! Education in South Dakota will forever be different and improved. Other states are working to follow many of the creative and innovative leads South Dakota has implemented. We can all be proud of that.
"More needs to be done in the areas of math, the federal No Child Left Behind law and professional development. Looking at all that has happened in four years, it almost makes me tired to think of it all," Christensen said.
Here are some highlights in education development and policy during the past six years:
Wiring The Schools � There are 719 buildings wired for technology and connected through the Dakota Digital Network. Through the DDN, the state government provides all of the Internet service and infrastructure network for the schools, including management of the network, reducing the cost to the schools.
SD4History � This is the state-developed fourth grade curriculum for South Dakota history. It is delivered entirely on line via the DDN, including the student portion and the teacher-support materials.
DDN Campus � This is a statewide student information system for grades, attendance, enrollment data, student scheduling and reporting. Sixty school districts have switched to this Web-based service. Because it's linked through the Internet, districts can choose to make selected information about students available to parents. The databases are protected, with user logins and passwords required.
GPS projects � Through a grant, the Department of Education and Cultural Affairs is providing handheld GPS units on a rotating basis to schools. Students use the units to record GPS (global positioning systems) locations of several landmarks, such as public buildings, graveyards and emergency facilities. The data are logged into special software and then uploaded to a state Web site for use by the government.
AREA Reading Program � AREA (Advanced Reading Enhancement Approach) is a program that provides additional training to teachers in grades one through three. The goal is to help students become better readers. So far, more than 1,200 first-, second-, and third-grade teachers have completed this training. In 2002-2003, the remaining 660 teachers will complete the program.
TTL � Nearly 2,000 of South Dakota's educators headed back to the classroom last summer to learn how to better integrate technology into their teaching. This year's participants in the state's Technology for Teaching and Learning (TTL) academies joined the ranks of 4,800 graduates of the program who have already been trained since Gov. Bill Janklow launched the program six summers ago. TTL participants are immersed in technology training for 200 classroom hours during the course of the four-week academy. They learn basic computer applications, including word processing, desktop publishing, spreadsheets, databases, web authoring, and presentation programs. Each TTL participant receives a $1,000 stipend for attending the academy and $1,000 to take back home for their school district to buy technology.
DDN Classes � More than 100 high school classes were conducted between schools over the Dakota Digital Network this past semester, plus many special event sessions for elementary and middle school students.
SDEdWeb.com � No other state matches this Internet portal offers to South Dakota's school children, teachers and parents, with three sets of searchable data bases specially designed for students, parents and educators. There are more than 66,000 links so far � 25,000 in the educator section, 30,000 in the parent section and 11,500 in the student section � and every one has been evaluated and recommended by a review team of 75 South Dakota parents and educators. The sites are from reputable sources and generally are free of advertising.
Digitization � This is a State Library project to make all state documents available on the Internet. The first rollout is planned for the near future.
Email for educators � DECA now furnishes email facilities for all teachers and administrators in South Dakota, and there is a web-based system available for schools to provide for all students.