As the state’s new secretary of education, Flandreau graduate Don Kirkegaard wants to bring a practical approach to education policies.
He will apply that to regulations for schools and to the educational approach for students, including career and technical options for learning. Kirkegaard started his new position Jan. 2, after most recently serving as superintendent of the Meade County School District, a job he has had since 2011. He also was president of the South Dakota Board of Education Standards, which he resigned from to become secretary under appointment by Gov. Dennis Daugaard.
“I believe I know what schools are looking for,” Kirkegaard said in a recent interview. “I’ve always had an open-door policy where I’ve tried to get the input from our parents and our community, and I will try to do the same with our department.”
When it comes to implementing rules and regulations, sometimes policies sound more realistic than they are, and in reality, those practices may not work as well as people think, he said. “I’m going to bring it from a teacher’s perspective but also an administrator’s perspective.”
Kirkegaard also wants to work on Daugaard’s priority of workforce development.
“We’ve done some great things with career and technical education in South Dakota,” Kirkegaard said. “I think more and more districts are trying to provide better career and technical education opportunities.”
Career and technical education classes can be done in any size of district and are applicable to both college and workforce bound students, he said. Most districts offer some form of career and technical education classes, whether they co-op with other districts or provide classes themselves.
“We’re making gains in the right direction in that area,” he said. “It’s quality education for all of the students. Whether you’re the valedictorian in the class or not, you can benefit from taking a quality CTE program.”
Kirkegaard, 59, has worked in education 37 years in small, medium and larger districts in South Dakota. After graduating from Flandreau in 1976, the Trent native earned a bachelor’s degree from South Dakota State University. He also earned his master’s degree at Northern State University and his specialist’s degree from the University of South Dakota. He was a social studies teacher and principal in Bristol and principal and superintendent in Britton.
He and his wife, Lois, have two grown children. He succeeds Melody Schopp who retired Dec. 15.
Here’s a look at Kirkegaard’s background and leadership ideas:
Best high school activity: Debate
Favorite subject: History and government
Favorite teacher: Gus Barnes who taught U.S. history in Flandreau
Biggest influence: “My mother always kind of taught about the importance of education. She always pushed the importance of getting an education.” His mother taught school for 45 years.
Improving learning: “There’s no question that the ability to read is critical in the development of all of their skills. That’s an area we always need to do a better job in.”
Serving varying sizes of districts from the state level: “The key will be to try to provide as much flexibility for districts as you can while still insuring the accountability that is necessary. We really want to emphasize the importance of local control, local decision making.”