There’s much to celebrate for both the Yankton School District (YSD) and Mount Marty University (MMU) this year.
Friday marked Yankton Thrive’s first “Topics at 12” event — replacing what was formerly known as the State of the Community — and featured YSD Superintendent Dr. Wayne Kindle and MMU President Dr. Marcus Long speaking at the River Rock Event Center.
Both officials took time to highlight enrollment figures.
Kindle said the district’s enrollment is climbing.
“We’ve had some growth every year for the past eight years, which is the direction that we want to go,” he said.
It was reported that, as of Sept. 24, enrollment was 2,821. By comparison, enrollment was 2,679 on Sept. 30, 2014.
“That was the largest enrollment since 2008,” Kindle said. “We’re really happy with that. Given the COVID situation and all of the other obstacles and challenges, our enrollment had another increase.”
Additionally, he took time to highlight the district’s preschool and junior kindergarten (JrK) numbers.
He noted that 189 preschool students were enrolled in August, and that the number was still largely the same now.
“It’s the largest preschool enrollment in our school district’s history,” he said.
Kindle said the same applies to the 69 JrK students that were enrolled this year.
“It also is the largest JrK enrollment in the history of the school district,” he said.
He noted that this growth has caused Webster Elementary School to temporarily move its music classes to the auxiliary gym. However, the Yankton High School Building Trades class is building a portable classroom that will be moved to Webster in time for next semester.
At Mount Marty, Long said the situation is very similar with non-dual credit enrollment reaching 853 in 2021.
“Our low watermark was 750 in 2016,” he said. “I’m happy to report we have our largest total enrollment university-wide since 2012, our largest Yankton enrollment since 2006 … our largest Yankton freshman class in history at 173 and about 100 students each in our Watertown and Sioux Falls campuses.”
Long said not only is enrollment increasing, but where many of those students come from is evolving as well.
“When I got here, we had three international students — two Australians and one Canadian,” he said. “(That’s changing) largely because of Carlos Saenz, our men’s soccer coach … He really saw an opportunity from a diversity perspective in getting more young people from a variety of countries connected to Mount Marty. He’s led that initiative and it’s really important for us.”
He said that bringing in more international students remains a priority at the school.
“Only 7% of our students are international, but that’s up significantly from three (total students) six years ago,” he said.
Teacher salaries have long been a point of contention in South Dakota.
In Yankton, Kindle said that YSD is working to go above and beyond requirements.
“About four years ago or so, the Legislature passed a half-cent sales tax, and the purpose of that was to increase teacher salaries in the state of South Dakota,” he said. “Part of the responsibility that each school district had was to do a report each school year and meet criteria set forth by the Legislature. I can tell you, in Yankton — and I can only speak for Yankton — we met or exceeded, every year, the criteria that was set forth for the salary expectation that the state had set.”
He said average teacher salary in Yankton is $53,108 and average total compensation for teachers (including salary and benefits) is $72,687.
By comparison, he pointed out that average compensation for teachers statewide is $64,271. The average teacher salary statewide is $49,577.
“We’ve done what we said we were going to do in Yankton with our teacher salary and compensation package,” he said. “We want to attract good teachers. We want to retain good teachers.”
Additionally, Kindle touched on school safety, the district’s strategic plans, the success of the student resource officer program and the hard work put in by YSD staff during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Long also touched on the first season of varsity football at MMU, saying it’s been a victory for the community and the school itself.
“I have just been amazed by the support we’ve gotten from the Yankton community — certainly for football, yes — but also the support for our students has been amazing,” he said. “The students have told me how much they feel loved and welcomed in the Yankton community. … The fact that we had 3,200-3,500 people for the first game against Dakota Wesleyan at Crane-Youngworth (on Labor Day weekend) was amazing. That was a happening at Yankton. It was good for the community, as well.”
He added that the school is already looking forward to the program’s future.
“Our top capital priority right now is a new football locker room at Mount Marty,” he said. “Right now, we have about 90 football players, and those 90 football players have a make-do locker room next to Cimpl Arena. But our goal is to have 120-130 football players and we don’t have anywhere to put them.”
The City of Yankton recently approved a conditional-use permit to build the locker room facility, but Long said officials are still raising money to move the project forward.
Additionally, Long discussed scholarship partnerships, fundraising and the continued growth of MMU’s faith environment.
Follow @RobNielsenPandD on Twitter.