PIERRE | South Dakota Education Secretary Melody Schopp will leave her position in December, Gov. Dennis Daugaard announced Friday.
Schopp has been in the post since Daugaard took office in January 2011 and promoted her from deputy secretary. She is believed to be the longest-serving secretary of education in the history of South Dakota.
Daugaard is in his seventh year as governor and can’t seek a third consecutive term in 2018.
“Melody Schopp cares about kids, and that has motivated her throughout her entire career,” the governor said in a statement. “She has served in a difficult and high-profile job, and I’ve appreciated her leadership, from higher teacher salaries to more work-based opportunities for young people. I wish Melody the very best in the future.”
The governor wants her successor in place before the Legislature opens its 2018 session on Jan. 9, according to Tony Venhuizen, his chief of staff. “I would imagine we’ll have a couple other retirements between now and the end of next year,” Venhuizen said.
The announcement comes as the Legislature’s Government Operations and Audit Committee gradually digs deeper into wrongdoing at Mid-Central Educational Cooperative in Platte.
Legislative auditors said they couldn’t account for nearly $1.4 million they determined was missing from the cooperative’s bank account at the end of 2015. The cooperative closed this year on June 30.
In an interview Friday afternoon, Schopp didn’t talk about the Mid-Central situation. She testified to the legislative panel July 24 and declined invitations to testify further at GOAC’s meetings Aug. 29 and Oct. 5-6.
She didn’t attend the Sept. 18 meeting of state government’s Board of Education Standards, held at Northern State University in Aberdeen. She broke the femur bone in her left leg while walking her dog the previous weekend.
Schopp, 62, said Friday the timing of her resignation allows her to complete her time as national president of the Council of Chief State School Officers. The term ends in November.
Now she would be able to enjoy the Christmas holiday season with her husband, Arnie, and their family, including 1-year-old granddaughter Vivienne Marie. “It’s just time,” she said. “Things are in a really good spot in the department right now. I have a really strong team right now.”
She acknowledged sitting in her car outside the department’s building in the converted State Library and thinking about the decision. “It’s emotional, but it’s OK,” she said. “It’s right.”
Her future? “Maybe I’ll volunteer in the nursing home. I don’t know. I have zero plans, other than enjoying life.”
The retirement ends a 40-year career in public education in South Dakota. Schopp taught for one year in North Dakota and then for 23 years in the Lemmon school district.
A news release described her as “a pioneer of bringing the internet into the classroom.”
Then-Gov. Bill Janklow, as part of his wiring the schools program, hired teams of what then were known in 2000 as “tech chicks.” One was Schopp. They traveled community to community for the state department, showing teachers and administrators how to operate the new technology.
Schopp worked her way up the department’s organization chart, with promotions to director of teacher certification and accountability and then to deputy secretary. Along the way she received her doctorate degree with a dissertation on South Dakota women who became leaders in education, such as teacher Glenna Fouberg of Aberdeen and department secretary Karon Schaack of Pierre.
Venhuizen said Schopp had been thinking “for some time” about when to go.
“She had shared her intentions to retire almost a year ago. This is something she’s had on her mind for a long time,” he said.
Finding the next secretary won’t be simple for Daugaard. “It was a little difficult to be looking for someone before Melody made her announcement,” Venhuizen said. “It would be a fairly short-term position, contingent on what the next governor wanted.”
Schopp said she shared her plans in the past day or so with some of her staff. She said some people were surprised but all supported the decision.
“This is my family, my life,” she said about leaving the department. “I’ve done my best. I have. I know I have.”