School superintendent Dr. Pandi Pittman is shown at the Wessington Springs Elementary School.

Since taking the helm July 1, Wessington Springs School District superintendent Dr. Pandi Pittman has been busy learning district logistics, meeting with faculty and staff, attending construction meetings and getting to know her new home.  

“I really like Wessington Springs,” Pittman said. “To me it’s a nice mix of east and west river.”

With regular meetings with the business manager, principals, head custodian and curriculum director, Pittman said her focus for the district is to be efficient and effective. 

“We’ve been putting everyone’s heads together to take a look at our operations and overall management of the school,” she said. “Any where we can cut costs while still being effective for students, we will. We have a split campus so it’s also important that we focus on consistency for both campuses.” 

Pittman holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Dairy Production from South Dakota State University, a Masters of Arts Curriculum and Instruction/Technology Integrationist from Black Hills State University, Specialist in Education, Pre-K-12 Principal from University of South Dakota and a Doctorate in School Administration from University of South Dakota.

Before coming to Wessington Springs, she served as principal in the Dupree School District and also instructed as adjunct professor at Oglala Lakota College. Previously, she taught science and technology at Wall High School and served as agricultural education instructor and FFA advisor.

With deep roots in agriculture, Pittman began her career at the family dairy operation, Pittman Dairy in Nisland, SD.

“I grew up and worked in small towns like Springs. All of the towns you’ll see on my resume are equivalent to the size of Wessington Springs,” she said. “To walk into this type of community, I have no hesitation.”

In addition to curriculum, education and district operations, Pittman meets every Thursday with the building committee to discuss the progress of the high school renovation project. To some, navigating a large scale construction project upon starting a new job may seem daunting, but Pittman has traversed this journey before. 

“This is my third school and third construction project,” Pittman said. “This is something I’ve experienced before in Wall and Dupree. I know what to expect at the tail end of a project — many little projects will arise as we get to know the building and get the logistics smoothed out.”

Pittman recounted a humorous encounter at a superintendent conference she recently attended.  

“I sat down at a table and realized I was with a bunch of Johnson Controls guys who looked really familiar,” she laughed. “Come to find out, they were the same project managers from a renovation project at Wall when I was a teacher and again at Dupree during an addition project when I was a principal. Now as a superintendent in Springs, I get to work with them again.” 

Pittman said that she’s impressed with the condition of the high school building. 

“The building is in very, very good shape and it’s really worth going in and renovating it,” she said. “In the long run, this is the most economical way to keep the district moving forward and update our learning environment.”

On August 21 at noon, Johnson Controls will hand over the building and move-in will begin on August 22, with community move-in days scheduled for August 22 and 27. Having been through a large-scale project like this at previous schools, she said that the help of the community is vital. 

“It’s crazy, it’s busy and it will take the whole month of September to really settle in,” Pittman said. “The more people that help move in on the 22nd and 27th will make it easier on the students and teachers.”

Pittman hopes the community can take some time to help even if it’s just a small part of the day.

“Even if someone can’t lift, we have jobs for everyone: emptying boxes, wiping down desks, stacking books on book shelves,” Pittman explained.

Another new project in the works at the high school is a lunch room for middle and high schoolers, currently named Spartan Cafe. It will give an opportunity for middle and high schoolers to have a premium lunch that includes larger portions, chips and a drink for $4.25 and seconds for $1.80. The lunches will continue to be made at the elementary school and kids will have a choice between two premium entrees, along with the lunches offered to elementary school students.

“For some time, kids have been asking for bigger meal options and they like having choices,” Pittman said. “The school district hired a lunch consultant to look at our meal demographics which helped us make changes that kids will enjoy.” 

Located in the former FACS room, the new lunch room won’t be completed upon move in, because administration would like student input and involvement in the design process. And while Spartan Cafe is the lunchroom’s current name, students are encouraged to choose another name that speaks to them. 

When not used for a lunch room, the space will be utilized as the senior work room or senior “lounge.” 

“For 9-12 graders, the new lunch will start the first day of school,” she said. “The main goal with the cafe  is to provide something that kids enjoy and look forward to.”

As for tours of the new building, Pittman said that later in September, the school will host an open house event for the community.

“Give us a few weeks to move in and settle in,” she said. “We want the project to look its best.” 

Complete back to school information can be found in this week’s print and e-issue on PAGES SIX AND SEVEN