By Rich Winter
We shall ALL be the catchers and protectors of our children’s dreams - Peg Diekhoff 2016
When the news came down that long-time Todd County teacher, coach and administrator, Peg Diekhoff would not be coming back next fall, an entire generation of students, parents and friends felt the collective thud of someone that had been a fixture of the Todd County School District for 28 years wouldn’t be there when the first bell rang next fall.
For 28 years, Diekhoff answered that bell, and while impossible to encapsulate a career filled with love, laughter, success and failure, Diekhoff sat down with the Todd County Tribune recently to share a little wisdom and reflect back on one heck of a ride.
A native of Wessington, and fresh out of St. Cloud State University in 1987, Peg Diekhoff began her search to become gainfully employed in her field of dreams, Education.
Initially she thought Minnesota since that’s where she attended college, but when her first job interview didn’t produce a job, a friend suggested she should apply in Todd County.
After visiting Spring Creek Elementary and inquiring about a second grade position at North Elementary, Mr. Pickner called back with a job offer to begin a teaching career at South Elementary.
“That first year I was Title I, and Mildred Moran told me if I’d sign the contract she’d have a teaching opening the next year,” Diekhoff said.
She signed, and sure enough, one year later, Diekhoff took control of 4th grade at South.
Diekhoff, an avid softball player who spent two years at Huron College playing the sport, wanted to get into coaching and right out of the gate, she did just that.
“I wanted to do some coaching and I knew if I went to South, I could coach right away,” she said.
So, for nine years, Diekhoff coached boys and girls basketball and boys and girls track, and of course, molded hundreds of young minds into aspiring students.
Having worked on her first Masters Degree from Northern State University for several summers, Diekhoff couldn’t decide if she wanted to stay in the classroom or make the jump to administration.
“Nancy Piper told me I should go for it and apply,” Diekhoff said.
So Diekhoff applied, and so did a lot of other people. In the interview just prior to hers, Diekhoff heard rolling laughter coming from the interviewee and figured she better plan on continuing teaching.
“I figured I had no shot but I got that job and stayed at the middle school until 2010,” she said.
Diekhoff worked as an assistant principal from 1996 until the 2000-2001 season, before assuming the head principal position, at TCMS, which she held until 2010.
And then Todd County High School came calling. Diekhoff has served in an assistant principal capacity since 2010 and despite her immense love for junior high age students, says she fell in love with the young adults at Todd County High School.
“There is something about working with high school age kids that I just love,” Diekhoff said. “They are a step closer to adulthood and you can have some really intimate conversations about what’s important to them.”
Working in education for nearly three decades, Diekhoff has some pretty strong feelings about education and says she’s seen some really big changes since she started teaching in the late 1980’s.
“What’s changed the most is the whole accountability piece with No Child Left Behind, which is soon to change it’s name again,” Diekhoff said. “That has been the biggest academic change and I’m really not convinced it’s a change for the better.”
Diekhoff shared some of her thoughts on education, and perhaps, a few of the missing pieces that have filtered out of the education process.
“I think in this quest to increase test scores, it’s almost become a place where we’re forgetting some of the really important things about kids and that would be the relationship piece. The school culture piece, how we work together as adults. We always want numbers, we want something done in a hurry and everything I’ve read on low performing schools that make changes, make changes because they are able to shape their own professional culture in a way where staff work together, and they respect and honor one another and in turn that turns into these trusting relationships with kids and with parents and so it all works together. That important piece of building this professional culture at work so you can come to work every day and do meaningful work with the people you basically live with it’s critical, and that’s what let’s you do powerful work with kids.”
And while the education piece has changed, Diekhoff thinks the challenges facing the youth of today have also grown.
“Poverty, in and of itself always has a set of challenges, and that’s always going to be here, but it’s almost like the challenges have gotten worse with the gangs, the meth use and the different things,” Diekhoff said. “The complexity of issues kids deal with has changed dramatically.”
Of course you don’t spend nearly three decades in a school district without developing relationships.
“I’ll have parents say Miss D was my 5th grade basketball coach or it’s fun to watch kids grow up and families grow up and have their own families,” Diekhoff said. “I think that’s where I get a lot of enjoyment is to sit in an office with somebody or at the ballgame with somebody, and remember the time we went to the zoo in Sioux Falls or remember the time we had that softball game with our dads.”
While Diekhoff initially came to the reservation as an outsider, she gained a deep appreciation for an area that she says helped shape her core values.
“I think this place has given me more than I’ve given it,” Diekhoff said. “I’ve chosen to let go of some of my middle class values because with this culture and what these kids have taught me is that some of our middle class values are so wrong and aren’t what life is about.”
In the late 1990’s, Diekhoff, and others worked on restructuring the school district.
“One thing that will stick with me and always stick with me is that statement that says, ‘And we shall ALL be the catchers and protectors of our children’s dreams’, and because I think if you are invested in these kids and you are invested in this community then you are the catchers and protectors of all childrens’ dreams.
Deikhoff moved to Spearfish over the weekend and will be the Project Manager for Gear Up and will be working from the campus of Black Hills State University.
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