Gardner named Rookie of the Year

Leslie Silverman

The Hill City School District has an award-winning superintendent.

Blake Gardner won the Rookie of the Year award from the South Dakota Schools Superintendent Association (SDSSA).

According to Dennis Krull, Hill City Board of Education board president, “This award is given to a superintendent who has been in the position for one to three years. Nominations from across the state are presented to the SDSSA and they determine the recipient of the award. The nominees have certain criteria they have to meet.”

These criteria include leadership, vision, integrity, innovation, professional and community involvement and professional growth and characteristics. 

“ I was humbled and honored when I was presented with Rookie of the Year at our May school board meeting,” Gardner said. “There are only 150 superintendents in South Dakota, so just being in the fraternity is really special. I don’t feel worthy of the award because any accolade I receive is a result of the great people around me.”

The 2019-2020 school year was Gardner’s inaugural year as school superintendent.

“His career began in normal fashion, but no one could imagine the challenges that 2020 would bring for our school as well as schools across the country and world,” Krull said. “Mr. Gardner’s determination to do what was best for the students and staff during this COVID pandemic has been a solid testimony to his leadership skills.”

Even Gardner himself admitted that COVID-19 is a “very unique challenge.”

Gardner rose to meet that challenge by making sound decisions and engaging others in communication.

“Mr. Gardner has started his career with an open-door policy for all the parties of interest in the HCSD,” Krull said. “These included but are not limited to: the support staff, teachers, students, tax payers and parents. He approaches problems and concerns with an open mind and determination to facilitate the best outcome for all parties involved.”

Gardner was nominated by the Hill City Board of Education for, “the ability to listen to whomever he is visiting with and empathize with that person. He has the best interest of the stakeholders in mind every time he makes a decision.”

Gardner strives to put the needs of HCSD students first.

“My goal coming into the year was to make every decision based on what is best for kids,” Gardner said. “I also love to engage our stakeholders and I am a collaborative leader.  I am at my best when I am visible in the school and community.  I think I was able to achieve those things this year.”

He also understands how important his family has been to his success in this position.

“I would not have been able to do that without an awesome support system at home,” Gardner said. “I would not have survived this year without a great support system, especially my wife and kids. Every job has stress and I believe stress is relative to each person. I try to hold myself to a higher standard, so sometimes I add extra stress in my life because I want to make our community proud.”

Gardner praises the work of all of those around him by adding a “Good News” section to his report to the school board. In that section, Gardner has shared things like sports accolades, staff awards, and program and student recognition.

“We added the ‘Good News’ section to our school board meetings as a way to highlight the awesome things in our district,” Gardner said. “School board meetings are necessary to complete the business of the district, but they should also be an opportunity to celebrate our amazing school. I think it has really added a positive tone to our meetings.”

Gardner is a true Hill City Ranger.

“I love this school and especially our students, educators, school board, and parents,” he said. “I hope I can use this award as an opportunity to make the people of Hill City proud.  I hope it will put Hill City in the spotlight so people around the state can once again realize how awesome our school is. Ultimately this award belongs to everyone in our district, not just me.”

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