STURGIS | Jeff Simmons couldn’t turn down a chance to advance his education administration career when he took over as president and superintendent of the Aberdeen Catholic School System in 2015.
He also couldn’t resist the opportunity to return to the Sturgis school system where he first entered a classroom as a student-teacher nearly 30 years ago.
The Meade School District announced on Monday that Simmons had been offered a contract as superintendent, starting July 1 of this year.
He succeeds interim superintendent John Pederson, appointed in December to fill the post when Donald A. Kirkegaard was named South Dakota Secretary of Education by Gov. Dennis Daugaard.
The move marks completion of a full circle for Simmons, who was a student-teacher in Sturgis en route to receiving a Bachelor of Science Degree in Secondary Education with a major in biology from Black Hills State University in 1990.
“I’m very excited about the opportunity,” Simmons said in a telephone interview from Aberdeen on Tuesday.
“Aberdeen’s a wonderful place. I feel very much at home here and I’ve had a great experience,” he said. “It’s great to move back, because the Hills feel like home to me and my family.”
His teaching career includes nine years at a middle school in Harlingen, Texas, before returning to South Dakota in 1999 as high school principal, first in Eureka and then as principal and activities director in Timber Lake.
He became principal at Sturgis Brown High School in 2006.
Along the way he earned his Master’s in education from the University of Texas in Brownsville in 1998, his Superintendent Endorsement from the University of Sioux Falls in 2005 and STEM Certification from Northern State University in Aberdeen in 2017.
Simmons will oversee more than 2,800 students spread out in what is certainly the largest school district in the state, if not the nation, in terms of land mass, encompassing more than 3,000 square miles.
“We receive a lot of our tax base from the rural (areas) and I believe we have to honor it and honor those people,” he said.
The district is nearing completion of a major construction project, Stagebarn Middle School, in the growing I-90 corridor community of Summerset and with another building project pending in the rural areas of Enning and Union Center.
Simmons said getting those two projects completed and operating, plus management of the district as a a whole will top his agenda when he starts in July.
A long term goal, he said, is “bringing academic excellence to the Meade School District and enhancing and improving on a solid foundation of what already exists.”
Simmons said he was surprised at a personal response to the posting of the top administrator’s job in Sturgis.
The pull of both the Black Hills and the school system where he had began his career 28 years ago and furthered it for nine years as principal was strong.
“I knew almost immediately that it was something I aspired to,” he said. “The administration that was there at those times are people I aspire to be like, and I guess that was a draw for me.”
Leaving the Aberdeen Catholic School System is bittersweet, even after just three years.
“I have mixed emotions about leaving here, and I’m excited about my opportunity there,” he said.
“I’m working hard to set them up for success as they bring in a new person. They’re wonderful people and they deserve the best,” he said.
His family, including his wife Michelle, daughter Gwyneth, and son Jacob, are also excited about the return to Sturgis.
Gwyneth, a senior-to-be at Sturgis Brown High School this fall, and Jacob, a 2015 SBHS graduate and currently a junior at the University of South Dakota, both have friends in Sturgis.
“We’re looking forward to old friendships,” Simmons said. “The family always has the final say on a move and I got the green light.”