- Associated Press - Thursday, October 9, 2014

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - In one day, Josh Page might go from policing a playground snowball fight between elementary students in his rural school district in far northwestern South Dakota to offering career advice to college-bound seniors.

Page is the principal of all three schools in Harding County: a K-12 school and two elementary schools. He’s one of many in rural districts across the state who manage a school with every grade level, if not multiple schools. On Thursday, the South Dakota Board of Regents approved plans for a Master’s of Education in Principal Preparation that would, in part, better equip potential principals to work in such conditions.

Rural principals, like Page, often don’t have the luxury of assistant principals and other staff members that larger districts might, so they’re tasked with everything from handling system-wide teacher evaluations to managing student attendance across 13 different grade levels.

“So, you get spread pretty thin,” said Page, adding that he’s only able to travel to his two separate elementary schools, which are about 20 miles away, once a week. “It’s a whole gamut of things. I’ve got a lot of irons in the fire.”

The program, for which specific curriculum will be refined over the next year, would be offered around the regent’s system at Black Hills State University, Northern State University, South Dakota State University and the University of South Dakota.

If approved to start next summer as expected, the degree program would be delivered through a mix of face-to-face coursework, online instruction, and field-based learning experiences, the regents said. The participating universities expect about 20 to 25 students would enroll in the first year.

Jack Warner, the executive director and CEO of the board, said because of the state’s larger percentage of rural districts, he think he the degree program will be popular.

“There’s a big demand for that in South Dakota,” he said.

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