Dawn Marie Johnson wins seat on Sioux Falls School Board

Johnson defeated by Brian Mattson, winning 70% of the vote. Turnout was low at about 6% of registered voters in the district taking part.

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Brian Mattson and Dawn Marie Johnson were the two candidates for Sioux Falls School Board in the election that ended Tuesday, May 16, 2023.

SIOUX FALLS - Dawn Marie Johnson won a seat on the Sioux Falls School Board on Tuesday, defeating Brian Mattson by a wide margin.

Johnson, 34, won in each of the 13 voting centers across the city and will begin serving a three-year term beginning July 1. She replaces Cynthia Mickelson, who served six years on the five-member board.

The turnout was low, with only 6.1% of the district’s 123,885 registered voters casting ballots. In all, 7,649 residents voted.

Johnson ended with 5,405 votes — about 70% of the total — to Mattson’s 2,226, according to the Sioux Falls School District, which hand counted the ballots.

Johnson, a Native American who moved to Sioux Falls from the Sisseton-Wahpeton-Oyate Reservation, is the director of leadership and culture for the South Dakota Afterschool Network.


She previously worked as the career technical education and community outreach coordinator for the Joe Foss High School, an alternative learning program serving students in the Sioux Falls district.

Johnson is the first woman of color to serve on the board, she said in a statement of gratitude on Wednesday morning.

“This victory is not only mine. It is a victory shared with many,” she wrote. “The weight and significance of that achievement is not lost on me."

“I am committed to working hard to fulfill the responsibilities that come with this position,” she added. “Voters have placed faith in me to represent their interests and the interest of our growing community. I want to assure our community that I will work to make sure that every student receives the best possible education and that taxpayer dollars are spent wisely.”

She said she was excited to begin her new journey and to work with fellow board members, educators, staff and administrators “to ensure that our schools provide a safe, nurturing and challenging environment for students, including my daughter Rhayn, to thrive.”

With the support of the Sioux Falls Education Association, the organization representing the district’s approximately 1,800 teachers, Johnson pledged during the campaign to help guide the instructors through the new social studies standards that were approved by the state this spring. She also wanted to offer her guidance with the continuing development of after-school programs in the school district.

Mattson, 52, a local investor and former Marine, emphasized fiscal responsibility in the district and presented himself as a conservative in the contest. He also was in favor of expanding business education programming in the district.

Mattson told Sioux Falls Live he wasn’t a member of the Moms for Liberty organization that is raising cultural issues in school districts across the country but was supportive of their efforts and for more parental control in schools.


There was another candidate on the ballot, Nick Zachariasen, but he announced after meeting with Johnson shortly after filings were announced that he was supporting her and didn’t campaign. He didn’t drop out soon enough to have his name removed from the ballot. Voters apparently had the message as he only received 20 votes.

New program will combine Kids Inc. with existing nonprofit programs to offer families services at their elementary school.

Johnson, a single mother, has a 9-year-old daughter who attends elementary school in Sioux Falls.

She also said another reason she was running was to ensure her daughter, who introduced her at many speaking engagements during the school board campaign, and the district’s other 28,000 students had a chance for a solid education.

Voter turnout was just 5% in the last school board election in 2021, when Marc Murren was elected. The district is hoping to combine the school election in coming years with the state’s primary and general election when turnout would be much higher.

A change in state law allows districts to opt for four year terms, meaning the elections can consistently run in concert with other government entities.

The turnout was about 26% when Mickelson won her second term in 2020, when the school election was held in conjunction with the city election.

Mickelson decided not to seek re-election this year.

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