Two candidates seeking open Sioux Falls School Board seat

Dawn Marie Johnson and Brian Mattson competing spot currently held by Cynthia Mickelson, who is not running for re-election. Early voting is under way.

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Brian Mattson and Dawn Marie Johnson are competing for an open spot on the Sioux Falls School Board. Voting in the election ends May 16, 2023.

SIOUX FALLS — There will be three names on the ballot for an open seat on the Sioux Falls School Board but only two want the job.

Dawn Marie Johnson and Brian Mattson are running to replace Cynthia Mickelson, who chose not to seek re-election after two three-year terms.

Nicholas Zachariasen also submitted petitions and will be listed as a candidate, but decided to support Johnson after 20-minute phone conversation.

Voting begins today, May 1, and ends on election day, Tuesday, May 16, at the Instructional Planning Center headquarters at 201 E. 38th Street on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Election day voting will be available in 13 centers in the district. (See map below.)

Mattson and Johnson will participate in a forum at the Instructional Planning Center on Thursday, May 4, at 6:30 p.m. The forum is sponsored by the Sioux Falls Chamber of Commerce and moderated by the League of Women Voters.


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Dawn Marie Johnson, candidate for the Sioux Falls School Board.

Johnson is the director of leadership and culture for the South Dakota After School Network. She believes she can add valuable experience to the board. She also was a career technical education and community outreach coordinator from 2020 through 2022 for the Joe Foss High School’s alternative learning center.

“It was amazing. I loved it. I loved the program. As Sioux Falls grows, I think we need 50 of them,” she said. “It was beautiful. At any moment they could graduate when they finished their credits."

She believes she would be valuable for the school board because she was able to “walk alongside teachers during the pandemic.” She also has a nine-year-old daughter in the school district, who has been introducing her at appearances.

The 33-year-old said she can offer insight as the district works on improving after-school programs through community learning centers.

“This is a unique opportunity for us to grow and have these community learning centers turn into a great hub for families and the community,” she said. “It comes down to me wanting to do everything I can for my daughter and for all kids to have the best opportunities.”

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Brian Mattson, candidate for Sioux Falls School Board.

Mattson is a 52-year-old local investor who served in the Marine Corps and earned a degree in engineering. He believes he has the dedication needed to provide fresh input to the current school board. He enjoys digging into issues to finding solutions that satisfies all parties involved.

Mattson has two grown children, with a grandson attending school in the district.

“I want to ensure the best education is still available when he is old enough,” he said.


Mattson offered some detailed answers to questions about the future of the district and programs he would like to see emphasized and maintained including focusing on core academic values and parental rights.

The two candidates answered a set of questions from Sioux Falls live. Here are their responses:

What would be your priorities if elected to the board?

Johnson: “Walking alongside teachers” as they implement the newly passed statewide social studies standards and focusing on her passions on behavioral and alternative learning issues would be among her priorities.

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“I would like to support teachers the best way possible as the new social studies standards are bringing excitement and nervousness,” she said.

“As we step into a big new curriculum, how are we going to maintain a good staff relationship,” Johnson said. “I always say who's the people taking care of the people.”

“Staff morale is an area I’m also really passionate about."

She’s also passionate about helping students who need alternative learning spaces or behavioral support.


Mattson: He said he would advocate on the board for refocusing resources on “core academic performance” to maximize the educational outcomes for the district’s 24,000 students.

“While social and emotional learning is important, a balanced approach that emphasizes core academic subjects such as math, science, language arts and social studies is essential to prepare students for success in their future endeavors,” Mattson said.

“By reallocating resources and investing in evidence-based instructional methods, targeted teacher training and robust assessment tools, we can ensure that our students receive the strong academic foundation they need,” he added.

The future of gymnastics has been a big issue in the district. Would you support keeping the program?

Johnson: “I don’t have enough information to speak to it all,” she said.

The school board approved a tentative budget on Monday that doesn't fund gymnastics, likely ending supporters' hopes of saving it.

Mattson: ”I am deeply concerned by the cancellation of the gymnastics program and the resulting impact on our current gymnasts, especially those who may not be able to afford going into a private gymnastics academy,” he said.

He believes “a robust investment in physical education is not only crucial for the physical health of our 24,000 students but it also plays a significant role in improving their academic performance and addressing the mental health crisis identified by our superintendent.”

Mattson said that reallocating resources to support diverse physical education opportunities can provide an equitable and inclusive platform for all students to participate, regardless of their socioeconomic background.


Do you have any ideas on budgeting or financing the district may face in coming years?

Johnson: “That’s going to be an area of growth for me. I’ve managed large grants so I have a handle on budget and finances.” However, she said the school budget is much larger and she said she would have to lean on experienced board members to get a good handle on it.

Mattson: He said he was committed to implementing fiscal stewardship to the district to ensure a sustainable future for students beyond the end of COVID-19 federal funding.

Replacing and revamping Kids Inc. will create a better experience for kids and more options for families. But the possibility of ending access to the five community centers has caused some confusion.

“Prudent management of our financial resources is crucial to maintaining the high-quality education our students deserve, while also minimizing the impact on taxpayers,” he said.

“By evaluating the efficiency of our spending and identifying areas for potential cost savings we can allocate funds more effectively and invest in programs that directly benefit students. Through responsible fiscal stewardship, we can overcome the challenges posed by the approaching fiscal cliff and safeguard the long-term stability of our educational system,” Mattson said.

Do you have any ideas on educational programs you would like to see? 

Johnson: “I think we should focus on things that are going well. That makes the most sense to me,” she said.

She added she didn’t think this was the time to overwhelm staff with a lot of new efforts. But she said she will be asking for support to help staff with the new social studies standards and behavioral programs.


Mattson: He proposes enhancing support for teaching entrepreneurship in the district, building on the success of programs like Junior Achievement.

A group of Renberg families, that had opposed the changes, will be allowed to open enroll.

“By expanding partnerships with local businesses, entrepreneurs and industry professionals, we can provide students with hands-on learning experiences and mentorship opportunities that foster an entrepreneurial mindset,” he said.

“Additionally, we should integrate entrepreneurship-focused curriculum and extracurricular activities throughout our schools, encouraging creativity, problem solving and collaboration from an early age,” he said. ”Investing in these initiatives will equip our 24,000 students with the essential skills and knowledge to become innovative leaders and contribute to the economic vitality of our community in the future.”

How much do you plan to spend on your campaign?

Johnson: “We are moving towards our goal,” she said.

Mattson: “Without knowing the future, I wouldn’t be able to answer that question."

Sioux Falls Live also asked candidates about any endorsements they may have or groups that are supporting them.

Johnson is endorsed by the Sioux Falls Education Association, which represents the district's teachers. She had a two-hour long interview with a panel. “They asked the hard questions,” she said. “It was hard, but it was great. They want someone to speak out about their concerns. But I told them I need you to walk alongside me, too."


The endorsement is “huge," she said. "That was big. I wanted endorsements from educators... I want them to believe in me. That was a big win for me.”

Sioux Falls School District is partnering with the Promising Futures Fund and the Boys & Girls Club for the first step in new program at middle school level.

She also thought Zachariasen’s decision to back out of the race and support her was “incredibly noble.”

“I just thought it was pretty cool that he did that,” Johnson said. “We are never short on opinions but we are usually short on people willing to serve.”

Despite some reports, Mattson said he’s not a member of the Moms for Liberty, a group that advocates for parents' rights and has been a regular presence at school board meetings claiming there are inappropriate books available in school libraries. However, he said he has visited with members and he believes in the group advocating for parental rights.

“I believe the liberty of parents to direct the upbringing, education and care of their children is fundamental,” he said.

On the national level, he supports HR 5, the parental bill of rights passed by the U.S. House in March.

He said he has visited with many other groups in recent weeks.

As for an endorsement, he said the Culture Crossings Language Interpretation Services has offered its support.

The new board member will take office after Mickelson’s term ends on June 30.

Sioux Falls School District Voting Centers by Patrick Lalley on Scribd

Early voting is available to registered voters who can’t vote on election day within the school district in Minnehaha and Lincoln counties through May 15, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday at the Instructional Planning Center. Identification is required to cast a ballot.

Residents can also request mail-in ballots with an application through the county auditor offices. To request an application contact Minnehaha County Auditor Leah Aderson at 415 N. Dakota Avenue Sioux Falls, S.D., 57104 or Lincoln County Auditor Sheri Lund at 104 N. Main Avenue, Canton, S.D., 57103.

On Election Day on May 16 polls will be open at 13 voting centers across the city.

More information on the election can be found here.

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