Kristi Noem just appointed Cooter Secretary of Education! Yeeha!
Oh, possum on a gumbush—wrong Ben Jones. Dr. Benjamin F. Jones will take six months off from deaning Arts & Sciences to hold the post while our incoming Governor figures out who she wants for keeps in the position.
Interim-Secretary-Designee Jones already has some homework from the new boss:
“Governor-elect Noem has asked me to work on ways to improve school performance with an initial focus on civic education,” Jones said. “I will also develop a plan to increase transparency and accountability within the Department of Education.”
“The State Historical Society and the State Library are also within the responsibilities of the Secretary and I am excited to look for ways those two agencies can have be a greater resource for South Dakotans,” Jones said [Dakota State University, press release, 2018.12.20].
Dr. Jones will need to work fast: he says in his DSU press release that he looks forward to returning to DSU in May. Perhaps in asking Jones to focus on civics during his brief tenure, Noem is signaling that she reads Dakota Free Press and foresees that Rhode Island lawsuit leading to a court order that schools provide richer civics education.
Jones is a reasonable pick for a civics focus. He has an honest-to-goodness Ph.D. in history, earned from the University of Kansas in 2008 for his 437-page dissertation on General Eisenhower’s use of Special Forces units in collaboration with French Resistance guerrillas in World War II France. But he’s a relative newcomer to teaching: he was a logistics guy (uh oh) for the United States Air Force for 18 years before turning to teaching at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs in 2008. He’s been at DSU since 2013 but lives in Minnehaha County, where he led a petition drive in late 2014–early 2015 to block the Sioux Falls School District’s annexation of the Cherry Lake subdivision from West Central’s tax rolls. Jones’s neighbors overruled him and okayed the boundary change in May 2015… but hey! a guy with a history degree and some petition experience should make a fine civics teacher… or advocate civics teaching!
No word though on why Noem is taking on a temp instead of filling the Secretary’s seat for keeps.
But in tonight’s coincidence file, historian Jones’s current address as listed online is 5203 S Sweetbriar Circle, Sioux Falls. Who lives right next door in the cul de sac? Fellow historian, advisor to Senator John Thune, and Noem donor Jon Lauck:
I don’t know what Cooter thinks, but the Cylons say there’s no such thing as coincidence.
Senior Advisor: Tony Venhuizen will serve the Noem administration as senior advisor. Venhuizen, an Armour native, currently serves as chief of staff to Governor Dennis Daugaard and has been the liaison between the Daugaard administration and Noem transition team. He will be staying with the Governor’s Office into the spring to ensure a seamless leadership transition [Noem transition team, press release, 2018.12.20].
(I love how that South Dakota paragraph lights up my spellcheck like a Christmas tree.)
“Into the spring”… which is when Jones says he’s done, which is when we may assume Noem will name a new Secretary of Education, which is when Venhuizen, having successfully guided Noem through her first Legislative Session in the big chair, will be looking for his next gig.
You know, Venhuizen did serve five years on the Board of Regents in his youth. I might be crazy, but I ain’t dumb: my DRADIS says Noem wants Venhuizen as Secretary of Education but she needs his brainpower to get her through Session first.