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Lightenberg honored as 2022 SDAESP Principal of the Year



Ligtenberg was named the 2022 South Dakota National Distinguished Principal Honoree by the South Dakota Elementary Principals’ Association. Wanting to keep the announcement by Meade School District Superintendent Don Kirkegaard a surprise, Assistant Principal Amanda Christensen kept Ligtenberg busy while other staff assembled the schools’ 550 students in the gym.


Kirkegaard shared with the students that he had a big surprise in store for Mrs. Ligtenberg.When Ligtenberg walked into the gym she was perplexed by the gathering.

“Oooooh!” Ligtenberg shouted as the door was opened and she saw the students and staff. They cheered and clapped.


Kirkegaard brought her in front of the crowd near to where her husband, Garth, their children, and her parents were seated.


“Are you ready to celebrate a special accomplishment?” he asked the children. “Today is really a special day. Your principal, Mrs. Ligtenberg, was just announced as the elementary principal of the year for the entire state of South Dakota.”


There was more screaming and applause by the crowd.

Ligtenberg’s jaw dropped as he made the announcement, and she became a little teary-eyed.

“I want to thank everyone here. Thank you for coming and making it special and surprising me. Not many people can surprise me, and you guys got me good,” she said.

Ligtenberg said she feels blessed to come to work every day at Sturgis Elementary School.

Samantha Walder, Legacy Elementary Principal for the Tea Area School District and president-elect of the South Dakota Elementary Principals’ Association, said in announcing the award that Ligtenberg’s focus on a culture for learning was a highlight of her application.


Ligtenberg, who has served as the Sturgis Elementary School principal for the past 10 years, has created what she calls “Sturgis Essentials” soft-skills and established a house system for the building to create community at school.


Ligtenberg also was commended for a program called WIN (what I need) time daily. Through the program, teachers collaborate to meet the needs of students. Ligtenberg also helped lead the start of a junior kindergarten program at Sturgis as well.

Prior to becoming the principal at STEL, Ligtenberg served as the assistant to the special education director in the district and also worked as a special education teacher at Sturgis Brown High School.

“We are extremely fortunate to have Chantal as our principal,” Kirkegaard said.

Ligtenberg’s former supervisor, Meade School District Special Education Director Chrissy Peterson, congratulated her and thanked the school’s staff for being a great part of her team.


“I can’t think of anyone who deserves this more than you. Congratulations,” Meade School Board member Charlie Wheeler told Ligtenberg. Ligtenberg will serve as South Dakota’s nominee for the NAESP NDP and be recognized at the SDAESP banquet at the principals’ conference in Deadwood in June.


NAESP’s National Distinguished Principal (NDP) program honors outstanding elementary and middle-level principals who ensure that America’s children acquire a sound foundation for lifelong learning and achievement. Each year, NAESP congratulates principals from across the nation, in both public and private schools, and overseas, for their exemplary achievements.


Kirkegaard said the award means Ligtenberg will be honored both by South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem and also by President Joe Biden at a White House ceremony.

“It’s a really big deal. And, we’re so very proud of her,” Kirkegaard said.


This article was written by the Black Hills Pioneer Press.

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