SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — The longest-serving education secretary in South Dakota history is retiring.

Melody Schopp retired from her role at the state's Department of Education Friday after serving as secretary since 2011. She worked for the department for about 17 years.

"I'm having a really hard time because this is my life, this has been my life for almost 20 years," Schopp told the Argus Leader . "It's very bittersweet."

Schopp said the highlight of her career was working to pass legislation in 2016 that increased teacher pay.

During her term in office, problematic financial practices came to light after a Platte education cooperative misused funds from Gear Up, a federal program aimed at helping low-income middle and high school students prepare for college. Several lawmakers criticized Schopp by saying she could have prevented the embezzlement scheme. Schopp maintains that the issue was handled properly.

"We took the right steps," she said. "The department did make the right decisions back then and I don't think that's always been what people see."

While in office, Schopp managed the state's transition from No Child Left Behind to the Every Student Succeeds Act. Schopp also introduced new teacher and principal evaluation models.

"Prior to that, we had random checklists that districts used," said Mary McCorkle, president of the state's largest teachers' union. "There was nothing that truly described what a good teacher was, what good practice was."

Schopp also worked to reduce achievement gaps for Native American students by creating a task force.

"Dr. Schopp really had a heart for trying to make it better for those students," said former state Rep. Jacqueline Sly.

Don Kirkegaard will take over Schopp's role in January. Kirkegaard currently serves as president of the state Board of Education Standards.

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Information from: Argus Leader, http://www.argusleader.com