The Custer School District stayed busy this summer by hiring 15 new staff members. Most of the hires were replacements, but there were a couple new positions added as well.
Custer Elementary added two new teachers, Wendy Drew and Jaci Neiffer, and a new principal, Barb Paulson.
Drew grew up in Flagstaff, Ariz., where she attended Northern Arizona University and received a dual degree in elementary and special education. She moved to Custer with her family to be closer to her father-in-law.
“My hopes for this school year are to build strong, positive relationships with my students as well as the other teachers at Custer Elementary,” Drew said.
When she isn’t teaching the third grade, she enjoys gardening, hiking, reading and spending as much time as she can with her three boys.
Neiffer was hired as the new K-6 media teacher, but has lived in Custer for the last 15 years.
“My son has been going to school here his entire life, and now my daughter. I love the school and the community of Custer,” she said.
Neiffer grew up in between South Dakota and Utah before attending Black Hills State University (BHSU) to earn her degree in elementary education, as well as a minor in reading.
She enjoys doing anything with her kids outdoors, educating students and working with Special Olympics here in town. Her hopes for the school year are to find her teaching style and continue to build amazing relationships with the students, parents and staff of Custer Elementary.
Paulson was hired on as the new principal and comes to Custer from Redfield. She went to the University of Minnesota where she received a bachelor’s in elementary education with a minor in speech communications. She then completed her masters in K-12 administration at Northern State University.
Paulson said Custer is a great community that offers many opportunities and isn’t so different from living in Redfield. She is passionate about doing whatever is best to help the students of Custer Elementary learn to the best of their abilities.
“I hope that through the building of positive relationships and developing realistic goals in the school, we will be able to see continued student growth,” she said.
In her spare time, Paulson enjoys reading, music, hiking and spending time with family and friends.
Custer Jr/Sr High added six new teachers: Jesse Hamer, Michaela Doyle, Nora Smolnisky, Gordan Drew and Katie Dethlefs.
Jesse Hamer is the new special education (SpEd) teacher at the high school and comes to Custer from all over.
“My father was in the military, so I grew up all over the place, but most of my younger years were spent in New York and England,” he said.
Hamer received his B.S. in theater directing/performance and technical design from Chadron State College before heading to BHSU and earning his master’s degree in education.
“As part of my master’s program we were asked to attend a teacher fair at BHSU. Mr. Thompson was on the panel of principals who spoke to our group and I appreciated his passion for his teachers and district. I approached the Custer table where I met Eve Trandem, who is also extremely kind and supportive, and a few days later I had an interview set up and now we’re here. I have only amazing things to say about the people I’ve met in this district and how extremely passionate they are about this community and our students,” Hamer said on his move to Custer.
As a first-year educator, Hamer hopes to learn from his fellow educators and create a learning environment where all students feel safe to take chances that allow them to develop a passion for learning that will extend all the way into adulthood.
Hamer is extremely passionate about the benefits of a fine arts education and likes to be as creative as possible in his free time. He also loves the theater and hopes to act somewhere within the community.
Doyle grew up in Flandreau and attended South Dakota State University where she earned a bachelor’s in music education. Her family moved to Custer about a year ago and Doyle wanted to be closer to them. That’s what brought her to Custer High School as the new chorus teacher.
“My hopes for this school year are to get to know as many students as possible and continue to grow the Custer choral program,” she said.
Doyle is passionate about both music and teaching, so she feels lucky to be able to do both as a career.
During her free time, she enjoys reading, listening to music and being active outside with her son.
When asked what the most interesting thing about her was, she responded, “My love for Disney movies and puns.”
Smolnisky is the new high school English teacher. She grew up on a hog farm south of Worthington, Minn., and earned her B.S. in English from Augustana University before getting her master’s in education from the University of Sioux Falls.
She and her husband, Sam, spent two years teaching at a private high school in Turkey and then took a year off to travel the country in their RV before finding a place to settle.
They came to the Black Hills because Smolnisky has always loved how beautiful and bountiful the outdoor opportunities are, and was lucky that an English position opened this spring.
“I hope to get my students passionate about reading,” Smolnisky said of her goals this year.
Smolnisky is passionate about reading and sets a goal to read 50 books each year.
Drew grew up in Parker, Ariz., where he attended Northern State University and comes to Custer as the new Jr High science teacher.
“I hope to pass along my enthusiasm for science to my students and help them succeed,” Drew said about the school year.
Drew likes participating in various outdoor activities, as well as coaching and traveling to new places.
Dethlefs was hired in the SpEd department as a paraprofessional.
Hermosa had the most new hires with seven new staff members.
Heidi Brisk will be the new fourth through eighth grade SpEd teacher. She comes to Custer from Rapid City and attended BHSU where she earned a double major in elementary and special education.
She hopes to build positive relationships with her students this year, but outside of that, she is very passionate about her family.
“I love being a mom to my 1-year-old son. We enjoy hiking together as a family, my husband, son and dog,” Brisk said.
Cynthia Row will be the new sixth through eighth grade math, reading and social science teacher. She grew up nearby on a ranch in Fairburn before moving to Colorado for a while. She attended college at Western Governors University and earned her degree in K-12 education.
Felicita Custer grew up in Philadelphia, Pa., and attended the University of Maryland University College Asia where she received a degree in psychology and then attended Cappella University to get a degree in school counseling.
Her husband recently relocated from Okinawa, Japan, to South Dakota. This is how Custer found herself taking the school counselor position at Hermosa.
“I want to empower all students with the skills and knowledge to become a better them,” Custer said.
In her free time, Custer enjoys running, camping, fishing, reading, playing golf and spending time with her family. She is also passionate about education and living a healthy lifestyle.
Hermosa also added Tiffany Kaiser and Tina Lundy as SpEd paraprofessionals, and Brandi Cook was also hired as a paraprofessional.