New students, staff abound in CSD

By Ron Burtz


There are dozens of new students in Custer District schools as the school year starts today and there are also a number of new staff members there to greet them. Custer Elementary School principal Barb Paulson says 30 students who are new to the district enrolled at CES last week and the Jr./Sr. high reports 50 new students. At the Hermosa School, administrative assistant Connie Graziano says 18 new students have enrolled.

Last Thursday the district welcomed 17 new or reassigned staff members with an in-service orientation meeting, a luncheon at Crazy Horse Memorial (Lunch was provided by the memorial in a tradition started by the late Ruth Ziolkowski) and a CPR class in the afternoon. 

Leading the list of new faculty members at Custer Jr./Sr. High is Jordan Likness, who replaces Stephanie Ornelas as assistant principal and activities director. Likness is a native of Yankton who received his education at University of Sioux Falls, Mount Marty College in Yankton and South Dakota State University, Brookings. After teaching and coaching in Gayville-Volin, Phoenix, Ariz. and Harrisburg, Likness and his wife Kate moved to New York City four years ago so she could pursue her acting career. 

Likness has been assistant principal and athletic director at South Bronx Hyde Leadership Charter School for the past several years. 

Kate has not yet joined Jordan in Custer because she is appearing in an off-Broadway production of “Annie” in which she plays the second female lead Grace Ferrell. 

“There’s so much of  a home away from home feeling for us being here,” said Likness, adding that Custer has a special place in the couple’s hearts because they got engaged at the top of Black Elk Peak several years ago while Kate was working at Black Hills Playhouse.

Athena Williams replaces the retiring Craig Black as Jr./Sr. high counselor. When asked about her home town, she hesitates saying that she is a “military brat,” but finally settles on Rapid City where she graduated from Douglas High School at Ellsworth Air Force Base. 

After high school she attended the University of South Dakota, Vermillion, where she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, a masters in psychology in education and a masters of administration. She is currently working on a doctorate in educational leadership through the University of the Cumberlands in Kentucky. 

She comes to Custer from Wichita, Kan. where she has worked the last three years as community employment coordinator for homeless veterans at the Robert J. Gold VA Center. 

However, this is not Williams’ first job in education. She previously worked in a psychiatric residential treatment center which had a school, then at Nemo Job Corps for three years leaving there in February of 2015. But she says, “This is my first time in a traditional school setting.”

Williams is currently living with her parents in Rapid City and will be taking care of her mom when she has double knee surgery in the near future. 

She says she is glad to be working in the Custer Schools, “So far it’s been great. I’m learning a lot. It’s a really welcoming atmosphere and I really look forward to being here.”

Other newcomers at CHS include special education (SpEd) lifeskills paraprofessional Lisa Baertsch, junior high SpEd paraprofessional Amy Axtell and Josef Kopp, night custodian. 

Emily Clary joins the elementary school staff as temporary grade three teacher. Clary is a recent graduate of Black Hills State University, Spearfish (BHSU) where she earned her bachelor’s degree in K-8 elementary education. She is a native of Eyota, Minn. and now lives in Rapid City where she most recently worked at Regional Medical Clinic. 

Clary and her husband Cameron have two children, Brad (3) and Gwen (8 months). She says she is very excited to be working in education and feels “super lucky to be in a school district that does work as a team together, and there seems to be a very good connection. Starting out as a first year teacher I feel lucky to be somewhere that people want to be.”

Also joining CES is Elizabeth Frisch who will work with Title I reading. Frisch is originally from  Flint, Mich. and received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln and her masters from Chadron State College in Nebraska. She has taught fifth grade in Sturgis for the past three years. This summer she married Nate Frisch who is sixth grade math and science teacher at CES. Frisch says she is excited about the opportunity to help students learn more.

Other new staff members at Custer Elementary include Jordan Cullum and Jessica Haug, both SpEd paraprofessionals, and night custodian Katie Watkins. 

There will also be a number of new faces at Hermosa School this year. Amy Sjolund joins the staff as middle school language arts and social sciences teacher. A native of Upton, Wyo. Sjolund has spent the last three years teaching 7-8 grade English in Hot Springs. She graduated from BHSU with her undergrad in literature, and went back to get her graduate degree in education and curriculum. Since her parents still live in Upton, Sjolund says she is excited to be closer to home, saying “That will give me more time at home, but also more time at school.”

Ashley Schreurs joins the Hermosa staff as middle school science, reading and social studies teacher. Originally from Tea, Schreurs received a biology degree and teaching certificate from South Dakota State University, Brookings. She also earned a master’s degree at BHSU. She has taught seventh grade science and social studies in Lead/Deadwood for the past four years. Having worked at Custer State Park for several seasons Schreurs says, “I’m excited to join the Custer School District. I love this area.” 

Rapid City native Paula Pierce will be the temporary second grade teacher in Hermosa. She holds a teaching certificate and a master’s in curriculum development from BHSU, and most recently worked as university supervisor at BHSU working with student teachers. She also did some contract work with Technology Innovation in Education (TIE). Pierce has been married to her husband Steve for 17 years and has two boys who have attended Hermosa school for the past year. Noah is 11 and Gage is nine-years-old. 

“I’m so excited to have a small little school,” says Pierce. “This is where my heart is. This is God’s country.” 

Incoming SpEd teacher Jami Jungck comes to Hermosa from The Rapid City School district where she has taught the past 15 years. A native of Jackson Hole, Wyo. Jungck received her education at the University of Wyoming. Her husband Scott is a fireman for the Rapid City Fire Department, and Jami also has extensive firefighting experience. Jungck says she is looking forward to being in a small district and a small town. 

Josephine Weekley is in her first year of teaching full-time and joins the Hermosa staff as K-8 technology teacher. She graduated in May from BHSU with a bachelor’s in elementary education. A native of Hill City, Weekley and her husband Dean have two girls JeweliAnna (14) and Keraliyah (12). She currently lives in Fairburn and her last job was working as a substitute teacher in Hot Springs. 

Carianna Anderson of Hermosa will make the move this year from SpEd paraprofessional to middle school SpEd teacher. Also coming on board the staff at Hermosa School is Roy Stanford who will be activities custodian.