District welcomes new teachers

Nathan Steele

This year, Custer School District welcomes nine new teachers, counselors and administrators. The new crew comes from near and far and is made up of veteran educators and some who are new.
Gypsy Petz will replace Michelle Watland as the new Custer Elementary School counselor. Petz has been working with children and families for over 25 years. Most recently she worked as a school counselor in Wyoming for 13 years.
She is from Nemo and grew up in the Hills, and says “coming to Custer is like coming home for me!”
“I am looking forward to starting a positive working relationship with the Custer staff and children as well as exploring the community and all it has to offer. Go Wildcats,” said Petz.
Her husband, Dusty Petz, will also join the district this year to be one of the assistant principals at Custer Jr./Sr. High School as well as middle school athletic director and assisting with some school counseling responsibilities.  
He received his undergraduate degree from Dakota Wesleyan University, his master’s degree in counseling from South Dakota State University and his principal certification from the University of Wyoming.
Petz grew up in Faith, but has been in Wyoming for the last 13 years as a high school counselor, coach and athletic director.
Because he and his wife both grew up in towns in or  near the area, they are excited to be coming back.
“This was a great opportunity to get back in this beautiful area,” said Petz. “I am excited to get to know the students, staff and getting involved in the community. There are a lot of activities happening at the schools and events in the community that I am looking forward to being part of.”.
Gage Winkler will be the new physical education teacher at Custer Elementary. He will also coach JV girls basketball. This is his first year teaching. His wife, Alexa Winkler is also a teacher at Custer High School.
Winkler grew up in Western Nebraska and went to Black Hills State University. He and his wife lived in Spearfish for six years.
“Custer is a perfect fit for us as we value community and experiences outdoors,” said Winkler.
He said they knew they wanted to move to the Black Hills as soon as the opportunity presented itself.
Winkler says he is excited to get to know his new students and pass on a love of physical activity.
“I am eager to get kids excited about physical activity and having fun while doing so,” said Winkler.
This is also an exciting time for the Winklers as they are expecting their first baby to be born in September.
Brian Hanis is another first-year teacher for the district and said that teaching has always been appealing to him. Previously, he worked as an attorney, and his wife is a math teacher in another district. He and his family are moving here from Washington, and were drawn to the area after visits with his parents-in-law, who moved here eight years ago.
“Earlier this year, my wife, Megan, and I decided we wanted to make a change and move out of Washington.  After looking all around the country, Custer was the most appealing to us.  We felt the small town, slower paced environment was best for our family,” said Hanis.
Hanis hopes to use his previous experiences as an attorney, which he did for 19 years, as well as his coaching experience to “bring positive influence and growth to [his] students.”
He and his wife also have three children who will attend school in Custer.
“We look forward to becoming a part of the Custer community,” said Hanis.
Nicole Wells will be the new early childhood special education teacher for Custer and Hermosa. She is from Colorado, and this is her second year teaching in South Dakota. She has been in the early childhood education field for over 11 years,
She says one of the main reasons she applied for the position was because of the team already working in the district, namely principal Barb Paulson.
“Barb Paulson was a key factor in choosing this district and area. Her passion behind educators and quality of education, stole my heart just shy of two years ago,” said Wells. “I am looking forward to bringing forward my experience in Early Childhood to Custer and working along side their passionate board members to ensure all students have access to a safe place to learn with students of all abilities.”
Katie Friedan will the new middle school science  teacher in Hermosa. Previously she taught high school science for six years at Oelrichs High School. She and her husband moved to South Dakota about 10 years ago and live in Buffalo Gap. She says they enjoy the small town life.
Friedan also worked as a seasonal park ranger at Wind Cave National Park, which she says is one of her favorite places.
She said she wanted to work in Custer School District to get a broader experience as an educator and to become more involved in the community.
“I'm excited to meet more people in the community and to get to know my students. Building positive relationships is really important to me,” she said.
Bethany Jarrett will be a new high school English teacher in Custer. Previously she has been in the high school library for the past three years.
Jarrett was born and raised in Custer and graduated from CHS in 2004.
“I came back here to raise my family because I love this community,” said Jarrett. She says she is looking forward to getting to know her students this year.
Tabitha Stevenson will teach middle school special education in Hermosa. She comes to the district from Royalton, Minn.This is her sixth year as a special education teacher and 21st in special education.
“My husband and I have been coming to the Custer area for vacation for over 10 years and were married at Sylvan Lake. We love this area and feel at home when we are here, so we made the decision to move here,” said Stevenson. She says she loves exploring the beauty of the Black Hills.
Like many of the other teachers, she is also most excited to meet and get to know the new students and staff.
Kara Bradeen is a returning teacher to the district. She was born and raised in Custer and will teach  second grade at Custer Elementary.
She taught in Rapid City for a few years before coming to Custer in 2009, where  she taught here for five years, before leaving her position to stay home with her children. She also taught as a substitute in the district for a few years before jumping back in to second grade.
“Getting to know my students and watching them learn” is something Bradeen is most excited for as she returns to teaching.

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