School welcomes new teachers

Esther Noe
The Hill City School District has five new teachers this year including Brandi Sperle, Deidre Ortiz, Chuck Safrit, Laura Hagen and Travis Santistevan. 
Sperle is teaching first grade and said, “What I enjoy most is their excitement for learning. They are eager to learn more and do more every day.”
Originally, Sperle is from Wray, Colo., where she taught for four years. Then she married a South Dakotan and moved to Rapid City where she taught for the last 13 years. 
Her husband is a captain with the Pennington County Sheriff’s Office and has also served in the South Dakota National Guard for the last 23 years. 
“We both grew up in small towns,” said Sperle. “When given the opportunity to teach in a small town and have our kids go to school in a small town, we knew this was a perfect fit for all of us.” 
They have two daughters. Harper is in fourth grade and Hailey is in third. Sperle said both girls already feel right at home in the school. 
Sperle too feels the welcoming atmosphere, saying, “I’m most excited about getting to know the staff, students and community of Hill City. I can already feel the sense of family that exists within the school, and I’m excited to be a part of something so special.” 
Deidre Ortiz is teaching second grade and said, “I love this age. The students love school and are excited to learn. I love seeing them light up when they make connections and learn something new.”
This is Ortiz’s second year teaching, having taught fifth grade at Canyon Lake Elementary School in Rapid City last year. 
Ortiz was born in South Dakota but moved every three to four years growing up since her dad was in the military. However, her mom’s family lived in the Hills so they spent summers and Christmas breaks here. 
Later, Ortiz met her husband in Utah and tried to convince him to move to the Hills for years. In 2022, he agreed and they moved to Hill City. Since there were no job openings at the school, she took the job at Canyon Lake Elementary. 
“I live in Hill City and I have five kids in school in Hill City and one in the pre-school at the Boys & Girls Club, so it was hard to be in a different district from them,” said Ortiz. “I was overjoyed when I saw there was an elementary opening in the spring and applied right away.”
“I knew a lot of the students already from community events and sports that my kids are involved in, but I am looking forward to making stronger connections with them and the staff. Hill City has a great school staff that is so welcoming,” Ortiz said. 
Chuck Safrit is teaching kindergarten through fifth grade general music, fifth grade beginning band and middle school choir. This is his first year teaching. 
Safrit stumbled across the position almost by accident. 
Having grown up in North Carolina, Safrit said, “My family and I were traveling around the country and fell in love with this area so much that we decided to settle down here.” 
When he and his wife went to the school to register their two daughters, the girls were excited to sign up for music and choir. However, they were told that the music teacher had just retired, and the school had not found a replacement yet. That is when his wife spoke up saying that Safrit’s degree was in music education. 
“Mrs. Weaver gave us a tour of the building showing us where ‘my classroom’ would be and suggested I speak with (superintendent) Mr. (Blake) Gardner before leaving that day. After talking with both principals and a few others in the school I knew I needed to apply,” said Safrit.
Safrit said he is most excited about “getting to know all the students and families as we settle into the town.”
Also teaching in music education is Laura Hagen. Hagen is the sixth through 12th grade band and high school choir teacher. 
“I love working with students and helping them develop and improve their skills,” said Hagen. 
This is Hagen’s 29th year teaching, having taught in Nebraska, southeast South Dakota, central South Dakota and Rapid City. 
Hagen graduated high school in Wright, Wyo., earned a bachelor of science in K-12 music education from Chadron State (Neb.) College and earned a master of science in educational technology from Dakota State University in Madison. 
“I have always loved the Black Hills and was so grateful for the opportunity to live and work here,” said Hagen. “I’m excited to be a part of the awesome Ranger family.”
Some fun facts about Hagen include this year marks her 34th season as a certified volleyball official in South Dakota. She is a nationally registered EMT, works with the Piedmont Ambulance and was a firefighter for 20 years. She is also a volunteer with the South Dakota Seventh Circuit Court as a Court Appointed Special Advocate. And yes, Hagen does ride a motorcycle.
Hagen and her husband have six children, almost five grandchildren and a fur baby named Bear. 
Along with serving as a middle school football coach and the assistant girls basketball coach, Travis Santistevan is the seventh through 12th grade Career Technical Education (CTE) teacher. He will teach subjects in the architecture and construction, manufacturing and transportation, distribution and logistics career clusters. 
“What I enjoy the most about teaching this area is helping produce the next generation of builders, welders and mechanics,” said Santistevan. 
This is Santistevan’s 12th year in education. He started his career working at the Britton-Hecla School District for six years. After that, he taught for the Crook County (Wyo.) School District at Moorcroft  High School for four years and at Baker (Mont.) High School for one year before coming to Hill City. 
Santistevan grew up in Lusk, Wyo. and always spent time in the Hills. 
“That was one factor that drew me to Hill City. The reason I applied at Hill City was it got me back to the South Dakota education system and closer to my family,” said Santistevan. 
“I am most excited about being a part of the outstanding school district here at Hill City and am excited to build upon the CTE education program here. Plus adding the SkillsUSA program,” Santistevan said.

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