Hot Springs recognizes its 2021-22 Teachers of the Year

Photo courtesy Troy Lurz

The Hot Springs School District’s Teachers of the Year awards were presented to three district staff members during the Monday, March 11, school board meeting. Pictured from left is Jeanie Dumire, Classified Staff Member of the Year; Katie Brunson, Hot Springs Teacher of the Year; Michele Merrill, Elementary Teacher of the Year and overall runner-up.


By Marcus Heerdt

HOT SPRINGS – The Hot Springs School District’s (HSSD) Teachers of the Year awards were presented to three district staff members during the Monday, March 11, school board meeting.

Receiving the honor of overall district-wide Hot Springs Teacher of the Year was secondary science teacher Katie Brunson, with elementary Title I Reading and Math Interventionist Michele Merrill named the Elementary Teacher of the Year and overall runner-up, and Hot Springs High School (HSHS) Indian Education Coordinator and Emotional Liaison Jeanie Dumire recognized as the Classified Staff Member of the Year.

When recommending an educator for Teacher of the Year, nominators are asked to consider the teacher’s methods for meeting student’s needs, desire for professional growth, community involvement, dedication to the teaching profession, and rapport with students, parents, and staff.

Completed nomination forms needed to be turned in to HSSD Superintendent Dennis Fischer by late February, and then the school’s administration and several board members selected the winners. Anyone can nominate a teacher or classified staff member for an award; the school has received nomination forms from teachers, parents, and former students.

Hot Springs Teacher of the Year Katie Brunson is in her sixth year of teaching in Hot Springs and was recently featured in a March 3 article in the Herald-Star titled “Forensic science exciting new course offering at HSHS.”

Forensics, along with botany, zoology, engineering, ecology, and astronomy, are part of the HSHS science department’s new course offerings in an effort to not only increase the rigor but also student interest in the subject. The new classes were created by the HSHS science professional learning community (PLC) and integrates South Dakota state education and science standards into its curriculum.

The individual who nominated Brunson for the Teacher of the Year Award recognized Brunson’s instrumental role in creating these classes and wrote on the nomination form: “By every standard Katie Brunson is deserving of this award. She has been pivotal in the restructuring of the science department. She has taken the lead in prioritization of the content standards which led directly to the redesign of the current curriculum. She is moving our school forward and remains positive amid change.”

“Katie has led the science department in a complete overhaul of the curriculum that will benefit our students for years to come,” said Superintendent Fischer. “She is an excellent role model for our other staff members in setting high standards for students, but working tirelessly to help them achieve success.”

Brunson is now qualified to be considered for the Region (Hot Springs is in Region 5) and State Teacher of the Year honor, which will be announced one year from now in April 2023.

“The kids have changed generationally over the years, and so to be a teacher that is willing to keep up with current trends, yet stay true to your philosophy as a teacher takes grit,” said Brunson. “And that is what I have in this profession. Students who are successful in science are the fuel to keep me in the field of education. I am not going to say it has been easy, but the challenges that are presented are achievable because I work with a great team of teachers. To achieve is to believe, and every student has the ability to achieve if they know you believe in them and form a relationship to some degree with them. That is what is in my heart.”

Elementary Teacher of the Year and district-wide runner-up Michele Merrill has been teaching in Hot Springs since 2017. Merrill was born and raised in Hot Springs, is a HSHS graduate, and began her teaching career in the area in 1994 when she taught elementary in Oral. After living in different parts of South Dakota and other states for more than two decades, Merrill and her family moved back to Hot Springs.

“I am blessed to work with and learn not only from all the great teachers but also from the students in our district,” Merrill said. “I am privileged to work in the same building I once walked through as a student many years ago.”

Writing about why Merrill deserved the Teacher of the Year recognition, her nominator wrote: “Michele is always striving to do what’s best for the students she works with. She’s always looking for different strategies to use with the students to fit their individual learning styles. She offers to incorporate whatever we are working on in the classroom into her lesson plans. She has been taking training on how to work best with our ELL students and works with those students on a daily basis to ensure they are understanding what is being taught.”

Merrill also taught summer school last year and takes on many other duties as well. Her nominator said that Merrill “is always willing to cover for someone’s class when needed” and “has given up her planning time to ensure that a classroom teacher can attend a meeting or to provide assistance to another staff member. Michele deserves to be recognized for her dedication to our school, our staff, and most importantly, our students.”

“Michele serves a vital role for so many of our students,” said Superintendent Fischer. “Though not a classroom teacher, she provides the needed support in Math and Reading that create academic success for students who need that extra attention. It is great to see her getting the attention this role deserves.”

Classified Staff Member of the Year Jeanie Dumire, known as “Miss Jeanie” to students, has worked at HSSD for the past 11 years, serving in a variety of roles.

Dumire’s nominator wrote that she “is a sounding board for both students and staff and can be counted on to fill in everywhere. She covers classes, the lunchroom, the office, the library, the nurse’s station, counseling duties in a pinch, and others. She is dedicated, trustworthy, and a team-player. She is tireless in her efforts to keep harmony among those that work and play here.”

Dumire was recently featured in a March 31 article in the Herald-Star titled “Native Youth Council gives students a voice.” The council is in its second year of being an official school organization, and Dumire is the group’s advisor.

“Working with these kids is my passion,” said Dumire in the aforementioned article. “I formed the Native Youth Council because these kids need to have a voice. And through this council, these students are able to have a voice that they didn’t have before.”

Dumire’s nominator ended with: “Jeanie Dumire is much more than a school employee…she is an educational family member and she cares for and about everyone. A more deserving employee who has the district interest in front of all else will be hard to find.”

“Jeanie has stepped into several vital roles for our district in times of need over the past year,” said Superintendent Fischer. “She is the person most of our students seek out for someone to talk to and get advice from. She has also led the introduction of the Native Youth Council which is providing many great benefits for our students in gaining their own voice and setting higher aspirations for life after high school.”

Fall River County Herald Star

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