For 16 new staff, ‘first day of school’ has a double meaning

As school doors open this week, 15 teachers and one principal will begin their first year of work within five of the six school districts that comprise the Free Press distribution area.

Centre School District is the only system not to have a new face join the faculty. At the other extreme, Marion-Florence, with five new teachers, will welcome the most.

Following is a district-by-district introduction.


— Rick Anderson comes to Canton-Galva with years of experience as an artist and a year under his belt as a secondary art teacher.

Anderson will teach several high-school art classes-Art I and II, Drawing and Painting I and II, Photography and Jewelry-as well as middle-school art.

“Mostly I’m looking forward to the jewelry class,” he said.

A native of Hugoton, Anderson graduated from Fort Hays State University.

“I’ve got a bachelor’s and master’s in art with an emphasis in bronze sculpture and a minor in jewelry,” he said.

Following employment in construction and as a sculptor, Anderson returned to school to obtain his teaching certificate.

“I taught previously down in Stanton County for a year,” Anderson said.

Anderson is engaged to be married and has a daughter who will be a junior at CGHS.

— Darren Ballantine has joined the Canton Elementary School staff as principal with a varied educational background.

“I spent the last two years in Plainville as a K-8 principal,” Ballantine said. “Prior to that I spent 11 years in Burrton as an elementary and middle-school teacher and coach.”

Ballantine graduated from Emporia State University with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education, then from Friends University with a master’s in education and from Wichita State University with a master’s in administration and supervision.

“Right now, it’s learning the system-what things are working well-and trying to find areas to improve on,” Ballantine said of his initial duties.

Ballantine is looking forward to trying a variety of new approaches to elementary education.

“I have a wide background in different areas of education and elementary systems,” Ballantine said. “And I have a thinking-outside-of-the-box mentality.”

— Angela Regier will teach first grade at CES this year.

The Marysville native graduated from Tabor College in December with a degree in elementary education.

“Then I substituted in numerous districts until I came here,” Regier said.

Regier is looking forward to that “spark of learning,” she said, “when they just know it.”

Regier comes to CES with teaching experience both in schools and in other after-school programs, such as CHUMS and Wichita Urban Ministries Plunge.

“I’ve worked with kids in a huge variety of settings,” she said.

— Virginia Niehage will teach the family and consumer science classes at CGHS this year.

Niehage comes to Canton-Galva from Moundridge High School, where she taught for 10 years.

The Moundridge native is a graduate of Kansas State University with a degree in home economics education.

Niehage is looking forward to teaching the four sequential classes in the FACS curriculum: family and consumer science; nutrition, wellness and meal planning; child development and parenting; and family living and survival skills.

“I think the program really teaches real-life things,” Niehage said. “They’ll all be in homes and they’ll all be involved in relationships, and they’ll all have to eat.

“Teaching kids those kinds of basic skills is important.”


Learning how to solve problems in a high school science class can have practical benefits for real-life situations.

“All science classes have some kind of problem-solving strategies,” said David A. Goerzen, who joins his alma mater at Goessel High School this fall as the science instructor.

Those strategies involve making observations, coming up with a hypothesis and collecting and analyzing data.

“That’s a big part of any situation,” added Goerzen, a 1994 GHS graduate who earned his teaching degree at Kansas State University in December 2001.

Before coming to GHS, Goerzen taught physics and applied physics at Chapman High School for three years. Now his curricular responsibilities will expand to include biology, general science and environmental science.

“I’ll be starting from scratch (with some courses),” he said. “That will be challenging.”

But Goerzen said he’s especially looking forward to the lab section of the science courses.

“The main thing I like about teaching is the hands-on (aspect) with the lab and working with the equipment,” he said.

A single father, Goerzen said he decided to apply for the position at Goessel so he and his 7-year-old son, Aleq, could be closer to extended family. The two are living with his parents, Larry and Dora Goerzen of rural Newton.

In addition to a full load of science classes, Goerzen will be an assistant football coach. While a student at GHS, Goerzen played football for four years, and he also helped with coaching at Chapman.


— Doug Dick, a lifelong resident of Hillsboro, is no stranger to the USD 410 system. Wife Debbie has taught for many years at Hillsboro Elementary School and their three sons-age 13, 11 and 8-are students in the system.

Dick will be teaching fifth-grade reading, math and social studies as well as fourth-grade social studies.

“I’m pretty excited about it,” he said. “It will be fun.”

After graduating from Hillsboro High School in 1978, Dick earned a physical education degree in 1983 from Tabor College, then went back to Tabor in 1986 to earn a degree in elementary education.

For the past 17 years, Dick has taught in the Marion system. He began as a special-education teacher for four years, then shifted between grades four through six over the remaining years, including a two-year “sabbatical” as a physical education instructor.

Dick was an assistant coach for high school football for all 17 years, served stints as a girls’ basketball coach in the middle school and high school and was head golf coach for the past 11 years.

Dick said he thoroughly enjoyed his 17 years at Marion, but felt the time was right to unify the family at Hillsboro.

“I felt good about the (Marion) district I was in, but I always heard good stuff about over here, too,” Dick said. “Obviously, I had my kids going to school here, so I felt it was a good district.

“I’m glad to be back,” he added. “It’s always a privilege to come back and teach and coach where you grew up.”

In addition to his teaching load, Dick will be an assistant coach for boys’ high school basketball and baseball.

— Lynn Just is familiar to patrons and students of USD 410 through her work the past 12 years as an assistant to longtime vocal music instructor David Clark in the production of high school musicals.

With Clark’s retirement this spring, Just will succeed him as vocal music instructor at the middle school and high school.

“I respect what he did, I think he did a wonderful job and I hope we can continue the reputation we have here because that’s important,” Just said.

A native of Assaria, Just graduated from Southeast of Saline High School in 1980 and McPherson College in 1984.

She then taught K-12 vocal music and fifth/sixth grade band at Peabody for nine years before stepping away from her full-time career to raise her children.

That same summer, Clark asked her if she would help with the musical productions at Hillsboro High School.

As vocal music instructor at HMS and HHS, Just will lead all choirs and the Spirit-N-Celebration select ensemble as well as be the lead director for one musical a year.

“I’m looking forward to working with a good choir again,” she said. “It’s been a long time since I’ve been actually able to conduct something. There’s lots of good music and I can’t wait to work with the kids.”

Just’s husband, Rod, teaches at HES.

— Bruce Major will bring a diverse teaching resume that includes international experience when he begins teaching algebra and geometry at HHS this fall.

A native of Mentor, a small community south of Salina, Major graduated from Southeast of Saline High School in 1979 and received a bachelor’s degree in secondary math education from Kansas State in 1984.

Major started his teaching career at Clifton-Clyde, where he taught math and band. After three years there, he took a year off to be percussion instructor for the KSU marching band.

In spring 1988 Major studied at St. Paul School of Theology in Kansas City, then taught math, band and physics on Guam from fall 1988 to 1993.

Major then left teaching to work on his master’s in educational administration at KSU, completing his degree in 1994.

From 1994 to 2001, he taught a combination of band or math at Junction City High, including one year when he taught both.

From 2001 to 2003, Major taught math in Honduras, then was band director at Sacred Heart High School in Salina for one year before returning to his high school alma mater last year to teach math.

Major said he’s looking forward to being part of the USD 410 system.

“We’ve heard good things about the school,” Major said. “As a family, we’ve been impressed with the people we’ve met at the school and the town in general. I’m really looking forward to getting to know the kids.”

He and wife Sara have a daughter Grace, 4, and son Charlie, 2.

— Melissa Stenfors will teach physical education at Hillsboro Elementary School.

She is a 1992 graduate of Bennington High School and Bethany College. Stenfors’ first teaching job after graduating from Bethany in fall 1996 was at Madison.

Stenfors completed a master’s degree in physiology, exercise and leisure sciences at Adams State College in Colorado in 2002.

Her next full-time teaching job was at Jefferson County North, near Topeka. Most recently, she worked at Lawrence High School on grants for a drug-prevention program.

In addition to teaching physical education, Stenfors will joining the high school coaching staff as an assistant for volleyball and as head coach for girls’ basketball.

“I get to teach the little kids, which I love-they’re so energetic and fun-and then I get to coach big kids,” she said. “It’s my dream job.”


— Shaun Craft returns to his hometown to instruct middle school and high school physical education and health. He also will succeed Sean Spoonts as head baseball coach and assist Grant Thierolf in football.

A 1998 graduate of MHS, Craft attended Emporia State University and Tabor College before graduating in 2004 from the University of Kansas with a bachelor of science degree in health and physical education.

Craft did his student teaching at Basehor and Tonganoxie and taught last year at McLouth High School near Lawrence.

“I just wanted to get back to my hometown to teach and coach here,” Craft said of his move to Marion. “I don’t think coaching at my old school will add any pressure, but this being my first head coaching job might add some pressure.”

Craft said he feels his best personal attributes are “the ability to be flexible and fair, and be able to work with all ages of students.”

Craft, who is single, said he hopes to make a positive impact on the community.

“I hope people will look at me and see me as a positive role model and as someone they can count on,” he said.

— Kimberly Harden begins her first year of teaching as a fourth-grade teacher at Marion Elementary School.

Harden grew up on a farm near Ashland and graduated from Ashland High School. She then earned a degree in elementary education from Tabor College; she was a member of the Bluejays’ tennis team.

“I did my student teaching in Marion, so I’m already familiar with a lot of the staff and how things work around here,” Harden said. “I really liked the school and the people I’ll be working with.”

Harden said she believes her strong point is her ability to communicate.

“I communicate well with children,” she said. “I hope if the children don’t understand something if it’s taught one way, I’ll be able to adjust and teach it another way so they can understand what I’m trying to get across to them.”

Harden hopes her students will have fun this year, enjoy her class and conclude the year with a strong understanding of what she taught them.

“I look forward to working with the two other fourth-grade teachers, Laura Baldwin and Alisa Jirak. And I look forward to having an enjoyable year here in Marion.”

— Jennifer Owen will begin her first year of teaching as the business and computer instructor for grades nine through 12 at Marion High School.

Owen also will be co-sponsor of the junior class.

“I hope to help start an FBLA (Future Business Leaders of America) chapter either this year or next year,” Owen said.

Owen grew up in Wilsey, a small community situated between Council Grove and Herington, and graduated from Council Grove High School.

Owen completed her bachelor’s degree in business education at Emporia State University in 2004 and is pursuing a master’s degree in the same field from ESU.

Owen is no stranger to Marion County, having done her student teaching at Centre High School.

“I like the location of Marion and I’ve been here before,” Owen said. “Marion really strikes me as a nice community.”

She said her stint as a student teacher did what it was designed to do-prepare her for her first full-time assignment.

“I learned the importance of good classroom management skills during my student-teaching experience.

“I have a willingness to put in as much time as is necessary for my students,” Owen said. “I hope my students will think of me as someone they can come to if they have problems and I hope they’ll enjoy their time in my classes.”

— Autumn Priddy will teach fifth- and sixth-grade social studies in the USD 408 system.

A native of Augusta, Priddy graduated from Bluestem High School in Leon. She has an associate degree from Butler County Community College and a bachelors degree from the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania.

“I was able to finish my schooling and also play basketball and softball for the University of Pittsburgh,” she said.

She graduated from Pittsbugh in December 2003. This will be her first teaching job.

“I did my student teaching in Pennsylvania, so I’ll pattern my teaching and draw off my experiences as a student teacher as far as how I’ll handle the position in Marion,” Priddy said.

“I came to Marion because it’s close to my family, which still lives in Augusta, and I also like the smaller-school atmosphere, so Marion is perfect for me.”

Priddy, who is single, will also coach seventh-grade girls’ basketball.

“I’m very personable and very flexible with my meeting times and I’m pretty easy to get along with,” Priddy said. “My hope for this school year is that the kids will have a lot of fun, learn a lot and get to do a lot of fun things in my class.”

— Although Sarah Waddell was employed by USD 408 last year as a library aide, this year will be her first as a classroom teacher. Waddell will teach fifth- and sixth-grade writing at Marion Elementary.

A native of Hesston, Waddell graduated from Hesston High School, then earned an associate degree in English from Hutchinson Community College. She has since completed a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a master’s in curriculum and instruction at Wichita State University.

Waddell taught for a year at both Wichita and Peabody before moving to Marion from Burns.

Waddell is married to husband Aaron, a professional truck driver, and is the mother of two children, Hap, 4, and Anderson, 1.

“I think my best personal attribute is that I make learning fun for the children,” Waddell said. “I hope people will think of me and think I was able to teach their children a lot while I had them in my class.

“I’m looking forward to getting started and seeing all the kids again.”


— Students who enjoy “learning by doing” will feel right at home in Sarah Spencer’s high school science classes at Peabody-Burns High School this year.

“I like to do a lot of projects and get some hands-on activities going for the kids so they really see the application of science,” Spencer said.

She is a third-year teacher and moved to Marion in May after she completed her teaching contract at Southern Coffey County High School in Leroy, where she taught physics, chemistry, physical science and biology.

Spencer graduated from Fort Hays State University with a degree in chemistry and then went to Emporia State University for her teaching degree.

When she and husband Doug moved to Eureka, she commuted the 50 miles one way to Leroy for two years to teach at the high school there.

“I was pretty excited about getting this job and the shorter commute,” she said with a laugh.

Spencer is also happy to be reunited with her husband after living apart for several months. Doug moved to Marion in October when he started his job with Natural Resources Conservation Services.

Spencer grew up in Jewell and has always loved science.

“I always had a strength in it,” she said.

She said she’s looking forward to passing on that strength to students in the Peabody-Burns district.

— New Peabody-Burns art teacher Rosie Brooks describes herself as a “jack of all trades.” She has more than 10 years experience teaching art in both private and public schools, and has taught everything from drawing and painting to photography.

“I’ve taught on and off for the Wichita Public School System, and before that I had taught for the Wichita Center for the Arts for years,” she said.

Brooks has a bachelor’s degree in art history from Kansas University, a master’s degree in painting from Wichita State University and is working on a master’s degree in educational psychology at WSU.

“It’s just kind of fun,” she said. “The more educational psychology I take, the more I think it’s something that all teachers should have.”

Brooks will teach art classes to students in kindergarten through 12th grade.

With her background in art history, she is trying to “figure out different wonderful, weird ways” to incorporate art history into her curriculum at all levels.

“Art history is incredibly important,” she said. “So I probably will try to have all lessons based in historical art references.”

Brooks said one of her main teaching objectives is to focus on what she calls ‘art citizenship.’

“It’s about respect for art, for each other and enjoying art,” she said. “Everyone can’t play football, but there are sure a lot of people who love art.”

Brooks will commute to Peabody from Wichita, where she lives with her husband who is also an artist.

She said she is looking forward to working in a smaller district, where parents are more involved in students’ lives.

“I wanted a quiet place,” she said. “It’s so nice to walk out and hear birds and not traffic.”

Free Press reporters Laura Campbell, Aleen Ratzlaff, Tom Stoppel, Janet Hamous and Don Ratzlaff contributed to this overview.

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