Sundance Times - Continuing the Crook County News Since 1884

Teachers retire from Sundance schools


June 3, 2021

As another year draws to a close, the halls of Sundance’s schools are set to change in a significant way. With more than a century of time spent with the youngsters of Crook County School District between them, four teachers retired on the last day of the semester.

Mary Jane Jordan

Though Mary Jane Jordan was hired 30 years ago as a media specialist, she became the librarian for Sundance High School just one year later and has remained so ever since. Jordan has also been the school’s Student Council sponsor and National Honor Society adviser.

“I knew in high school that I wanted to teach, but deferred that goal while I learned life lessons pursuing other career paths, from working on the family ranch to working in the tourism industry to working for the University of Nebraska as a technician,” Jordan says.

“When I told my grandmother it was time for me to go back to school she said, ‘Okay, but don’t become an educated idiot’.”

Jordan went to college as a non-traditional student and earned her associate’s degree in journalism, a BSc in education with a field endorsement in language arts and a K-12 endorsement in library media, followed by a masters in curriculum development, which was a piece she felt was missing in her undergraduate degree.

“I have enjoyed both of my endorsements here at SHS as the media specialist, promoting academic integrity by having students cite their work; however, I really love helping them research information for their projects. In the field of language arts, I have had the opportunity to work with students either in credit recovery or in conjunction with a special education teacher,” she says.

“Last year, when the pandemic forced us to close our doors, I was teaching three periods of English on top of library duties and my role as the technology facilitator.”

Jordan says she loves her job and school family, and what she has most enjoyed during her years at the school is that, “We have really good kids.”

“That in large part is because the community of Sundance puts a lot into them. They attend their concerts, they support their fund-raisers, they cheer them on in their sports,” she says. “Great communities, great parents, great schools equal great kids.”

In her role as National Honor Society and Student Council adviser, Jordan says she has aimed to promote academic honesty and community service to students. Her students have commented that they feel everyone should take the Dave Ramsey “Foundations of Financial Literacy” she has incorporated into her teaching.

“I’ve had students apologize to me for being “challenging” students and, as they are raising their own children, they realize the errors of their youth. A former student, from my first year at SHS, thanked me ten years ago for being his ‘best teacher’ because I told him to believe in himself; I wouldn’t let him sell himself short,” she says of the lessons she has worked to instill in her students.

“I treasure those words as high praise. As students graduate and go on to learn life lessons of their own, I hope they remember the words that I wrote on the board at the beginning of the school year: life is an open book, write a bestseller!” 

Sheryl O’Connor

For the last 12 years, Sheryl O’Connor has taught secondary math at SHS. She has also been a substitute teacher and was the Special Populations Coordinator for SHS between 1997 and 1999.

In addition, O’Connor has coached girls basketball at high school and junior high level and volleyball for high school girls. She was a mentor teacher during the 2016-17 school year and Proctor of Concurrent Enrollment in fall, 2018.

Before joining CCSD, O’Connor taught for one year in Montana and ten years in Upton.

“My dad was a teacher and a coach, so I grew up in the world of education and in the gym. I never really wanted to be a teacher but after graduating college (the first time), I did a little subbing and coaching while job searching,” O’Connor says.

“The coaching got me hooked. I went back to college to get my education degree and have enjoyed teaching ever since.”

Teaching and coaching are much the same, she says, and her overall experience of teaching in Sundance has been a positive one that also fit well with her family.

“Teaching in Sundance has been special. We have really good kids,” O’Connor says.

“That makes the job pretty easy.”

For O’Connor, one of the more special experiences of being a teacher is the opportunity to witness the progress of each student.

“I enjoyed watching their educational journeys. They walk in the doors as excited seventh graders and leave as mature, eager young adults,” she says.

“I just enjoyed the everyday interactions with the kids. It’s all about connections!”

Of the lessons O’Connor hopes she has left with her students over the years, she says, “I hope they’ve learned about being fair and honest, how to work hard – and a little math along the way.”

Alice Willey

Alice Willey joined the district in 1988 as a guidance counselor in Hulett, in which role she served until she became the principal in 1993. In 1998, she resumed her role as counselor, then transferring to the Sundance schools in 2004, first serving both the high school and elementary before focusing on the high school only for the last school year.

She has also been an activities supervisor for the students.

“There’s a bit of history of teaching in my family: my mom and a great-aunt were both elementary teachers. I started out thinking I wanted to be a lawyer but a political analysis class and its professor pointed me back to education,” she says.

“I have a love of history and books and started out as a librarian. As a matter of economics, a superintendent from my first school district asked if I would go back and get my masters in school counseling to be half-time librarian and half-time counselor.”

It’s been a full and rich 41 years, she says, with her experiences as a librarian, social studies teacher, counselor and principal driving her to continue, as well as the students, her colleagues and the “other duties as assigned.”

Of Sundance’s students, she comments that, “There’s a goodness, a kindness, a creativity, a talent, an orneriness…I love them unconditionally because they’re my kids regardless of perfection or screw-up.

“We’ll get through together, we’ll learn together, we’ll celebrate together, we’ll cry together and we’ll hug each other,” she says. They’re amazing, frustrating, stubborn, wise beyond their years, sweetly naïve, and funny.”

The most important lessons Willey has aimed to instill in her students over the years go as follows: “Be kind, live by the Golden Rule: treat others the way you want to be treated. Keep learning, open your eyes and ears, your mind and your heart.”

Kathy Bjornestad

Kathy Bjornestad is the Library Media Specialist at Sundance Elementary School, a position she has held for nine years. For the four years prior to that, she was the Library Media Specialist at SHS.

Bjornestad has been with CCSD for 21 years and previously taught all over the state, including arts and Spanish at Hanna/Elk Mountain, Sage Valley Jr. High, Hulett and Sundance. She has also been a National Honor Society sponsor at SHS and ran the school newspaper at Rock Springs High School.

“I’ve always wanted to be a teacher. When I was a little girl, I would force my little brother and sister to play school with me,” she says.

“Since they both got doctoral degrees, I guess I did okay! I’ve stuck with it because I enjoy the creative aspect of planning fun units, and also because kids make me laugh. I enjoy listening to their views of the world.”

Bjornestad’s favorite thing about teaching Sundance’s kids is that they have a habit of doing the unexpected.

“I love it when they surprise me and make me laugh, which happens a lot with elementary students,” she says.

Bjornestad has done her best to impart three very important life lessons to her students over the years.

“I have tried to be an example of someone who works hard, is reliable, and has a strong moral compass,” she says.

“I hope I’ve helped foster a love of reading and helped guide my students to be wiser digital citizens, too.”


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