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Meet the new faces of Big Sky School District

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The school year is here, which means some new faces in the faculty. PHOTO BY BAY STEPHENS

Lone Peak High School

Brad Packer – Middle & High School Math

After 23 years teaching in Great Falls—and fly fish guiding on the Smith River in the summers—Brad Packer has taken the leap to move to Big Sky for some new scenery. Originally from small town Minnesota, Packer studied nonteaching math in Moorhead, Minnesota. His college summers were spent working in Glacier National Park, where he got his first taste of Montana. Years later, Packer went back to college to obtain the education portion of his math degree, then going on to earn his master’s in education from Montana State University, which at the time was the only master’s in math education west of the Mississippi River.

Marielle Walker – High School Spanish

The IB program at Lone Peak High School was a major draw for Marielle Walker, who has taught in her home state of Michigan, as well as North Carolina, Vietnam and last year in New York City. A double major in music education and Spanish education at Western Michigan University, Walker seeks the charms of a small town after four years living in big cities. Her last real winter was nearly a decade ago, so she sees her move to the area as yet another adventure. Montana is a far cry from anything Walker’s experienced before, and she can’t wait to dive into the community and outdoor lifestyle.

DJ Soikkeli – Art

DJ Soikkeli (pronounced “soy-ee-kelly”) graduated from MSU in December of 2018 after student teaching at Lone Peak High in the fall; he substitute taught at BSSD last spring, too. Equipped with a year of relationships at the high school, plus an art background, Soikkeli applied when he heard that Megan Buecking, the former art teacher under whom he’d student taught, was leaving. Hailing from Los Angeles, Soikkeli started at MSU studying graphic design before opting for education, earning his K-12 certification; his schooling in Bozeman fostered a love for the area. He will teach all the art classes save the IB Diploma Visual Arts program, with which he will assist Chandler Dayton.

Chandler Dayton – IB Diploma Visual Art

After two years teaching in South Korea, eight in China and two in Italy, for a total of 12 years abroad, Chandler Dayton returned to U.S. soil in July and is ready to finally settle into the Bozeman home she purchased in 1987, and to work part time for the district. Combining her time in China and Italy, Dayton has 10 years’ experience teaching IB Diploma Visual Arts and brings a depth and breadth of knowledge about the rigorous program, which she will lead teach. In her opinion, the most challenging part of the IB art program for students is time management, but she looks forward to helping pupils find their rhythms and create great art.

Ophir Elementary

Kimberly Pechischev – Second Grade

Kimberly Pechischev is one of the very few individuals married on the crest of Lone Mountain—after hiking up it. She’s lived in Big Sky the past 4.5 years working in the local preschools, but has had her sights set on BSSD for several years. While she earning her bachelor’s in early childhood development in her home state of Wisconsin, Pechischev first came out to Big Sky to work in the kid’s program at Lone Mountain Ranch, where her sister worked at the time. After she met her to-be husband while hiking Lone Mountain with her sister that summer, Pechischev made sure to find her way back to Big Sky once she graduated. She’s excited to learn the ropes of IB.

Mackenzie Caldwell – Fifth Grade

How many teachers do you know who student taught in India? For four months this spring, Mackenzie Caldwell, May 2019 University of Montana grad, lived and taught in the Southeast Asian nation. Ophir Elementary’s IB Primary Years Program was a major reason the school topped her list. Caldwell comes to the rescue of Jonathan Gans, who had to wrangle a class of 32 fifth graders last year. Caldwell has always wanted to teach, so she’s thrilled to finally have a classroom of her own. Time in India impressed on her the importance of global mindedness, a tenet of the IB curriculum that she hopes to instill in her students.

Hilary Robbins – First Grade

Although Hilary Robbins has lived in Big Sky for over five years, she’s spent ski vacations here since she was 8 years old. In fact, the mother of one of her students taught Robbins’ sisters how to ski. Robbins hails from Ontario, Canada, and graduated last December from MSU after going back to school to earn her elementary education degree. She worked as a teacher’s aide in Mr. Gans’ sizeable fifth grade class last year, but is especially excited to teach younger kids.  


Other movements within the district

  • Erika Frounfelker will work as the elementary school counselor this year, as well as the K-5 health education teacher.
  • Brittany Shirley, who taught a second-grade class last year, is now the K-5 instructional coach.
  • John Hannahs has moved from being a second-grade teacher to a middle school teacher. He will continue to serve as BSSD athletic director.
  • Whitney McKenzie has moved from third grade to teach second grade

Joseph T. O'Connor is the previous Editor-in-Chief for EBS newspaper and Mountain Outlaw magazine.

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