By Barbara Rowley, for the Big Sky Weekly
This fall several new teachers will greet students at Ophir and Lone Peak
High School. The teachers, who specialize in various subjects, bring a
breadth of experience and knowledge to Ophir School District.
Patty Hamblin, middle and high school English[dcs_img width=”300″ height=”270″ thumb=”true”] https://www.explorebigsky.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/patty_hamblin.jpg[/dcs_img]
Patty Hamblin makes no bones about the Big Sky lifestyle
being her passion. As a permanent resident for 15
years, Hamblin is thrilled she’ll now be able to practice
the career she loves in the place she adores.
“I know so many of the kids and families here,” Hamblin
said. “I’m excited to see them grow up from young
kids to high school graduates, and to be a part of it all.”
Hamblin will teach eighth through 10th grade English
and three elective classes to upper-classmen, including
speech and debate and creative writing. She hopes
to start book clubs and to take speech and debate to a
competitive level. A zealous journal keeper and reader,
Hamblin assigns herself the same projects she’ll eventually
give, so she can experience what she’s asking her
students to do.
The daughter of an English teacher, Hamblin grew up
in small towns and has taught high school English the
past three years in Three Forks.
“I love small towns, knowing the kids, knowing the
parents – having these relationships is what it’s all
about, and I think it can improve the educational experience
Nikki Rust, first grade[dcs_img width=”300″ height=”270″ thumb=”true”] https://www.explorebigsky.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/niki_rust.jpg
Nikki Rust was a non-traditional college student, going
back to school the same time her boys – now 10 and
13 – started school themselves.
“I like to say I’m an old person with a brand-new education,”
That combination gives her an understanding of
parents, kids and families, as well as access to the most
recent educational strategies. Rust said she understands
parents’ needs for open communication, and her
background in psychology helps her understand kids’
behavior and learning style issues.
Originally from Dillon, Mont., Rust and her family
live in Bozeman, where she student-taught at Irving
last year. She’d like to relocate to Big Sky, where they
can enjoy outdoor sports, especially skiing.
The Ophir District caught her attention as a parent and
educator because unlike some districts, which simply
want to meet the standards, Ophir is all about exceeding
“I’m very excited about the district’s emphasis on
hands-on education,” she said.
Keith McHugh, Spanish[dcs_img width=”300″ height=”270″ thumb=”true”] https://www.explorebigsky.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/keith_mchugh.jpg[/dcs_img]
Keith McHugh will replace Cassie Kapes during her
sabbatical year. Even if the position only lasts a year,
McHugh says, this was an opportunity he couldn’t
“To teach in a small school surrounded by a river and
mountain – that’s why I moved here,” McHugh said.
“[Being] part of a school that has a focus on the environment
is a dream come true.”
The son of an Argentinian mother, McHugh grew
up in a bilingual household in upstate New York. He
double majored in Latin American studies and Spanish
at University of Vermont, then completed his first year
of teaching in Deer Lodge last year, as part of MSU’s
Northern Plains Transition to Teaching program.
Before teaching, he worked in the travel industry for
five years and lived abroad, including stints in Argentina
In Big Sky, McHugh will teach middle and high
school, and has experience teaching AP Spanish.
“I want to share all the benefits the Spanish Language,”
he said. “I hope that my students will realize the positive
impact a second language can have on their lives.”
Jerry House, Interim Superintendent, Principal K-12[dcs_img width=”300″ height=”270″ thumb=”true”] https://www.explorebigsky.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/Jerry-House.jpg
After 40 years of public school service, Jerry House
planned to retire and consult for a school headhunting
firm – but then the headhunters came after him. House
had served 11 years as Superintendent in Whitefish,
and two days after his retirement he got a call from Big
“The chance to be part of a new high school in a district
with a dedicated staff, community and board, in a place
so similar to Whitefish…it was the perfect fit,” House
said. And besides, retirement never really suited him.
“I love kids. It didn’t seem right to quit when I still had
the passion and energy for it.”
House’s career spans 29 years in Washington State and
11 in Montana, including one in which he was named
Superintendent of the Year. His wife Deb was honored
last year as the First Lady of Whitefish for her volunteer
efforts in the school, mentoring and fundraising.
In Big Sky, they’ve jumped into these same roles as
active members of the Ophir School Council and the
“We want to help set the tone and the foundation for
what a K-12 district with a growing high school looks
like,” said House, who also wants to make connecting
with Ophir alumni a priority. “We will be creating a
database of past and future alumni, so we can keep and
reestablish those connections.”
Alumni relations are a piece of a bigger goal, he says,
“which is to continue to foster the great relationships
between the community and the school, and involve as
many people as we can.”
Taking the reigns at a time when Ophir is already a
high-achieving district, House says it will be his job to
continue this trajectory. He plans to put in place new
mechanisms for student government and involvement
as the district, particularly the high school, grows.
“You’ll see us being proactive about achieving the vision
this community had when they worked so hard
to become a K-12 district,” he said. “It is going to be a
Tony Beardsley, Health Enhancement, Athletic Director,
[dcs_img width=”300″ height=”270″ thumb=”true”]
Tony Beardsley was part of the process that changed
the name of his subject from Physical Education to
“It was a recognition that PE isn’t just games and
fitness, but nutrition, safety, human development,
emotional and mental health all rolled together into
one comprehensive class.”
Beardsley’s mission is to bring “total wellness to the
students.” As a teacher for nearly 20 years in elementary
and high schools in Montana and Utah, he’s been
involved in his districts’ efforts to develop nutrition,
and wellness policies and programs.
“The ultimate goal of any HE program is to get children
to want to take part in healthy activities,” he said.
There is room to customize the approach to healthiness
depending on a community’s needs and lifestyle,
Beardsley said. In Big Sky, he’ll have kids “use their
fitness skills to play games, go for a hike or learn to
kayak.” At the high school level, he anticipates working
with individual athletes and their coaches to tailor
unique programs depending on whether the student is
a downhill skier or a cross-country runner.
“I’m excited about the opportunity to create a program
that fits this community,” he said. As Athletic Director
and head football coach, he’ll also be creating the
town’s first six-man football team.
The father of three girls, Beardsley’s oldest daughter,
Chloee, will start Ophir in the fall as a seventh grader.
The rest of the family, now living in Bozeman, hopes
to move to Big Sky by the end of the school year.
Nancy Sheil, math[dcs_img width=”300″ height=”270″ thumb=”true”] https://www.explorebigsky.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/nancy_sheil.jpg
Sheil is no newcomer to Big Sky. She did her student
teaching in the district, and was a tutor for the interim
high school. She and her husband Dan, a firefighter, have
lived in the area for over a decade. They have one son, and
are expecting another child shortly after school begins.
“All of my experience has been at LPHS and Ophir, so I
feel lucky to be able to start my professional career here,”
she said. Sheil will teach geometry and algebra, as well as
eighth grade math. Because she is fully certified to teach
both math and science, she looks forward to incorporating
the two subjects in LPHS’s interdisciplinary approach.
She is also on board with the school’s outdoor emphasis.
Sheil has been a professional ski patroller at
Big Sky Resort for eight years, and a volunteer and
trainer with Big Sky Search and Rescue. At MSU,
she earned her Masters of Education, as well as a
BA in Science, Land Resources and Environmental
Sheil will take maternity leave this fall, and her
classes will be taught by a substitute during that
time, but will return to school before Christmas.