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St. Stephens starting school year with new staff
New administrators at St. Stephen's Indian School includes elementary and middle school principal Elma Brown, district superintendent Mike Hejtmanek and high school principal Dorene Cunningham. The three new leaders came on board July 2. Photo by Christina George

St. Stephens starting school year with new staff

Aug 19, 2012 - By Christina George, Staff Writer

When students at St. Stephen's Indian School head back to the classroom on Aug. 22, they will be greeted by new administration.

Last month, the school district that operates under the Bureau of Indian Affairs hired a new superintendent and principals at the elementary/middle school and the high school.

"I feel that it's a good place with good people here, and I'm excited to work with them," superintendent Mike Hejtmanek said.

Hejtmanek replaced Louis Headley, who stepped down from the position earlier this year after a 17-year tenure.

Elma Brown took over for Marilyn Groesbeck as the elementary/middle school principal. Do-rene Cunningham replaced Russell Budmayr as principal of the high school.

The three new leaders came on board July 2.

Hejtmanek has been in education since 1974. He started as a teacher in New Mexico. Following teaching and principal positions in Colorado, he relocated to Worland where he served as principal in all three buildings for 11 years.

In 1995, he moved to Meeteetse where he was superintendent for three years, before moving back to Worland in 1998 where he served as superintendent for the next 12 years.

Over the years, he has also coached various sports.

He said it was a coach he had as a sophomore who got him interested in being an educator.

"He was very instrumental in my life, and he motivated me," Hejtmanek said.

In 2010, he retired and moved to New Mexico. Eventually, he came out of retirement and became a consultant for the Wyoming Department of Education while still living in New Mexico.

Now he's ready to be a school superintendent again.

"I thought I would like to use my knowledge and expertise," Hejtmanek said about applying at St. Stephen's. "I missed education."

The new leader plans to continue the schools' successes that include making Adequate Yearly Progress.

Brown was born and raised on the Wind River Indian Reservation. She has been a curriculum coordinator at St. Stephen's since 2009. Prior to that, she was an instructional coach at a school in New Mexico, taught fourth grade in Kansas and had a principal practicum in Colorado.

She's been involved in education for much of her life.

Prior to earning her college degrees, which include both a bachelor's and master's, Brown worked in the daycare field and was a paraprofessional and a substitute teacher.

She attributed her transition into administration on a desire to take the things she's learned and implement them in a school to foster learning.

"I want to create a nurturing environment that respects the rights of teachers to teach and students to learn," she said about being a principal.

Brown said she's always been able to connect with younger children and create a bond "so that learning could occur."

"I like knowing that I can make a difference in children's lives," she added.

Cunningham didn't travel far to St. Stephen's from her previous job. She spent the last year as principal at Arapahoe School.

Cunningham started in education in 1981 and has taught every grade level except fifth. She's worked in various areas of Idaho, on a Sioux reservation in North Dakota and overseas in Baku, Azerbaijan.

She has worked at public, private and charter schools.

She recalled when she knew she wanted to be a teacher. It was in Sunday school when a 5-year-old Cunningham discovered she could connect to children.

"I just got hooked," she smiled.

Hejtmanek recognizes the leadership changes at St. Stephen's will be hard. He and the two new principals also acknowledged support from school trustees Dominic Littleshield, Norman Willow, William C'Hair, Keja Whiteman and Sergio Maldonado.

"We are excited, and we feel we have a great team that strives for kids," Hejtmanek said.

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