WESSINGTON SPRINGS -- As the halls of the Wessington Springs schools welcome back kids, a new face will be greeting the district's nearly 350 students as Michael Ormsmith is the new superintendent.
The Virginia native who spent the past three years as Director of Career and Technical Education at Greene County Public Schools in Stanardsville, Virginia, started his new role on July 1 in Wessington Springs, replacing Dr. Pandi Pittman.
The hiring of Ormsmith to the town of about 1,000 people includes a big bonus for the Jerauld County community, as his wife of 23 years, Dr. Jessica Ormsmith, a family practice doctor, joined Horizon Health Care working at the Avera Weskota Memorial Hospital.
At school, Michael will have at least two familiar faces as the family’s two daughters, Darcy and Felicity, are starting sixth and seventh grade this year.
So, why move to South Dakota?
“That’s easily the number one question we get asked,” Jessica said with a laugh.
The answer is multi-faceted, leaning heavily with Virginia closing down in-person schooling in the 2020-21 school year, the school curriculum and the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There were a few reasons we were looking to move. We didn’t like the way some of the things that were being pushed into the curriculum and what was being taught,” Jessica said. “We wanted more control of what was being taught and included in the curriculum for our kids.”
The Ormsmiths also felt that kids should be learning in classrooms — not virtually.
“I still had to go to work, and he would still go to work, but our girls weren’t going to school. They were staring at a screen,” Jessica said.
The Ormsmiths decided to put their kids into a private school that was still having in-person learning and was close to Michael’s work.
With that, Michael and Jessica decided in November to begin the search for a new job. That included casting a wide net for opportunities, utilizing a job searching firm and looking at opportunities in 10 to 12 states.
“You’d always hear in the news how South Dakota was open,” Michael said.
Then in December, Michael was in contact with the Wessington Springs School Board, and by February he visited the small town and left with a new job.
“Basically they tell you that once you go for that final interview that you (should) be ready to accept right there. And we had a few details to work out, but then I accepted,” Michael said. “I was about 90% committed before the interview.”
Jessica was a little more hesitant.
“I like the snow,” Michael said.
“We’ll see if that’s still the case after the winter,” Jessica said with a laugh.
Starting in large metros 20 years ago, Michael and Jessica have gradually made their move from a 300,000 population center to smaller communities with each new job.
None were as small as Wessington Springs, though.
“You get lost in the crowd in the bigger metros,” Jessica said.
Now in Wessington Springs, they’re the new faces and get recognized everywhere they go.
“It’s been great getting to know people and the community,” Michael said. “I don’t know everyone’s name, but they know who we are. So that does make it a little easier when talking with people.”
One of the biggest adjustments to living in the small town, Michael said, has been planning ahead a little more.
An example of that planning is that Michael likes to have his suits dry cleaned and thought he’d have to travel to Mitchell or Huron for that. It wasn’t until Ryan Jensen, owner of the Springs Food Market grocery store, told him that at a certain time and date every couple of weeks, dry cleaning can be dropped off at the grocery store in town.
While Michael’s transition as the new lead administrator for the school district has been pretty seamless, paperwork and red tape from the South Dakota Department of Health slowed Jessica's process of practicing medicine more than she anticipated.
“South Dakota was one of the first and biggest ones in opening up for telehealth, allowing more doctors to see people over a screen,” Jessica said. “So I didn’t think it would be so difficult to get my license approved here.”
She credits her new employer, Horizon Health Care, for getting everything worked out with the DOH to get her to start practicing family medicine earlier this month.
Originally Jessica thought she might have to commute to either Mitchell or Huron for work, but with Horizon Health Care she can serve the Wessington Springs community.
Jessica, who’s been practicing medicine since 2003, originally as a family practice doctor, spent the past few years in outpatient medicine and said she is happy to get back to family medicine where she’ll once again get to meet with patients on a regular basis.
Prior to his time with Greene County Schools, Michael was an instructional supervisor for Staunton City Schools, taught physics in Campbell County Schools and Chesterfield County Schools, and math for Sussex County Public Schools all in Virginia.
It was Jessica wanting to spend more time with their first daughter, at the time, that led Michael into school administration.
“In education, that’s kind of how it goes. To make up the difference in income from her stepping back, you move into administration,” he said.
Since moving to Wessington Springs, the girls have already taken an interest in agriculture having shown work in some of the static exhibits at the Jerauld County Achievement Days and are already telling mom and dad how they want livestock to show next year.
“You know how that goes. The girls want chickens and then dad gets chickens,” Michael said.
Jessica said that’s why you make friends with the farm families just outside of town.
While he has no plans for big changes at the school district, the big project on Michael’s plate is helping complete the town and school’s new community center, which includes a gym for the school, that will be attached to the elementary school building on the northeast side of town.
Down the road, Michael, who spent the past three years at a career and tech school, would like to partner up with businesses to offer students a hands-on learning experience in the field.
“I’m really big with the apprenticeship program,” he said. “So we have Baker’s Repair across the street that works on busses all day. And so I’d like it, that if we have students interested in auto repair, they can intern over there.”
Currently, the family is in temporary housing in town as the housing market has been tight in Wessington Springs, but the family does have plans to build in town in the near future.