South Dakota dreaming: What brought two teachers to Sioux Falls from California

Eye on KELOLAND

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — The Sioux Falls School District saw an increase in teacher turnover this summer, something many businesses and industries are facing across the country during what’s being called the ‘Great Resignation’ of 2021. 

But an increase in out-of-state teachers relocating to Sioux Falls is helping to fill that gap. What drew one California couple to town in tonight’s Eye on KELOLAND.

Brandy Hernandez has always had a talent for making things fun, one of the reasons she knew she was meant to be a teacher.

“It’s one of those things that you just have a feeling that’s something you’re supposed to be doing,” Brandy Hernandez said. 

For her husband Chris, the journey to the classroom started on the football field.

“He said why don’t you come on board, we need a receiver coach so I also decided to sub,” Chris Hernandez said. “Then I decided this is what I want to do, I want to teach, I want to coach.”

Now he’s in his first year teaching civics and economics in Hartford, while head coaching the West Central football team. Brandy is a new administrator at Hayward Elementary School in Sioux Falls. Together, they come to the Sioux Falls area with 25 years of teaching experience.

“I grew up in Diamond Bar, California, and lived there my whole life,” Chris said. 

Until this July, they lived in Orange County California, just 20 miles from Disneyland and 20 minutes from the ocean.

“I do miss Disneyland and LEGOLAND,” Emmett Hernandez said. 

But there are plenty of things their 8-year-old son Emmett does not miss about his home state.

“No more traffic!” Emmett said. “When my mom and dad would take me to LEGOLAND or Disneyland, there was traffic everywhere.”

“I was driving from Orange County to Riverside County, that was an hour drive each way, so two hours in the car. That was just really difficult because the boys were young and I knew I wanted to be closer to home, but it was tough, you just have to drive it,” Chris said. 

“Traffic was just a part of the lifestyle in California,” Brandy said. 

It’s one of the big reasons the Hernandez family set out to find a different way of life.

“I call driving in South Dakota therapeutic,” Brandy said.  “I often joke about that with family. After being in the concrete jungle in the streets with cement freeways and cement walls on both side.”

Now they have a big change in scenery.

“It just takes 15 minutes to get everywhere, I just feel like I have more time. I’m working super hard as the head coach, but then I get to come home and play catch with my son,” Hernandez said. 

It’s the picture perfect family life Brandy dreamed of during a cross country trip after college.

“I drove through the Black Hills, drove across the state, said a little prayer that I ever get a chance to somehow live in this,” Brandy said. “This is God’s country, I love it.”

But both had started their careers in their home state close to family, and as day to day life got busy, they become more established in California, until COVID-19.

“It was always something that we talked about and always later down the road, then during the pandemic we just had time to talk about it do the logistics,” Chris said. 

But with both of them being teachers, some of the logistics involved with moving to South Dakota were a little hard to handle.

“I took a pay cut, almost 50 percent,” Chris said. 

California has the second highest teacher salary average in the nation while South Dakota is currently in 50th place. But like a member of the South Dakota Teacher Compensation Review Board recently argued, the Hernandez family decided they could live with a lighter pay check thanks to the big difference in housing costs.

“We had a lot of equity in our house that we sold. It put us in a position where we didn’t have to make a certain amount of money to pay the mortgage,” Chris said. 

With the proceeds of their home sale in California, they were able to pay cash for two Sioux Falls properties.

“Without a mortgage that ‘s super high, this is actually going to help us save money. So we’re actually going to save money in the long run, we’ll actually be in a better position,” Chris and Brandy said.

As far as their jobs, both Chris and Brandy say everything they love about teaching they’ve been able to find in South Dakota.

“Kids are kids no matter where you go,” Chris said. 

Now the biggest difference is instead of teaching in a school with more than 3,700 kids, Chris is now teaching in a town with a smaller population.  

“I see them in the hallways and I know them, when I see them at graduation, I’m going to know every student,” Chris said. “The class sizes are just smaller.”

And while their current waterfront view may be a little smaller than the ocean. 

“The lake is  better than the ocean,” Emmett said. “There’s more fish in the lake, [to catch] in the ocean, you don’t really have docks to fish from.”

So far, everything about their move to the Midwest has been parent and kid-approved.

“Everyday I’m talking about snow, because we never got snow in California, and I just want to make a snowman,” Emmett said. 

Now, it’s just waiting to see how they’ll make it through the winter.

“My football players can’t wait to see how I respond to the cold,” Chris said.

“Someone told me we need to winterize the home, I don’t know what that means yet, but we’re going to ask some friends,” Brandy said. 

The Hernandez family is not alone in their move to the Midwest; the Sioux Falls School District says they saw a significant increase in the number of out-of-state hires this summer.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Continuing The Conversation
See Full Weather Forecast

Trending Stories

Don't Miss!

More Don't Miss