About Us

Bethesda Lutheran School is a ministry of

Bethesda Lutheran Church in Hot Springs, South Dakota.


Bethesda Lutheran School exists as part of the total ministry of Bethesda Lutheran Church, which is to help children know Christ (Jn. 17:3) and then make Christ known (Mt. 28:19-20) through prayer, worship, Bible Studies (2 Tim. 2:15), and service ministries (Ja. 1:27).

Therefore, Bethesda Lutheran Early Learning Center will:

  • Provide the best developmentally appropriate Christian education,
  • Be available to all children, regardless of race, creed or national origin,
  • Provide quality, creative learning through play, social interaction, and hands-on experiences,
  • Provide these in a loving, safe Christian atmosphere.

Bethesda Lutheran School and ELC

Standards of Excellence


  • Pray regularly for their children and their families by name.
  • Love the Lord and know that God loves them, cares for them, and forgives them.
  • Consider and demonstrate that teaching God’s Word is their most important calling each day.
  • Recognize and demonstrate the importance of greeting every parent and child when they arrive.
  • Develop and implement student-centered lessons within the established curriculum.
  • Sprinkle a healthy dose of “fun” and creativity in the children’s learning activities.
  • Develop trusting, caring relationships with one another, families, and volunteers.
  • Value and support individual differences in background, learning styles, and learning readiness; seek the help of others in accommodating for those differences.
  • Keep on learning and improving their skills.
  • Work together as a team and support one another in Christian love and service.
  • Have a healthy sense of humor.
  • Communicate openly with one another, with parents, and volunteers.
  • Speak the truth in love.
  • Keep confidential information confidential; do not discuss other students and staff members with parents.
  • Are consistent, dependable, and take responsibility for their actions.
  • Are firm, have high expectations, have many smiles and affirmations for all children.
  • Take the necessary time to care for themselves and their families.
  • Welcome helpful suggestions.

Meet Our Staff

K-1 Teacher: Rachel Utecht

Rachel Utecht is the K-3 teacher.  She has 20+ years of teaching experience in which she has taught in a K-2 Multi-grade classroom, Kindergarten (10 years), K-12 Art (8 years), Title 1 Reading (4 years) and Reading Recovery (2 years).

Mrs. Utecht is a graduate of Concordia University, receiving her BS in Education with an Art Concentration in 1993. She has a passion for teaching young children and giving them their best start in their educational and faith journeys.

Meet Our Staff

Grades 2-4 Teacher: Staci Pokorski

Meet Staci Pokorski, an extraordinary elementary school teacher whose dedication and passion for education has left an indelible mark on the hearts and minds of countless young learners. She is a K-8 certified teacher with 20 years of classroom experience ranging from 1st through 8 grades, including an upper elementary Montessori environment and exploratory science classrooms. However the majority of her teaching has been focused in grades 2-4. Her ability to tailor lessons to suit individual needs, interests, and learning styles ensures that every child feels valued and supported.

Through innovative teaching methods, captivating activities, and hands-on experiences, Mrs. Pokorski ignites a love for learning that extends far beyond the classroom walls. She recognizes the importance of nurturing the whole child, instilling essential life skills and fostering a sense of compassion and empathy among her students. Through meaningful discussions and collaborative projects, Mrs. Pokorski encourages her students to become active participants in shaping a better world. With her ability to build strong relationships, Mrs. Pokorski creates a safe space where students feel comfortable to take risks, ask questions, and embrace their curiosity. She comes from a Lutheran background and is looking forward to teaching in a strong Christian atmosphere. Staci has been married for 15 years and has 3 children (twin girls ages 11, and a son age 4). Some of her interests include reading, crocheting and puzzling. Staci Pokorski brings tried and true classroom projects that Bethesda is excited to implement.

Meet Our Staff

School Principal and ELC Director: Heather Hunsaker

Heather Hunsaker started her educational career after graduating with a double major in Elementary and Special Education from Dakota Wesleyan University in 2001. She taught multi-level classrooms for the Todd County School District for five years using her Bachelor of Arts degree. Heather taught reading and math interventions as a Title I teacher in Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota. She then moved into the field of Special Education, where she has spent the last twelve years. In 2018 she began her journey to earn a master’s degree in Educational Administration and Leadership. Heather graduated from the University of South Dakota in May of 2021.

Heather and her husband, Jason, along with their greatest blessings, Hadlee and Jaelee, ranch near Fairburn, SD. They raise commercial beef cattle and dabble in the bucking bull business. Heather and Jason raise and train performance horses. They stay busy hauling their girls to youth rodeos and playdays, working rough stock events, and promoting their horses at barrel races.

Meet Our Staff

Pastor: Rev. Pete Utecht

Pastor Peter Utecht was born and raised in South Dakota.  He has been a pastor for over 25 years.  He is an integral part of Bethesda Lutheran School, bringing experience in teaching the faith, leading chapel, coaching,  and interacting with kids of all ages. 

Meet Our Staff

School Administrative and Billing: Linda Johnson

Education: Associate of Science, Cleveland State Community College, Cleveland, Tennessee

Experience: Officer Manager Taylor Animal Hospital, Scheduler LCP Photography, Scheduler Majestic Marketing, Unit Secretary/ Monitor Technician, Emergency Room Secretary, Business Owner/Dog Grooming

Meet Our Staff

School Board Voting Members

Kortney Hall

Jack Lane

Avery Sides

Barbara Benson

Marilyn Kaiser

Andrew Kathman

Bethesda Lutheran School is a ministry of

Bethesda Lutheran Church in Hot Springs, South Dakota.

The school opened in 1980 with an enrollment of eight students in kindergarten through 3rd grade.  Each year a grade was added so that eventually the staff reached the size of three teachers. During the course of the years as circumstances changed, so did the number of, grades, students and staff.

The facility for the first 11 years was in the Education Building of Bethesda Lutheran Church.  Due to growth in 1981, an addition was added to the basic building.  In 1992 a completely new educational structure was built as an addition to the existing church structure and serves as the school today.  

In 2010 the preschool was added, and in 2018 South Dakota Department of Social Services approved a licensed Child Care program. The Bethesda Lutheran School mascot is the Bald Eagle which comes to us from our school Bible verse which is Isaiah 40:31.  The school colors are maroon and grey.

Bethesda Lutheran School and Early Learning Center is part of a larger body of Lutheran Church Missouri Synod Schools consisting of nearly 1,800 Early Childhood Centers, 785 Elementary Schools, and 96 Lutheran High Schools.

Bethesda Lutheran School and Early Learning Center is fully accredited by National Lutheran Schools Accreditation (NLSA) and the State of South Dakota.


The governance of Bethesda Lutheran School and Early Learning Center rests primarily with the Voter’s Assembly of the congregation. This body executes its will through an elected School Board composed of six persons with the pastor and principal serving as ex-officio members. The School Board The principal is responsible for seeing that the policies and directives of the School Board are carried out on a daily basis.

The School Board has the responsibility for establishing policy; the Principal has the responsibility, with other staff, for determining procedure to carry out the policies.

The policies developed by the School Board and the procedures developed to implement policy are designed to promote a safe, effective and efficient school.

There are policies that are common to all levels of the school, but procedures for implementing them may vary from level to level. The Principal with the teachers establish procedures for conducting activities within their individual levels.

Bethesda Lutheran School admits students of any race,

color, national and ethnic origin to all rights, privileges, programs and activities

generally accorded or made available to students at the school.

It does not discriminate on the basis of race,

color, national, and ethnic origin in administration of its educational policies,

admissions, and other school-administered programs.

1537 Baltimore Avenue

Hot Springs, SD 57747

Church Phone: (605) 745-4834

School Phone/Fax: (605) 745-6676