Names of four finalists for the Bozeman High School principal’s job were announced Wednesday, and the public will have a chance to meet and evaluate them at a community reception this evening.

The four finalists are Randy Russell, activity director for the Bozeman schools since 2004; Kevin Conwell, principal of 564-student Hamilton High School since 1998; Jeffery Kraunz, assistant principal of 560-student Aspen High School in Colorado since 2008; and Steven Wolfe, executive director of educational services with the Fremont Re-2 School District in Colorado since 2011.

“It’s a real high-quality group of applicants,” said Rob Watson, Bozeman school superintendent. “They have lots of great experience.”

The job opening, advertised nationally, was created last year when the Bozeman School Board promoted Watson from high school principal to superintendent.

Some 25 people applied, said Pat Strauss, the district’s human resources director, and central office administrators narrowed the list to four finalists.

“It wasn’t hard to pick the finalists,” Watson said. “There were others who were equally qualified; these had the most experience.”

Watson encouraged community members to meet all four candidates at the public reception, tonight from 6 to 7 p.m. in the high school’s new library, on the second floor of the renovated North Classroom Building on North 11th Avenue.

People can submit written comments to be considered by Watson before he makes a recommendation to the School Board trustees, who have the final say. Depending on how long it takes to check references, he said he hopes to make a recommendation by Feb. 25 or March 4.

“It’s a fairly public position,” Watson said. “It’s the only high school in town.”

With 1,909 students counted last fall, Bozeman High is one of the largest high schools in Montana and one of the state’s highest-performing AA schools on test scores and graduation rates.

Four teams will interview the four candidates in closed meetings Thursday before the reception, Watson said. Two teams are made up of teachers, parents, classified staff and community members. One team is made up of middle-school and high-school students. The fourth team is made up of the school district’s top administrators.

All four finalists were in Bozeman on Wednesday, touring Bozeman High, Chief Joseph Middle School and Hyalite Elementary School.

Ken Gibson, the assistant principal who has been interim principal this school year, said months ago that he wouldn’t seek the job permanently. Watson said that Russell was “our only local candidate.”

Here is a brief summary of the finalists’ resumes:

  • Randy Russell, as Bozeman activities director, is in charge of athletics teams and coaches at the high school and middle schools. He worked as principal of the 381-student Deposit Middle and High School in New York from 2003 to 2004, taught physical education in Bellevue, Wash., from 1996 to 2003, and has coached wrestling, football and golf. He earned a bachelor’s degree in education from Valley City State University in North Dakota in 1995 and two master’s degrees in education, including one from the University of Washington in 2011. He lives in Clyde Park and was the 2007 Montana AA athletic director of the year.
  • Kevin Conwell has been principal since 1998 of Hamilton High. State Office of Public Instruction reports show that 91 percent of Hamilton students tested at grade level or higher in reading and 69 percent in math last year, and the graduation rate was 84 percent (Bozeman High’s numbers were 94, 79 and 84 percent). Previously, Conwell worked three years as Hamilton High’s assistant principal and activities director, and from 1985 to 1995 was a social studies teacher and coach in Red Lodge and Malta. He earned his bachelor’s degree in 1985 and master’s degree in 1995, both from the University of Montana. At Hamilton High, he led development of a new teacher evaluation system, a “no tardy” policy, a better transition for eighth-graders to high school, an alternative learning center and block scheduling of classes.
  • Jeff Kraunz, as assistant principal at Aspen High, works with the principal to evaluate and hire teachers, improve students’ behavior, implement “Response to Intervention” to help struggling students, improve emergency response practices and reduce students’ marijuana and alcohol abuse. He leads an annual river canoe trip for 20 students focused on wilderness skills and self-discovery. He was a teacher, counselor and ski coach at Newton South High in Massachusetts from 2001 to 2008. He earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of New Hampshire in 1996 and a master’s from Boston University in 2001.
  • Steven Wolfe is executive director of educational services with the Fremont Re-2 District in Florence, Colo., where several schools serve 1,623 students, including 500 high school students. His duties include student testing, federal programs, teacher training and curriculum. He has served as Florence High School principal, athletic director and science teacher since 1985, and was named the school’s teacher of the year in 1989 and 1990. He has coached track, basketball, football and lacrosse. Before going into teaching, he worked as a staff geologist for Colorado mining companies. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Allegheny College in Pennsylvania in 1976 and a master’s from the University of Colorado in 1991.

Gail Schontzler can be reached at gails@dailychronicle.com or 582-2633.

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