For Bozeman dad Jason Schutz, his daughter’s first day of kindergarten at Hawthorne School was great, because he had gone to kindergarten there, too.

“It’s bringing back a flood of memories,” Schutz said Monday. “It’s awesome.”

Kindergarten teacher Karen Bailey said, in addition to learning to color and cut paper, kindergartners will be working on computers.

“They do it at home,” Bailey said. “They’re not afraid of it.”

Monday was the first day of school for more than 5,000 Bozeman public school students, and things were hectic in school offices, lunchrooms and playgrounds.

“Schools are very full,” Superintendent Kirk Miller said. “It’s energizing and exciting to see the students come back.”

Miller was expecting roughly 150 more students than last year’s 5,600. As of last week, 700 new students had signed up, including 500 kindergartners.

next spring or the year after, he said, the school district will likely have to go to the community with a plan for building an eighth elementary school.

To cope with a larger-than-expected influx of children in kindergarten through second grade, and smaller numbers in third and fourth grades, the Bozeman School District created several last-minute kindergarten classes and combined-grade classes. Miller said he appreciates the teachers who volunteered to teach two grades in one room.

“Every teacher had energy, enthusiasm and experience,” he said.

Teachers can cope with the challenge of multi-grade classes, he said, because they’re already trained and practiced in “differentiating instruction,” or tailoring teaching to each child.

Another challenge is that construction is still under way at Hawthorne School and at Bozeman High School, where new roofs are being installed.

Miller said crews will schedule work around students. For example, roofers at the high school will work during the day on B-wing, which will hold Gallatin College Program classes in the evenings. After 4 p.m. they’ll “go great guns” on C-wing, where the Bridger Alternative Program holds classes during the day.

At Bozeman High, veteran teacher Joyce Hannula said she has already started on her new job as a teaching coach, supporting fellow teachers. She came in Sunday to help colleagues put up bulletin boards, plan first-day activities and research solutions to classroom problems.

This year the school district is doubling its teaching coaches and using them for the first time in the middle schools and high school.

“I think instructional coaching will probably be one of the most revolutionary or profound changes we’ve seen in the last 20 years, besides technology,” Hannula said.

History teacher Richard Galli said he’s excited about the Bridger Alternative Program’s new performance-based education model. It’s designed to be more flexible, let students progress at their own rate and pursue their own interests.

“It’s a dream come true,” Galli said. “I’ve wanted to do this for 18 years.”

Hawthorne Principal Robin Miller said she’s excited about the results of the school’s two-year renovation, which should be finished by Sept. 30. The Depression-era school has new energy-efficient windows that let in more sunlight, new indoor lights, a new heating system and new computer outlets.

“It’s gorgeous,” she said.

One thing that hasn’t changed is that the first day of school can be hard on parents. Kara Tripp said she couldn’t believe her 6-year-old twins, Phoebe and Stetson, are big enough for kindergarten.

“It went by so quickly,” Tripp said. “I think it’s more emotional for me than for them.”

Gail Schontzler can be reached at or 582-2633.