Carrying out the new “common core” standards could be the biggest education reform today’s teachers experience in their careers, School Superintendent Rob Watson told hundreds of Bozeman teachers Monday.

Bozeman’s public schools “can be a shining example for the rest of the state and the country of how to implement common core standards correctly,” Watson said. “Our district thrives on innovation and opportunities.”

The common core was developed by the states to raise standards for America’s public schools. They set a common goal of teaching all students the skills they need to be ready for college or careers, he said.

Watson admitted to feeling “a little nervous” as he stood on the Willson Auditorium stage for the annual “welcome back” staff assembly, held in advance of Wednesday’s first day of classes. Formerly Bozeman High principal, Watson was elevated in July to the superintendent’s post, which puts him in charge of 5,800 students and 364 teachers.

“You have the most important job,” he told teachers. “My job is to support you.”

Watson outlined the district’s top five goals for the year -- to implement the common core; to carry out the Olweus anti-bullying program; to improve communication inside and outside the school district; to get teachers’ feedback on a proposed new job evaluation system; and to build and prepare to open Bozeman’s eighth elementary school.

“I know the quality staff and initiatives we have,” he said. “We’re going to have a great school year.”

Watson mixed serious and inspirational messages (like Nelson Mandela’s “Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world”) with a dose of humor. He showed a photo of himself as a middle-school principal, standing on a soggy playground during lunch duty, wearing a goofy-looking umbrella hat. One student told him it was the coolest hat ever, he said, but his wife told him to quit wearing it.

Watson urged teachers to be bold, strong and humorous. Teachers laughed most when he put up a slide that said, “When I die please let it happen during a staff development meeting, because the transition between life and death will be so subtle.”

The assembly opened and closed with lively music. Bozeman High band teacher Kelly Berdahl led music teachers in a spirited, up-tempo opening number. Wellness coordinator Bruce Colton closed things out by giving teachers a mini-lecture on the health dangers of sitting and then got them standing, dancing in place and laughing to a recording of “Gimme Some Lovin.” Colton told teachers that getting their students up and moving around can do miracles for their brains and ability to learn.

Colton added that for a first-time superintendent, Watson had done “one heck of a job.”

Gail Schontzler can be reached at or 582-2633.