The Bozeman School Board will hold a special meeting Tuesday night to decide who will replace departing Superintendent Rob Watson to lead the growing 7,000-student school district.

Trustees are scheduled to meet at 5:45 p.m., in the boardroom at Willson School to decide whether to hire one of three finalists for the job, or to choose an interim superintendent internally and launch a new search that could take several months instead of a few weeks.

Andy Willett, school board chair, could not be reached Monday to ask if he plans to make a recommendation to the full board.

Watson was offered the superintendent’s job for Missoula public schools on April 18, and Bozeman’s trustees then launched a national search with an aggressive, three-week deadline for people to apply. Twelve did.

School administrators, teachers and community members met last Wednesday with three finalists and school board trustees conducted formal public interviews that night.

The three finalists are Sarah Brown, human resources director of the 48,000-student Manatee County School District in Florida; Bob Connors, superintendent of the 842-student Glasgow School District in northeast Montana; and Christopher Hines, deputy superintendent of the 63,000-student Conroe School District in Texas.

During their public interviews last week, Hines asked Bozeman trustees what they’re looking for in a superintendent. Brown asked what are the Bozeman schools’ biggest challenges.

“Getting the right superintendent to make sure we stay on a good path and communicate effectively with the community,” was high on Trustee Gary Lusin’s list of challenges.

“I’m looking for someone who can hit the ground running,” Lusin added, someone who has experience and can deal with the challenge of opening Bozeman’s second high school, deal with growth and develop good relationships with teachers and staff.

“I’m looking for a leader who has vision and passion,” said Trustee Douglas Fischer.

Trustee Heide Arneson said she was looking for someone with very good communication skills, who’s good at finding out what the community needs and moving forward. We want to keep continuing to improve as a school district, she said.

“We have amazing teachers and administrators,” said Trustee Tanya Reinhardt. It’s important to have a strong leader who can earn the respect and trust of school staffs, she said.

Trustee Sandy Wilson said she thinks one of Bozeman’s big challenges is “closing the achievement gap.” That’s something often seen in the lower academic test scores of kids from low-income families or with special education needs.

“We want to serve all our kids,” Wilson said.

Trustee Greg Neil said one challenge he heard from teachers during recent contract negotiations is that elementary teachers feel “buried alive” by all the new programs and tasks the school district asks them to take on, and they don’t feel they have enough time to prepare. Neil said he hoped the next superintendent would understand that and make it a priority.

Connors said the job of Bozeman school superintendent is “one of the most coveted jobs in the state.” Adding a second high school doesn’t happen unless good things are happening in a community, he said. “People want to come to Bozeman.”

Gail Schontzler can be reached at gails@dailychronicle.com or 406-582-2633. Follow her on Twitter @gailnews.

Gail Schontzler covers schools and Montana State University for the Chronicle.

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