Bob Connors

Bob Connors tenders his resignation to the Glasgow School District at a special meeting held Friday in Glasgow.

Bob Connors says he feels excited to have been offered the superintendent’s job to lead the Bozeman public schools.

Bozeman School Board trustees voted 7-1 last week to offer the job to Connors, one of three finalists.

“It was one of those moments in life — Wow, pretty cool,” Connors said in a phone interview Thursday from his Glasgow office. “I’m ready to go, ready to start building relationships.”

Connors, 56, Glasgow school superintendent for the past seven years, has 34 years experience in education, and has worked as a business teacher, principal and superintendent, as well as a coach for 25 years.

The Bozeman board will hold a special meeting at 5:45 p.m. Monday in Willson School to approve what’s expected to be a two-year contract. Connors said he’d be ready to start July 1.

Connors, who said he now earns just under $100,000, would replace Rob Watson, Bozeman’s superintendent for seven years, who earned a base salary of just over $150,000.

Bozeman trustees said they picked Connors because he has experience as a superintendent, good communication skills, humility and passion for the job. Chair Andy Willett said he thinks Connors is “ready for this next step.”

The Bozeman School District, with nearly 7,000 students, is eight times larger than Glasgow with 850 students. Bozeman, one of the state’s 15 largest AA school districts, has been challenged by growth while Glasgow has slipped from Class A size when Connors was a teen to Class B today.

There’s a difference in scale between the two school districts, Connors said, but not in education issues or their importance.

Asked what he’s proud of accomplishing as Glasgow superintendent, Connors said when he arrived in 2012, the schools were low on technology resources and had maybe 30 computers per school. Now they have just about one computer for every junior high and high school student.

“If we had to give everybody a test, we could,” he said.

Connors said he’s also proud of becoming a Google Apps for Education school.

“Great things have happened in Glasgow,” Connors said. “We’re way ahead of other Eastern Montana schools.”

He said he’s proud of building a new elementary school, after voters passed an $18.8 million bond issue in 2013.

While Bozeman voters have consistently supported major building bond issues and annual property tax increases to pay teacher salaries and other operating costs, Glasgow voters have rejected general fund levy increases the last four years in a row.

Connors said the tax hike for Glasgow’s new school hit at the same time that the state reappraised property values, so taxes went up more than the school district had predicted. The Keystone Pipeline also affected local taxes, he said.

Connors said he’s proud of Glasgow schools for recently starting to use professional learning communities (PLCs), which he said will help teachers collaborate to identify what they need to emphasize each year. Bozeman schools already have a good deal of experience with PLCs, and Hawthorne Elementary’s staff received an award last year for being a model PLC school.

Another difference between the districts is in hiring. Glasgow High recently was unable to fill an art teacher’s job because no one applied, while Bozeman school openings usually have several applicants. That’s a typical problem for Eastern Montana schools, Connors said, partly because of pay scales.

Asked what strengths he brings to the job, Connors said he would have fresh eyes to look at initiatives, experience in how different school districts handle problems, and contacts in the education community around the state and Northwest.

Connors grew up in a family of six children. His dad was a teacher and owned the local Dairy Queen, where young Bob worked from sixth grade to college.

He graduated from Glasgow High in 1981 after leading the Glasgow Scotties to a Class A state football championship in 1980. Two of his brothers also won football championships, and other siblings were also sports stars.

Connors went on to the University of Montana, where he was a quarterback and tight end. UM is where he earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and met his wife, Barb. Today they have three grown kids and two grandchildren.

After college Connors became a business teacher and coach at Butte Central, Choteau, and Laurel, where he was head football coach for 13 years and won the state championship in 1999. In Stevensville he was a coach for several years and principal, before returning to his hometown Glasgow in 2012.

He told the Great Falls Tribune last year that he was diagnosed in 2002 with skin cancer, which spread to his spine, head and neck. “It got a little scary” at the end of 2014, he said. He lost 100 pounds, dropping to 135, and lost the use of his left arm.

Yet even when doctors weren’t optimistic, he said, “I never felt hopeless.” He went to Portland Providence Medical Center, where an experimental immunotherapy drug saved his life.

“I’m very proud of the fact I’m cancer free,” Connors said. “I beat it.”

He said he’s now in good shape considering all he’s been through, his weight is back up to 150, and he feels “very strong.”

“I’m as healthy as I’ve ever been,” he said. “I’ll be honest with you. My grandparents were from Ireland, I’ll let you know.”

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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