The Bozeman public schools’ annual report card for itself shows progress toward its big goals of boosting kids’ reading skills, career opportunities and emotional supports to make sure schools stay safe and all students can learn.

Superintendent Rob Watson gave his final report to the Bozeman School Board this week on progress toward realizing the district’s long-range strategic plan. Trustees voted their approval 8-0. Watson will leave this month after seven years as superintendent to head the larger Missoula school district.

The Bozeman district has two big reading goals — to have 85% of 5-year-olds ready to learn to read by 2022 and to get 90% of Bozeman third-graders reading at third-grade level by 2025, so they won’t fall behind in upper grades when reading is essential to learning.

In 2016 and 2017, just 64% and 68% of Bozeman third-graders were reading at a proficient level on the district’s STAR tests. In 2018 the state Smarter Balanced test found 74% were proficient readers.

In 2018, some 63% of incoming kindergartners tested as having the skills needed to start reading.

To help young children enjoy reading, the school district worked with Greater Gallatin United Way to join Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. The nonprofit mails free books every month to children from birth to age 5. Local author Mark Sullivan offered to cover half the cost, and Bozeman Noon Rotary and the Dairy Keep Project also lent support. Families in the 59715 and 59718 zip code areas can sign up by calling United Way, 587-2194.

“It’s up and going,” Watson said, which is “really exciting.”

“This is amazing,” Trustee Tanya Reinhardt said. “It happened in less than a year.”

To boost reading this summer among kindergartners, first- and second-graders so they won’t lose ground, the district launched the Read 100! Program, challenging kids to read 100 books over the summer. Three elementary schools — Hyalite, Emily Dickinson and Meadowlark — will keep their libraries open this summer from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from June 18 to Aug. 15.

Trustee Heide Arneson noted that to get kids excited about summer reading, Watson visited all eight elementary schools wearing an orange astronaut suit.

This was the final school year there was money from the $3.3 million federal school safety grant that taught school staffs about trauma’s impact on kids. It also paid for specialists who helped kids in school with social and emotional issues. Marilyn King, deputy superintendent, said trauma awareness is now part of the school district.

With the grant ending, the Bozeman district has been trying to cobble together ways to keep the program going, Watson said. He credited Bozeman School Board trustees with lobbying the Legislature to win passage of Senate Bill 92, which allows more flexibility in spending. That will allow keeping mental health support staff in Bozeman High and middle schools next year.

The nonprofit Community Health Partners plans to open a clinic at Bozeman High next school year as a pilot project to serve more kids, Watson said.

At Bozeman High’s convocation, one student credited the safety program with putting her life back on track, Reinhardt said. “It was very powerful.”

“Thank you for your work,” Arneson told Watson. “If kids are not in a position to learn, we’re failing them.”

Another major goal is getting students ready for careers and the workforce, especially those who won’t go to college. Randy Van Dyk, assistant high school principal, is working on a pre-apprenticeship program with Williams Plumbing so that students could take courses at school and then work in the fabrication shop in the afternoons.

To make middle school students more aware of career options, the first middle school career fair will be held this September, King said. The district is raising money to bus students to see construction workers in action at the Gallatin High School building site.

This was the first year all elementary teachers were trained in teaching science and technology lessons from the nonprofit Project Lead the Way. Watson said teachers reported it takes a lot of time to set up lots of Legos and robots, “but the kids find it very engaging.”

Progress also was made this school year to prepare for opening the second high school in 2020, to implement new elementary math curriculum, and to change the way middle-school students are graded.

School Board Chair Andy Willett called the LRSP report “good stuff.” The new apprenticeships and other initiatives are impressive, he said, thanking Watson and King.

The full report on this year’s progress toward goals can be found online under Long Range Strategic Plan 2018-2019 (

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

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

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