Bozeman Schools New Principals

New Bozeman school principals, from left, Casey Bertram for Hawthorne Elementary, Robin Arnold for Morning Star Elementary, Sarah Hays for Emily Dickinson Elementary and Kevin Conwell for Bozeman High School, stand for a portrait on Wednesday, Aug. 21, in Bozeman.

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Bozeman High School’s new principal, Kevin Conwell, says he can empathize with ninth-graders feeling daunted by the distance they’ll have to hike from one end of the sprawling campus to another.

“The physical size of the school is pretty amazing,” Conwell said this week, sitting in his new office. “It’s taken some getting used to.”

Conwell, 51, worked for 15 years as principal of Hamilton High School, which has about 550 students. Roughly four times larger, Bozeman High expects about 1,900 students this fall.

“It feels great,” Conwell said, looking ahead to the first day of school on Wednesday. “It’s a great district. It’s very positive, energetic, forward thinking, progressive. It makes me all the more excited to be here.”

Conwell is one of four new principals who will lead the Bozeman School District’s 11 schools this fall. Superintendent Rob Watson said it’s just a coincidence to have so many in one year.

Conwell is filling permanently the vacancy created when Watson was promoted to superintendent. Casey Bertram, the new principal of Hawthorne Elementary, was hired from Kalispell to replace Robin Miller, who was promoted to curriculum director.

Sarah Hays, the new principal at Emily Dickinson Elementary, last year’s assistant principal at Bozeman High, takes over for Sharon Navas, who was chosen to lead Bozeman’s newest school, Meadowlark.

Robin Arnold, the new principal at Morning Star Elementary, worked three years as an assistant principal at Emily Dickinson and Morning Star, until Tom Siegel decided to move to Colorado for family reasons.

“They’re going to be excellent,” Watson said of the new principals.

Conwell has the biggest job, running Bozeman’s only high school, the second largest in the state last year and ranked No. 2 in Montana based on test scores by U.S. News Weekly.

“I’ve been nothing but impressed with the people here,” he said. “I can see why Bozeman is such a high achieving school. They’re very dedicated and motivated.”

Conwell said he and his wife, Barb, enjoy hiking, biking and being outdoors. They have three grown daughters, all planning careers as teachers, which makes their dad feel proud.

Conwell is tall – 6-foot-2, a onetime high school basketball player back in his hometown, Red Lodge – and brings a sense of humor to the job. (“Does my hair look OK?” he joked, running a finger over his thinning hair, as a news photographer posed the four new principals.)

Here are Bozeman’s three new elementary principals:

--Casey Bertram, 35, was principal for six years at Cornelius Hedges Elementary, which won a 2010 award as a distinguished Montana school for having more than half its students from low-income families yet having 100 percent of third- and fifth-graders testing proficient in reading and 90 percent in math.

“I’m super-excited,” Bertram said of his new job. He said he wants to continue Hawthorne School’s tradition of centering education on the arts, while entering the era of new curriculum and technology.

“I think my job is to blend those things together – the arts and Common Core and technology,” Bertram said.

He and his wife have four children, including a little boy adopted from an Ethiopian orphanage.

--Robin Arnold, 52, said she loves the opportunity to lead Morning Star School and work with the staff, parents and 530 students.

She has been an educator since 1986. Her father was a teacher, but she tried hard to go into another field – sports medicine. Yet while working in a California high school training room, she discovered she really loved working with kids.

“I’ve never regretted it, not one minute,” Arnold said. “I love the idea we can impact our own future through kids. It’s nice to be in a job I love and feel passionate about.”

--Sarah Hays, 43, said she feels “thrilled” to lead 470-student Emily Dickinson School. A Bozeman High graduate, class of 1988, she has been an educator for 20 years.

“I always knew I wanted to be a teacher,” Hays said. “I loved teaching; I never wanted to leave.”

After teaching English and math at Bozeman High, however, she was “nudged” toward administration. Last year she was assistant principal.

“I loved that opportunity to make a difference on a large scale,” she said.

There will be lots of new faces at Emily Dickinson this year, with eight new staff members because of retirements and some teachers opting to work at the new school.

“It’s going to be a year of learning and growing,” Hays said.

Gail Schontzler can be reached at gails@dailychronicle.com or 582-2633.

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