Craig Kitto

Craig Kitto

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The Bozeman School Board has hired a veteran educator as the new principal of Whittier Elementary School.

Craig Kitto, 42, principal for five years of Meadowlark Elementary in Buffalo, Wyoming, was born and raised in Townsend and attended Montana State University, earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees here. He said in a phone interview Tuesday, “I’m a Bobcat, through and through.”

School Board trustees voted 7-0 Monday to accept Superintendent Rob Watson’s recommendation to hire Kitto, starting July 1.

Speaking by conference call, Kitto thanked the trustees. He said he has been trying to get back home to Montana to be closer to family for a few years, and Bozeman has always been high on the list of places he’d like to work.

“I’m fist-pumping right now,” Kitto said after the vote. “I’m beyond excited.”

Kitto said he has been a teacher and administrator 18 years. He taught government and history at the high school level and served for several years as assistant principal at Buffalo High School.

As Whittier principal, he will earn $99,744. He will replace Darren Schlepp, Whittier’s principal for the last six years, who will become the new principal at Morning Star Elementary.

Watson said more than 40 people applied for Bozeman’s two principal openings at Whittier and Irving elementary schools, and nine candidates were invited for interviews with staff, parents and administrators.

Watson said he chose Kitto as someone who can build relationships, is very approachable and has an excellent track record. He has a well-rounded background, experience in Title I schools that have high numbers of low-income students, and has worked to include special-education students in the mainstream.

Trustee Heide Arneson said she was impressed when she met Kitto as someone who listened, engaged with people and communicated well.

Kitto said during the interview process, it became clear that “the Bozeman community is very passionate about that school. I’m excited to work with parents, the community and staff and continue the excellence that is Whittier.”

Kitto said he and his wife have two girls, who will be starting freshman year of high school and seventh grade. He said he plans to visit Whittier School before his official start date to make as smooth a transition as possible.

Irving School remains without a new principal. Watson said all the candidate finalists were qualified, but they just weren’t a good fit for Irving.

“I’m committed to finding the best candidate,” Watson said. “We will continue to advertise.”

In January, Watson announced that with the upcoming retirement of Bozeman’s Meadowlark Elementary principal, Sharon Navas, he planned to shuffle four principals to new positions.

Adrian Advincula, Irving’s principal for nine years, will take over Meadowlark, Bozeman’s largest elementary school. Schlepp will move to Morning Star. Current Morning Star Principal Robin Arnold will become assistant principal at Chief Joseph Middle School. Watson said he has not yet decided on which position he’d like for Randy VanDyk, current CJMS assistant principal.

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Gail Schontzler can be reached at 406-582-2633 or gails@dailychronicle.com.

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