032219 New High School

Construction continues on Bozeman’s second high school on March 22.

Bozeman Gallatin High School is the unanimous choice as the name of the community’s second high school, despite passionate pleas to name the school for a young man who died serving his country.

School board trustees voted 7-0 Monday to choose a name from Bozeman’s history, the city’s original high school. In opinion surveys of nearly 10,000 community members, students and staff members, Gallatin was the clear favorite among five finalists.

“It honors the history of Bozeman,” Trustee Greg Neil said. “I think that’s kind of cool.”

“I want to have a name for the high school the community wants and supports,” said Trustee Gary Lusin.

Trustee Wendy Tage said the name is likely to be shortened to Gallatin High School in everyday use, but on official documents it will be Bozeman Gallatin High School. Chair Andy Willett said other large schools in Montana have similar names, like Missoula Sentinel or Kalispell Glacier.

Several veteran group members argued for reopening the naming process to name the new school after Army Staff Sgt. Travis Atkins, a former Bozeman student who was killed in 2007 in the Iraq War. He is being awarded the Medal of Honor this week in Washington, D.C., for sacrificing his own life to save fellow soldiers from a suicide bomber.

Individual trustees and Superintendent Rob Watson said they intend to look into naming something — perhaps a playing field or a library — after Atkins.

Jeff Krogstad, who originally advocated naming the school for his childhood friend and “hometown hero,” said he had received private assurances from the superintendent and board chairman that something would be done to honor Atkins. Krogstad said he could support the Gallatin name, and suggested making the mascot the Mountaineers, after the 10th Mountain Division, a military reference that would honor Atkins.

“He will not be forgotten, I guarantee you,” Krogstad said.

Judy Albright, the wife and mother of military veterans, said many people were commenting online that Bozeman doesn’t value veterans as much as Belgrade, Manhattan and Big Sky.

“Is that what you want to be known for — you don’t value veterans?” she demanded of trustees.

Trustee Heide Arneson replied both she and Trustee Tanya Reinhardt are veterans, and she feels Bozeman holds many events that recognize veterans and invites them to speak to students.

“Legacy is also important,” Arneson said, adding that graduates of Gallatin County High School — closed in the late 1950s when Bozeman High School was built — feel strongly they’d like to see the old name revived.

Retired Marine Col. Eric Hastings said he attended Gallatin County High and got hit with a stick by a French teacher trying to teach irregular verbs. Hastings said he could support the Gallatin name, but urged the trustees to make a public commitment to honor Atkins or risk alienating “all the veterans in the community.”

In the online community survey, some 9,347 opinions were submitted. Gallatin High School was by far the favorite with 43 percent support, followed by: Spanish Peaks, 19 percent; West Bozeman, 17 percent; Storm Castle, 14 percent; and Westslope, 8 percent.

Watson argued that if more names were to be added now, the school district would need to restart the process from the beginning to be fair.

The public was invited for one month to suggest names for the new school, and by Feb. 15 some 716 names were submitted. Atkins wasn’t among them.

The list was narrowed to 176, and then focus groups of students, teachers and parents picked 19 semifinalists. A naming committee at first recommended three names to the school board. On Feb. 25 the board picked Westslope, after the state’s cutthroat trout. But that sparked an immediate outcry from the public, which hadn’t had a chance to weigh in. So Watson opened up the community online poll and surveyed students and staff.

The board voted 6-1 to rescind the Westslope name before choosing Gallatin.

Reinhardt said she didn’t like the name Bozeman West because “it is dull” and too close to Billings West High School.

Watson said Bozeman High School already has an Honor Hall that recognizes Atkins and two other students who died in the Vietnam War, next to the Freedom Shrine of key documents from U.S. history.

“We’ll do more for recognition of Travis,” Watson said, “to honor the sacrifice he made for his country.”

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

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