Erica Schnee will become principal of Bozeman’s second high school and Michigan educator Dan Mills will be the new principal of Bozeman High.

School board trustees voted 7-0 Monday to approve the hiring recommendations by Superintendent Rob Watson.

“I’m really excited for our district and our kids,” Trustee Wendy Tage said. “This is a really great start for something wonderful.”

Schnee, 44, graduated from Bozeman High and taught social studies here for nine years. She has been one of three assistant principals at 2,224-student Bozeman High since 2015. This year she has been helping to plan the transition to the 2020 opening of the second high school, which was just named Bozeman Westslope High School.

Mills, 39, has been assistant principal of 1,566-student Athens High School in Troy, Michigan, since 2015. Before that he was an English teacher and earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Michigan. He said he started visiting Montana on vacations and fell in love with the state.

Watson said he was impressed by all six finalists, their knowledge, experience and passion for education, so the hiring decision was difficult.

Michigan colleagues described Mills as empathetic, intelligent, persevering and someone who “really cares about kids,” Watson said. He recommended Mills for his reputation of building great relationships with students and his experience administering a large high school, experience with Advanced Placement programs and with restorative discipline, which emphasizes not just punishment but an effort at making things right.

Schnee taught in Aurora, Colorado, for several years before returning to her hometown to teach social studies at Bozeman High and serve as department chair. Her degrees are from Montana State University and the University of Phoenix in Colorado.

Watson called Schnee a rational, deep thinker who excels at problem solving and is passionate about education and creating two great high schools. He wrote that he recommended Schnee for her “outstanding service to Bozeman High School” the past 12 years, including her “invaluable” work on the transition to two high schools.

Both will start their new jobs July 1. The principals’ jobs were advertised as paying $110,431 to $121,118, depending on experience and education.

Mills will be the permanent replacement for Kevin Conwell, Bozeman High principal since 2013, who was forced to retire in January after being struck down in September by a polio-like disease that causes paralysis.

The candidates were interviewed Feb. 7, by selection committees. Watson said follow-up interviews were conducted Feb. 12, to ask the candidates about their vision for the two high schools in the future. He also conducted reference checks.

The other four finalists were Renee DeVore, a former middle school principal from West Lake Forest, Illinois; Sarah Hays, principal at Bozeman’s Emily Dickinson Elementary School; Justin Helvik, principal for grades six to 12 in Three Forks; and Bert Horsley, assistant principal of Belgrade High School.

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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