Construction Roundabout Bozeman High

Construction workers continue to install a roundabout at the intersection of North 15th Avenue, West Beall Street and Ruth Thibeault Way on Thursday afternoon near Bozeman High.

With two weeks left until the start of school, hard-hatted crews are busy running backhoes, tractors and concrete mixers on the west side of Bozeman High to finish constructing a new traffic roundabout and main entry road into the campus.

The North 15th Avenue roundabout and widening of Ruth Thibeault Way are slated to be completed by Aug. 30 — just four days before the first day of classes, says Bob Connors, the Bozeman School District’s new superintendent.

Classes for most students begin on Sept. 3, and for kindergartners on Sept. 6.

This year Bozeman’s public schools will be dealing with lots of growing pains.

Enrollment is officially over 7,000 students for the first time ever, Connors said.

Middle school principals are trying to figure out if there are too many seventh-graders to fit in Sacajawea, which might require transferring some to Chief Joseph. That’s even though Sacajawea recently completed a $16 million expansion.

And as of this week, there are 20 more kindergartners signed up than there are classes for them, Connors said.

“Those are the two grades that have me concerned right now,” he said. Connors added that things are still fluid because schools often don’t hear from families that have moved, so they’re not sure how many kids aren’t returning until after school starts.

Bozeman High’s teachers and staff are gearing up for the historic opening in fall 2020 of Bozeman’s second high school, Gallatin High, now more than 60% complete.

In November and December, openings for teaching and coaching jobs will be posted. Then teachers will have to decide whether to stay at the original high school or apply to move to the new school, likely an emotional decision for many.

Veteran Bozeman High teachers have been stepping up to mentor younger teachers and prepare them to teach college-level Advanced Placement classes, so that both high schools can offer popular AP classes, Connors said. And younger teachers have been helping veterans brush up on teaching regular level classes.

“It’s going to be as equal as we can possibly make it,” Connors said. “There’s been a lot of trust conversations going on to make sure both schools are staffed as equally as possible.”

Connors said he has heard that some veteran teachers offered to move so that younger colleagues with preschool-age children can try to stay at Bozeman High, which houses Hawks Nest, the district’s only daycare.

Bozeman High’s impressive new stadium won’t be ready to open on the first day of classes.

“We’re shooting for homecoming,” Connors said, which is Sept. 28.

The stadium is the most expensive piece of the $13.7 million construction project that includes Ruth Thibeault Way, the roundabout, new parking and moving softball fields.

The stadium’s artificial turf football field is in, the bleachers and lights are in, landscaping and trees are in. But work continues on the visiting team locker rooms, public restrooms and the concessions stand.

“It’s a neat facility,” Connors said.

One reason for delay is that the Bozeman City Commission must hold a public hearing on the stadium’s video scoreboard, which is bigger than the city sign ordinance would allow. The hearing is Sept. 9.

The sign itself is about 25-foot square, while the video display will be roughly 8 by 14 feet. The city by law must hold a hearing to give the public the chance to comment, even though the commissioners don’t have the power to reject the school’s proposal.

Also new this school year are three of the most visible school leaders – Connors himself, who started work in July; Mark Ator, the new activities director; and Dan Mills, Bozeman High’s new principal.

Connors said in his first weeks on the job he has immersed himself in meeting key people in the schools and the community, including leaders of Montana State University, the hospital, city and county governments and nearby rural schools.

“The outreach to the community has been fantastic,” he said.

Some people have ribbed him about being a former quarterback for the University of Montana Grizzlies, in the hometown of the rival MSU Bobcats, he said, but it has all been good-natured.

“There’s a natural rivalry, but you’re always a Montana guy,” Connor said.

Since July he has been living in a Bozeman rental with just his clothes and a bed.

“It was worse than being a college kid,” he said.

His wife, Barb, an area manager for Youth Dynamics, and boxes full of their household goods just arrived in Bozeman this week from their former home in Glasgow. There he was school superintendent of the 850-student district for seven years.

Connors has 35 years experience in education in Montana, as a business teacher, principal and superintendent, plus coaching for 25 years.

“I’m always excited about the new school year,” he said. “It’s going to be fun to meet the kids.”

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.

Support quality local journalism. Become a subscriber.

Subscribers get full, survey-free access to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle's award-winning coverage both on our website and in our e-edition, a digital replica of the print edition.