BONNER – Throughout the K-8 classrooms and in the halls, excitement grew about the surprise all-school assembly that was scheduled Tuesday afternoon at Bonner School.

As school superintendent Doug Ardiana made his daily rounds, the question of the day was on everybody’s mind.

“Why are we having the assembly, Mr. Ardiana?” a handful of students asked within a five-minute stretch while Ardiana was checking in with the K-5 wing of the school.

“I don’t really know,” Ardiana replied.

When the time for the event finally arrived and the reason shared for the gathering was shared, it came as no surprise to the school’s students, teachers or staff.

Ardiana, it turned out, has been named western Montana’s outstanding superintendent for the 2011-12 year, and is one of nine finalists for the statewide title, which will be revealed Thursday, said James Baldwin, Alberton School superintendent.

Baldwin, who had the honor last year, formally presented Ardiana with the plaque that comes with the title offered by the Montana Association of School Superintendents.

“He is here all of the time, working tirelessly to improve education for students,” said Ashley Parks, Bonner K-5 principal.

“He is so deserving of this award,” she said. “He is student-centered, and all the decisions he makes are based on student needs.”

Ardiana earned the award for many reasons, among them: his forward-thinking approach to education, his deep connections to the school and greater community, and the support he receives from the community to support his vision of education.

“He always tells the truth, and there is no gray area with him,” Parks said. “You always know what he is thinking and where we are headed.”

Ardiana said he is honored but humbled by the recognition.

He’s served as Bonner’s superintendent for the past 10 years because he truly loves the community and the proudly independent school.

It’s the kind of place where everyone has a place, and where everyone works as a team, Ardiana said.

He’s especially proud of that.

***

As for him, the old-school blueprint of a traditional paper-pushing, sit-behind-the-desk superintendent, was never the model he aspired to.

To that end, Ardiana has spent most of his career giving the job a new look.

Every morning, he’s at the school greeting his 352 students as they begin filing in at 7:30 until the first bell rings at 8:15.

From there, in and around all the fiscal planning and administrative demands, the day is filled with such chores as substitute teaching and helping out with an emergency janitorial chore required by a queasy student.

He stops to talk with students in the halls and sits in on classroom lessons – sometimes joining in.

A point of pride is knowing 90 percent of the students by their first name.

Proof of that knowledge is self-evident when one joins Ardiana on his rounds through the building.

He calls everyone by name, sharing smiles, high-fives and fist bumps.

“He’s all about the kids,” said Ryan Ludemann, a Bonner parent and member of the school’s five-member board of trustees. “You always see him out in the halls, talking to kids, waiting at the buses and making sure the kids get where they need to be.”

At the assembly, Parks asked students in the packed gymnasium who had their tooth pulled by Mr. Ardiana, who had been given a bandage or an ice pack by him, a ride home or the forgotten 35 cents needed to ride the school bus?

By the time Parks finished her list, the entire gym was standing on its feet, representing all of those whom Ardiana has helped and encouraged throughout the years.

Perhaps the most telling appreciation for Ardiana’s work came not from colleagues, but from a student.

Mark Anschvetz, an eighth-grader, took to the microphone and offered his thoughts about the school superintendent.

Sharing a quote he researched, the 13-year-old said: “Leaders must be close enough to relate to others, but far enough ahead to motivate them.”

“Mr. Ardiana is exactly the leader that this quote is talking about. Mr. Ardiana has always taken time to talk with students and find out how their lives are going.

“When there is a problem in our school, he finds out the real story form the students and doesn’t jump to conclusions or assign blame.”

Baldwin, who proudly presented Ardiana with an impressive plaque, said it is truly an honor to be recognized by one’s peers.

“I can’t think of a more deserving person,” he said.

Reporter Betsy Cohen can be reached at 523-5253 or at bcohen@missoulian.com.

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