No one is looking forward to the first day of school more than Jim Howard.
“I'm excited to just stand at the door and meet the kids,” he said.
That’s exactly what Bonner School’s new superintendent plans to be doing on the morning of Aug. 26 before classes begin.
Howard, who comes to the school from Campbell County School District in Gillette, Wyoming, replaces former superintendent Doug Ardiana, who resigned in June after 12 years with the district.
Although he has just moved to Bonner, Howard is no stranger to the area. His first teaching job was in Missoula starting in the early 1990s. He spent seven years at Valley Christian School.
“Those seven years in the '90s were really formative for my wife and I,” he said.
After his time in Missoula, Howard and his wife, Beth, returned to his native Minnesota, where he spent three years in another teaching position at Clearbrook Gonvick School in the town of Clearbrook in the northern part of the state, where he had once been a student.
“I was working with some of my old teachers,” Howard said. “I certainly had the children of some of my former classmates as students.”
He then returned to Montana, where he taught for a year in Fort Benton before becoming the school’s principal for seven years. He said his experience at that school has some similarities to his new role at Bonner.
“I think that gives me perspective in the central role a school plays in a community,” Howard said.
After Fort Benton, he moved to Gillette, Wyoming, to become the associate principal of Campbell County High School for five years before being hired at Bonner in July.
“In some ways Missoula just seems like home more than any other place,” Howard said, adding that three of his five children were born here while he was teaching at Valley Christian.
He has a bachelor’s degree in history from Bethel University in Minnesota, a master’s in educational leadership from Montana State University and is currently working on a doctorate of education. Howard's contract is for two school years, at an annual salary of $88,000.
Howard already has a big project to get involved in before the school year starts. This May, voters approved a $346,000 bond to fund an expansion to the Bonner Elementary School cafeteria and change the school’s entrance to increase student safety. The new superintendent said he is working hard to catch up on the plans and be able to contribute.
“When I was a starving teacher in Missoula, I built houses on the side,” he said. “I always worked as a contractor and a carpenter in the summertime, and I did that until I became an administrator and even after that.”
When he didn’t have construction work, Howard said he would work helping friends at their logging company in Missoula.
“It was really fun to drive into Bonner when I interviewed and see that log yard full again,” he said.
Plans for a new cafeteria include an additional 1,600 square feet next to the existing 1,318-square-foot space. The office remodel will mean that staff will be able to see visitors as they enter the front doors of the building.
The school is still hoping to start some of the deconstruction process before school begins, with the majority of the work happening throughout the rest of the year. Bonner will be prioritizing student safety and minimizing interruptions to the school day as much as possible.
Howard’s last few weeks have been spent getting to know his staff and teachers, learning from them what make school at Bonner special, and looking forward to meeting students and their parents at the end of this month.
“It’s just that the school is a whole different entity when it’s full of kids,” Howard said.