The public is invited Thursday evening to meet the finalists to be Big Sky High School's new principal, a position opened by the reassignment of current principal Paul Johnson.

In a shift involving several administrators in Missoula County Public Schools, Johnson will become principal of Washington Middle School next school year, ending his 13-year career there.

On Wednesday, six candidates - three of them from western Montana, including two in MCPS - will be interviewed by a committee of school officials, parents, students and community members.

That committee will choose the finalists, who will then meet with the public on Thursday. The committee is free to choose any number of finalists.

All are invited to the Thursday meeting, which takes place at 5 p.m. in the Big Sky High School gymnasium. The finalists will each make a short presentation before fielding questions from the audience.

On July 1, Johnson will take over at Washington; Washington principal Bob Gearheart will become assistant principal at C.S. Porter; C.S. Porter assistant principal Lisa Hendrix will take charge at Meadow Hill Middle School; Meadow Hill principal Nick Carter will become dean of students at Big Sky.

Larry Johnson, director of human resources at MCPS, stressed that the maneuvering is in no way a result of disciplinary action.

"We do not have a policy that says, ‘You'll be at a position for X number of years,' " he said. "This happens periodically at the discretion of the superintendent and the (school) board."

In fact, three of the four have been at their current positions for more than a decade. Johnson has been at Big Sky for 13 years, Gearheart at Washington for 16 years, and Carter at Meadow Hill for 13 years.

All the moves were made possible by the announcement of the retirement of Walt Serba, the longtime dean of students at Big Sky.

Here are the candidates from which the committee that meets Wednesday will choose the finalists:

• Gail Chandler, principal at C.S. Porter Middle School

• Heather Davis Schmidt, administrator at Big Sky High School

• Trevor Laboski, principal at Corvallis High School

• Peter McDougal, administrator in the Wilsonville (Ore.) School District

• Edward Norman, principal at Paradise Creek Regional High School in Moscow, Idaho

• Paul Williamson, administrator in the Colorado Springs (Colo.) School District

Reporter Jamie Kelly can be reached at 523-5254 or at


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