Six candidates stood in front of the Lovell community Monday night to make the pitch for why they’re the right candidate to lead Lovell’s Middle School.
Among them are three local educational fixtures: Jane Bushnell, Bret George and Craig Lundberg, but the search for the middle school principal also brought in outside talent: Stephen Bell, a Spanish teacher from Big Piney High School, Crosby Tajan, a physical education instructor in Powell Middle School and William Hiser, an associate principal and counselor from Rock Springs High School.
The search began in mid-April after current principal Doug Hazen announced that he accepted a job at Columbia Falls Junior High in Montana beginning this fall.
The multiple candidates for his replacement had met privately with the district’s hiring committee before the public forum Monday and had also spent time interacting with students at the middle school. The hiring committee is composed of middle school staff, along with school board and administration members.
According to Woodford, the committee will review the public evaluations of the candidates filled out Monday night along with their private interviews, and will make a decision which will be presented and ratified at the regular school board meeting May 13.
Jane Bushnell, a long time local educator who currently teaches social studies and language arts at the middle school, was the first to speak at the public forum. Bushnell has previously served as the principal for the Lovell Elementary School and presented her long-standing connection with the district and the district’s children.
Bushnell said to her the most foremost responsibility of a principal is to be a consistent communicator who is able to foster relationships between the various parties involved in a student’s education.
“One of the biggest things, we need good communication between all the buildings, the administrators and the communities,” Bushnell said. “We cannot educate our kids without all of those people.”
Bushnell said she views a principal’s relationship with their staff as a collaborative effort.
“I think as a middle school principal, you lead them and also let them guide you because they have such an investment in your children,” Bushnell said. “(The staff) wants them to be successful.”
Bushnell praised the Lovell Middle School for the strides it has made in the quality of its instruction in the past several years and said she will be committed to raising that bar.
“We have gone through so many changes, but changes that have been good for kids,” Bushnell said. “I have been proud to be part of the staff and part of the district, and have seen what we have done through the years and I know we can continue to grow and be better.”
Stephen Bell, while currently a Spanish teacher in the Big Piney district, has previous administrative experience as an athletic director for schools in Mesa, Ariz. Bell said his first and foremost goal would be the professional development of the school’s teachers.
“The principal sets the tone. One of the most important things the principal is in charge of is instruction. As a middle school principal that’s something I’m going to take very seriously,” Bell said. “I have 14 years of teaching experience. Teachers are the biggest factors that are going to help the students to be better and to learn. One of my most important jobs is to hire great teachers and keep the great teachers that we have and make sure that in the classroom students are engaged in learning and are learning the things they need to.
“…I’m the best candidate because I can lead staff. I love teachers, and I love helping them become better teachers.”
Bell told the public that he also recognizes the special connection between a school and its community in a small town like Lovell.
“It’s not a public school, it’s a community school,” Bell said. “There’s a partnership between the community and the school.”
Crosby Tajan said his attempt to step up from being a physical education teacher to a principal is inspired by those who he has interacted with as a student and during his career.
“I reflect back to educators and coaches I had when I was in high school and middle school and the people I work with currently and that is why I am pursuing this position right now,” Tajan said. “I feel so inspired and I want to help kids the way my teachers and coaches have helped me.”
Tajan said what separates him from the rest of the candidates is his ability to connect and lead his students.
“A principal has got to have great ability to connect with kids and the staff should feel totally supported by the principal. The staff should know that I will have their back 100 percent. And the kids, I will jump in front of a truck for them,” Tajan said. “We’re going to lead with love and we’re going to do whatever it takes for them to grow, educationally and socially.
“My vision is a family atmosphere where kids feel valued, where they want to be here. When you feel valued in a family unit, you’re going to want to learn.”
When asked why he was the best candidate for the job, Tajan highlighted his charisma and physical stature.
“I think I’ve got a great degree of charisma that allows me to relate to kids and build connections. I’m blessed with a physical stature that allows me to be very flexible with kids. Children immediately respond to me just by my physical presence and that allows me to build the relationships with them,” Tajan said. “I don’t have to intimidate them or anything like that. I can build good connections and help them feel they are in a good family (focused) place.”
Bret George, a vocational instructor at Lovell High School for the past 19 years, told the public that his focus as principal will be building relationships.
“Relationships is the most important thing a principal builds,” George said. “Relationships with staff. Relationships with students. Relationships with the community.”
George said he is proud of the current path the middle school is on and sees himself as the best candidate to continue it, due to his connection with the community.
“I envision carrying on with where the school is. I think it’s a great school. We have a great staff,” George said. “I have been in Lovell long enough, I know who the clientele is.”
George said his educational career has been diverse and has given him the skills needed to be a talented and skilled administrator.
“I have served on multiple different committees, language arts, math, science, I have mentored many teachers throughout my time at the high school, I believe I have a vision of improvement that people can trust,” George said. “We will be the best middle school in the state of Wyoming.”
Craig Lundberg currently teaches fifth grade in Lovell and has been a teacher in the District for seven years, previously serving in Burlington.
Lundberg said as principal he will value accessibility and collaboration.
“One of the things I value the most is creating good culture,” Lundberg said. “The most important attribute I would look at for being principal is having an open door for everyone who will want to come in.”
Lundberg said that building of a positive environment is the most important task of a principal.
“We want to create a place where students want to come every single day, where all students want to come. Where we can build a relationship between them and the staff, where it’s a safe environment for them to come and succeed,” Lundberg said. “For some kids, this is the place where they come to eat, where they come to get away from some aspects of their life. So we need to build the right culture, where they feel safe and along with that culture it’s an atmosphere of learning and high expectations, where kids are excited to come in and meet those expectations.”
The last candidate to present was William Hiser, a 1995 graduate from Lovell High School. Hiser directed his own private counseling firm before becoming a school counselor in the Rock Springs High School. As associate principal, he is often directing disciplinary efforts.
Hiser said the most important service a principal can give students, staff and a school’s community is their active presence.
“You have to be with students, in the classes, in the hallways, you have to talk with teachers, talk with family members,” Hiser said “Listen to what’s good, and what needs to be improved, and know how to respond and follow up.”
Hiser praised the middle school for its educational prowess and said he knows how to continue down that path.
“You guys have a great facility here, you have a great thing going,” Hiser said. I’ve looked at the state testing website; you guys are doing great. I hope to be a support for staff for bridging those gaps, from moving from scores in the 60s to the 70s and up. You do that by working together with staff, students and families to meet the needs of all students.”
Hiser said his background makes him an ideal candidate.
”I feel like I have a diverse background. I have the teacher perspective, I have a counseling perspective. I owned a private counseling firm for five years, before I gave that up to become an associate principal,” Hiser said. “I have a diverse background of experiences to support the students and staff here.”
By Ryan Fitzmaurice