by nathan oster
Another school year is rapidly approaching, as some school employees returned to work on Monday to prepare for the arrival of teachers next week and the first official day for students on Aug. 24.
Of the three buildings, Greybull Middle School has seen the most change since students and teachers said their goodbyes in May. The building will begin the year with a new principal, as Joel Rogers has stepped into the role formerly held by Scott McBride, who is now the curriculum and grants coordinator.
Rogers is ready. Already fully moved into his office after helping with summer school, he was helping the middle school’s other new hire, Cody Welsh, get settled into hers on the first official day of work. Welsh is replacing Christine McMillan, who retired in May.
Rogers is from “small town Montana.” He grew up in Lima, population 200. While it’s a ranching community, he said he grew up in a restaurant. The only one in town, it was owned by his parents and served burgers and shakes, homemade soups and pies.
“I was their helper,” he said.
There were only eight kids in his graduating Class of 2007 at Lima. He was heavily involved in sports, playing six-man football, basketball and track in Lima and driving 45 minutes, each way, to Dillon to play baseball.
It was his love for the latter that took him to Reedley Junior College in California, where for two years he took his generals and played baseball. While he “loved it” and “wouldn’t trade the experience for anything,” he said, “I learned I wasn’t a big city guy pretty quick.”
He returned to Montana, spending a year at Western Montana College before moving to Billings, where he lived for the past seven years while attending Montana State University-Billings and teaching third grade in the Lockwood School District, which he did for the past four years. He also coached some junior high basketball and “little guy football” while in Billings.
He holds undergraduate degrees in elementary and special education from MSU-B and just this past May, earned his master’s degree from Montana State University-Bozeman, which cleared the way for him to pursue administrative positions.
Rogers said he and his wife Chelsea (formerly an ICU nurse but now a transition services director for Humana, which she can do remotely from their home) have two children — a 2 ½-year-old son, Raustin, and a 1-year-old daughter, Remi. They have already settled into a home in Greybull.
“It’s a small community, so for both of us, it’s kind of like going back to our roots,” said Rogers. “We loved Billings and Billings was great to us, but we were looking for a place where we could hunt, fish and play in the mountains, and and also live and raise our kids in a little slower lifestyle.”
Rogers said one of his mentors growing up was his high school baseball coach, who at the time was the principal of a middle school in Dillon. “He kept me on the straight and narrow and had a big hand in my life,” he said, when asked why he went into education. “Now I want to be that person for other kids.”
Rogers was asked what kind of a principal he thinks he’s going to be.
“I hope to be a kind, caring and respectful person who is willing to apologize if I make a mistake, someone who is approachable, someone who is able to collaborate with a variety of kids and someone who helps kids achieve.
“My biggest goals, for the first few months anyway, are going to be to get to know the school, the district, the teachers and the students. That relationship piece, for me, is the key to success. I’ve always been about relationships.”’
Rogers said he’s already noticed some pretty significant differences between the district he left and the one he joined. “The technology here is state of the art,” he said. “We’re a one-to-one Chromebook district. If you find a district in Montana that is one-to-one anything, you’ll be surprised, including private schools.”
While he has been teaching third graders for the past four years and is going to be a principal for the first time, dealing with middle schoolers won’t be new to him. While attending school in Billings, he worked for the Boys and Girls Club of Yellowstone.
“To be an educator at the middle school level, I think you have to be a little different, like the kids,” he said. “They’re trying to figure out themselves and their friends while taking the leap up from elementary school. I think you can have fun with them and joke with them. But at the same time, they need to realize that it’s time to start taking greater accountability for their education.
“I mentioned my mentor earlier … it was about that time of my life, my middle school years, when he started having an effect on me. I want to be that guy.”