New school chief is getting up to speed
As an avid runner, Bruce Benson takes timing seriously.
As the new superintendent of Stafford County Public Schools, his timing could have been better.
As the outgoing superintendent of Accomack County Schools, Benson presented a budget to supervisors in February, then arrived in Stafford in time to have to do it all over again.
Benson started his job as the new chief of Stafford schools on April Fools’ Day, but it felt more like the movie version of Groundhog Day, with a repeat budget presentation.
Benson didn’t deliver the financial details, but was on hand as the Stafford School Board asked the county Board of Supervisors for nearly $20 million more in county money than the school division got last year.
Stafford supervisors responded by advertising a real estate tax rate of $1.019 per $100 assessed value. That rate would make it hard to come up with an extra $20 million. Supervisors, who control taxing authority, will hold a public hearing on the budget April 15.
When the supervisors vote on a budget, Benson and the School Board will then have to decide how to make do with the money they get.
It will be a challenge, said Benson. But he feels ready to tackle it.
Benson attended a School Board meeting March 31 to watch board members wrestle with the issues of teacher raises.
He has also spent his first week touring Stafford schools and getting to know students and staff.
Benson hopes to find a balance between the administrative part of his new job and getting into the classrooms.
He has already felt welcomed. Baked treats and school T-shirts have been showing up at his office near Stafford Courthouse. Benson plans to wear a different school T-shirt each day he runs in the Stafford Lakes area.
Thursday, as he visited Drew Middle School, Benson chatted with preteens in the cafeteria, the school nurse in the hallway and teachers in their classrooms. He even stopped by in-school suspension.
At each place, Benson asked questions and chatted with people, leaving personal nuggets of information behind.
He told the school nurse that his wife and youngest daughter were both nurses; talked with the principal about his dog, Max; told the art teacher that he dabbles in watercolors; and shared with the track coach that he and his wife are training for the Nashville Marathon.
Benson said that communication would be the key to success in his new job—and that conversations with students, staff, supervisors, board members and other community leaders would be instrumental.
While chatting with the librarian, Benson spoke about a book he’s reading, “Soundings,” which is about a woman who mapped the ocean floor in the 1950s.
While “21st-century learning” has become an education buzzword, Benson said that while reading the book, he thought about how students really need basic skills—working collaboratively, analyzing data, asking the right questions.
“Those skills are really any-century skills; it’s just a matter of using the tools that are available today,” Benson said. “The big difference is the tools and resources that are available today.”
Benson said it was important to connect students to technology.
“We want them to think like scientists, like mathematicians, like historians,” Benson said. “And in order to do that, we need to put the tools in their hands.”
But Benson, who began his career as a chemistry teacher, was most comfortable in front of Mary–Alice Robinson’s science class, quizzing them about the periodic table of elements.
“Science is about asking great questions and then trying to figure out the answers to those questions,” Benson told the students. “And there are a lot of questions out there that need answering.”
Amy Umble: 540/735-1973