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Stafford superintendent has positive outlook

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Before an auditorium packed with teachers and administrators gearing up for the start of school next week, Stafford County School Superintendent Bruce Benson flashed a picture of the Andrea Gail fishing boat from the movie “The Perfect Storm.”

But Benson thinks Stafford schools will survive the storm, unlike the Andrea Gail, which sunk without any survivors.

“I understand things have been kind of rough,” Benson said, before mentioning that he has held one-on-one meetings with all of the Stafford Board of Supervisors. “I do think that we can come out on the other end of this with something positive for the community.”

Benson’s first “Back to School Address” on Monday at Mountain View High School piggybacked off of a tradition some Stafford school superintendents have done in the past.

With his teaching background in chemistry and biology, Benson told teachers that he is diving into the numbers with the re-examination of teacher compensation and the programs the division offers, such as the International Baccalaureate Program.

Benson said he got some pushback for suggesting the review of programs, but re-iterated that it is necessary.

“School divisions are in general good at adding things to their plate. But they aren’t so good at taking things off their plate. We are going to look at things that we could maybe stop doing that would make us more efficient,” Benson said.

In one of his first acts as superintendent, Benson recommended that the School Board commence a $100,000 efficiency review that takes a comprehensive look at how the division is using its resources.

That review will complement a compensation study, class-size analysis, teacher compensation study and a review of the school’s strategic plan.

On Monday, only a handful of teachers recognized the values from the strategic plan when Benson threw them up on a slide.

The results of the reviews and studies are all expected over the next several months.

“We haven’t got some results in some areas—compensation and benefits is one of them—with the strategies that we have used previously,” Benson said.

Benson later said that tinkering with something is not always better than just throwing it out completely after a teacher asked the superintendent to keep in mind the lack of teacher pay raises over the past couple of years. He added that Stafford is not doing as well as some of its colleagues in central Virginia in terms of teacher compensation. And on top of that, the division has gutted professional development support, Benson said.

“Teachers are leaving because of a number of factors, but that is one of them,” Benson said, referring to the teacher pay.

He said the 55 percent turnover rate for teachers with zero to five years of experience is of particular concern.

One elementary school teacher also asked Benson about the rigidity in the classroom curriculum schedule, which syncs up all of the elementary school teachers’ lessons.

Benson said that from his standpoint, it is good to have general benchmarks but allow innovation in the curriculum as well.

“We’re not growing unless it is a little uncomfortable. Some of the things that we are going to do over time is a little bit uncomfortable,” Benson said.

He told the crowd that he wanted to hear from as many different voices as possible before making a decision, but that complaints and potential solutions must be backed up by evidence.

“I don’t want to be the superintendent that says, ‘I tried.’ I want to be the superintendent that delivers,” Benson said. “I want things to be different. I want you to feel that there are these positive things that we are looking forward to.”

Vanessa Remmers: 540/735-1975