7/11/18 Meet The New Superintendent
Photos by Steven Mantilla / Times-News
Bruce Benson is officially sworn in as the Alamance-Burlington Schools superintendent on Tuesday, joined by his wife Barbara, left, at the ABSS administrative Office on Vaughn Road.
Meet The New Superintendent
Benson reflects on childhood, teaching and a life of learning
By Jessica Williams The Times-News 7/11/18
Reprinted with permission.
The Alamance-Burlington School System has a new superintendent, and he ’s led an interesting life.
Dr. William “Bruce” Benson was sworn in during a brief ceremony Tuesday, July 10, led by Judge Larry Brown, but officially took the helm of the school system July 1.
What led him to where he is now?
Benson was born and raised in Grand Rapids, Mich.
After losing his mother to cancer when she was only 39, he struggled at home and says the support he found at school saved his life.
“I was raised by a grandmother along with my brother and sister in a little one-bedroom house in inner-city Grand Rapids, and quite frankly, public education saved me, without a doubt,” he said. “I had great teachers, guidance counselors. They found scholarship money for me to go to school and the same for my brother and sister. My grandmother was a faithful woman. She didn’t know how but she knew we would find a way to be successful, so I have a great appreciation for the power of public education. I think it’s the great equalizer.”
Community members listen as Benson addresses the auditorium after being sworn in.
That led to seven years as a science and technology teacher before moving through the ranks to become a director of technology, executive director of curriculum, instruction and technology, assistant superintendent, and finally superintendent.
“I think the advantage that I have is that I’ve had an opportunity to work with just about every part of a school system,” Benson said.
Now that he’s been officially sworn in, many are asking, “What’s next?”
“I’m really anxious to meet and get to know people,” he said. “There’s a lot to learn. There are a fair number of differences, particularly from the operational side, between how schools operate in North Carolina versus Virginia. I like to think that I’m a quick study, so I’ll be working on that, and I’m going to be listening deeply to what people have to say about our school system.”
One thing he knows will be a top priority is attracting and retaining excellent teachers, in spite of the “ever-shrinking applicant pool” schools around the country face.
That involves not only providing competitive pay and benefits, but also creating a workplace environment where new teachers feel like they belong and are supported.
That’s part of the reason Benson keeps up with a blog, which you can find by visiting www.abss.k12.nc.us and clicking “superintendent information.”
There, he’ll share stories and photos from his classroom visits, which are often action-packed.
“I think it’s important for our young people to see adults doing things that might make them a little bit uncomfortable,” he said. “I was in a theater class in my last division, and they were doing dance. OK, now, you want to put me out of my comfort zone? That would do it.”
Similarly, he wants to ensure that ABSS is taking students out of their comfort zones and challenging them, not just academically, but also in the arts and career and technical education.
“If we can get them to graduate and just have a love of learning, then we did a good job, I think,” he said.
As far as whether he will jump into the world of Twitter, as former superintendent Bill Harrison did, Benson says he might be persuaded to tweet if it’s something the community wants, but he’s content with the blog for now.
In his free time, the self described “lifelong learner” explores a number of hobbies.
An avid runner, he and his wife Barbara have already registered for the 5K fun run/ walk for autism that the Burlington Royals are hosting Saturday, Aug. 18. The couple also loves to kayak, cycle and keep up with their five grandchildren.
“We’re trying to turn our house here into a grandkid magnet,” he smiled.
Benson also paints, draws and plays guitar, which he picked up when he was 11.
“My two daughters asked me to play at their weddings,” he said. “The second oldest asked me to write the song for their first dance. So, I had a song that I had started to write for my wife when we were dating, and I only wrote one verse, so I finished it and then used that for her first dance song.”
He’s “not very good at just sitting around,” but that’s been an asset throughout his career.
“I think it’s helpful to the young people to demonstrate that you can have lots of different interests and one of those might turn out to be a career, but don’t let go of the other things because they will provide a level of enrichment to your life that you could not imagine,” he said.
His love of learning will serve him well over the next few months as he learns the strengths and weaknesses of the school system and starts to outline the next chapter.
Bruce Benson is officially sworn in as the Alamance-Burlington Schools superintendent on Tuesday, July 10, joined by his wife Barbara, left, at the ABSS administrative Office on Vaughn Road.