After a year in graduate school studying demographics at the University of Wisconsin, Tracey Benson knew that he needed to find a different path: "If you're a demographer you sit in the office with a computer in total isolation…and I knew very quickly that that wasn't for me." In fact, the key trait Benson believes good administrators need is almost the complete opposite: "You have to be really good at working with people," he says emphatically.
Benson decided to try teaching at the suggestion of his parents, both of whom are educators. Coincidentally, a week after his parents' tip his guidance counselor offered him an application for Teach for America, based at Houston University. During the program's intensive summer of training—teaching during the day and attending classes at night—Benson was slotted for elementary school because he had majored in sociology rather than math, English or any of the other core academic subjects. The program used a sink or swim approach, giving each new teacher a classroom to themselves to manage the best they could. "We had no teachers' manuals or anything," recalls Benson. "They wanted everything to be very organic so you had to think and conceptualize how to develop a lesson." He did his student teaching in a pre-K classroom, and says, "Those kids—they killed me. I had no concept of what it meant to teach and what it was to deal wtih 3- and 4-year-olds, so it was like a scene out of Kindergarten Cop!" He began to learn right away how to pick and choose and shape a lesson to a particular audience. "A lesson with pre-k is maybe 7 minutes. You can't go any longer," he says. "I designed like half-hour lessons, and that wasn't happening. They let me know that right away. Our whole cohort…we got an awakening!"
He survived this trial by fire and feels today that it helped prepare him very well for his next stint—in a 4th-grade classroom. "It was a rough time but by the time I had my own classroom I had learned to have my lessons hyper-planned," he says. Benson also learned at an early stage in his career to reach out to those with more experience. "I sought out help with classroom management and systems," he says. "I'm a very systemic thinker"—another quality that has served him well in his administrative work. "My first school was in a very impoverished neighborhood," he says, "and working with that population really forced me to focus on management, parental contact and parental support, and being able to adjust my teaching strategies to serve the wide range of kids in our classroom."
It was in that job that Benson was first approached to look into administration. At that point he began his graduate work at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill while also taking on a new job as a Proficiency Specialist in an elementary school and running an after-school 21st-Century program as well. He continued his research with a year in South America, then moved to Miami to become a district trainer for the county and run trainings on school policy and classroom management for administrators and teachers.
Two years ago, Benson moved again, this time up to Williamstown when his wife became a professor at Williams College. He landed a job as Vice Principal at Herberg Middle School. And after two years there, he moved up again to become the youngest principal ever of Pittsfield High—and the first African-American principal in Berkshire County. On the whole, he feels the transition from VP to Principal—and from middle school to high school—has gone smoothly. Partly this is because he already knew some of the kids, which made his job—and the students' transition to a new school—a bit easier. And, although the job of VP focuses heavily on discipline, Benson feels the way he interpreted the role made the transition to his new position easier as well. "Your job as a disciplinarian is much harder if you don't work with teachers also on classroom management and effective teaching," he says. "This way also there's a consistency between the classroom and the administration."
Benson also feels that, despite the frequent changes in administration in the past few years at PHS, he was walking into an atmosphere of commitment and dedication. "We have a lot of very talented teachers here," he says. "They're highly specialized teachers. They know their content areas. And they are very good at what they do. In addition, they're very invested, no matter who's in the principal's seat." This made his immediate job clear. "What helps support them the most is how the school functions and how it runs," says Benson. "So when I came up here I was very involved with managing the building."
What lies ahead for Benson and Pittsfield High? "A short-term goal is to bring us all to a collective undersatnding of what we're doing here," he says. "I commend the staff after all the changes in the last few years. And I want us to gain a collective understanding of how to move students forward." Keeping a student-centered focus is key to Benson's vision for the school. "Where I see us in the next 3-5 years is constantly raising our level of achievement for our students at each level. The focus on the next 5 years is taking a look at all the data we collect and deciding on the very small piece we're really going to use, then translating that into a specific practice in the classroom, measuring its effects and seeing if it works. If it does, then we know it can be replicated."
Summing up, Benson feels very positive about his new position. "Overall PHS is headed in the right direction," he says. "A good portion of the faculty here really care about kids and want them to achieve. And we must continue to concentrate on that—keeping the focus on how every single thing we do—from grounds and maintenance care to improving teaching strategies—contributes to moving students forward."
Both of my parents were educators and when they suggested I try teaching, I thought that sounded like a pretty good idea."
University of Wisconsin, Sociology. teach for america in houston 4th grade. 2 years, My plan was to be a demographer. I did a year of grad school. If you're in demographics you sit in the office with a computer and I said that's not for me. My parents are both eduators and said why don't you try teaching and it just happened to coincide wtih myt guidance counselor mentiong teach for america. She gave me the pamphlet aweek later - why not try teach for america sncie you don't want to here anymore and i ssiad ok adn immediately knew i wanted to spedn some time in education. It's a summer of trianing so you come in they set you up with a cohort. It was hundreds and hundreds of teahers on the Univeristy of Houston campus. we had one classroom to ourselves. no teahers manuals or anything they want everything to be very organic so you have to think and conceptualize how to develop a
lesson. you teach during the day adn have classes at night it's a very intense 6 weeks of trianing i wanted to be a high school teacher but since i wasn't a math or science or specialty teacher in college they said you have to be in elementary. so i student taught in a pre-k classroom. and those kdis, they killed me. cuz i had no concept of what it meant to teach adn waht it was to deal wtih 3 and 4 year olds. it was quite the experience itw as like a scene out of kindergarten cop i didn't understand what it meant to teach them letters. and the lesson wtih pre-k is liek 7 minutes. you can't go any longer. i applied like half-hour lessons and that wasn't happening they let me know that right away. our whole cohort, we got an awakening, you know you can't do that in apre-k classroom. it was a rought time but i think it preapred me to go into a 4th-grade classroom because i was hyper-planned. And i sought out help wtih lassroom management and systems. i'm a very systemic thinker. the first school i was in was a very impoverished neighborhood, we had 1000 students in our school, k 1 and 2 were in teh buidling, 3, 4 and 5 were out in the bakc in portables. i loved it it was like a little house it was great it was ice to be outside but working with that population really forced me to focus on management, parental contact andparnetal support. and being able to adjust the teaching strategies to serve teh wide range of kids in our classroom. you were in your classroom with your kids all day long - no sped support, you were it.
i realy looked up to the adminsitrator in my building. she was very down to earth and seh would come in and help seh was alwasy out, visible in the shcool adn very visible. i reached out for help. we had 8 teachers, 4 regular ed and 4 ell. the group was kind of disjointed and i came in adn tried to pull everyone together. i asked the 3rd-grade teachers where are the kids coming from? for parent- teacher night to bring in the parents i had food and i had a project their kids had worked on. So i wored to drwaw the parents in reather htan just say i'm hving a praent teacher night and ecpevt them to come she said you're really good at organizing people you should think abou tgoing in to administraiton. she said 'm not an adminsitraotr but someone needs to do it. I didn't express any interest in doing it but she said if you're student-focueds, which it seems you are, you shoudl consider doing it.
then chapel hill nc became proficiency specialist in elementary school and after-school 21st-century program 2 years, chapel hill unc for 2 years school admiistration. became vp middle school in nc.
left the country to go to south america and teach in a school for a year and did some research amazing rate of literacy. THen went to Miami and became a district trainer for the county to run trainings on school policy and classroom management. Run trainings for admins and teachers for a year. Then wife got the job at Williams and "I had to come too. I was fortunate to get the job in Pittsfield, which was the closest to Williamstown and I liked what the program had to offer so I accepted the position at Herberg.
what i've learned i'm a middle child of six children so i've always been an oragniazer to decide what restarurant you're going to among 8 people it could be debate! I would go in there and say we all want to go to different places, but if we don't make a deciions we're not going to be able to go.. dealing with group dynamics you have to be really good at wiorug wutg people. you need to be good at oragnizgn people and empowering them to do what's best for the kids. At the school elvel and the district level you have to know how to work with people. I try to take from people who are really good at wokring with others. the vp during my internship there really was good at disarming people - teachers, students, parents. How can I give them waht they want. how can i best give htem what they want in the best way possible? keep students at the center of your decision-making and not get lost in state and district requiremetns and teacher needs and teacher wants. what is best for students shoul be at the center of all your deciisons. For example, if you decide to keep the restrooms closed becuase it's easier, but that's just difficult for the kids. We ned to say we want to keep them open fo ryou but you have to keep them clean, and then reinforce that all aeyr long, not just say it once.
i make time every day to get out into the hallways. every morning i'm out in the central area. i'm not able to influence academics directyl, but thourhg professional development, setting the currciulum, but I do not I think visibility is very important so they can put a face to the principal.
vp to principal? realtively smooht transition. i knew some of the kids and they knew me and would see a familiar face. it was nice to see the kids move from 8th grade to 9th. the vp is preominantly discipline, but there always needs to be an undersatnding between discipline and academics. Your job as a disciplinarian is much harder if you don't work with teachers also on classroom management and effective teaching. This way also there's a consistency between the classroom and the adminsitration.
When I came up here I was very involved with managing the building. WE have a lot of very talented teachers here. These are highly specialized teachers. They know their content areas; they know their subjects and are very good at what they do. What helps support them the most is how the school functions and how it runs.
a short-term goal is to bring us all to a collective undersatnding of waht we're all doing here. I commend the staff after all the changes in the last few years. The teachers are very invested, no matter who's int he principal street. I want us to gain a collective underwatnsind of how to move students forward. Where i see us in the next 3-5 years is consantly raising our elvel of achievement for our students at each level. Not just measured in MCAS scores, but in grades, benchmarks, attendance. The focus on the next 5 years is taking the data and deicding on the very small piece we're really going to use and transltate that into a specific practice in the classroom and measure it and see if it works. Then it can be replicated.
Overall PHS is in the right direction. A good portion of the faculty here really care about kids and want them to achivee. I also plan to be very clear about the xpectations and teh reason why they are what they are. I had a few days tos et the tone in the begiinning. Before that we had a school climate committee and had discussions about how do we want the shcool to run. The committee then shares that with thes chool as a whole. I presented our goals and here is why these are our golas, which are tied to the data we have. I also have individual conversations wtih teachers and students and then with the group level as a whole and bimonthly reports from the smaller groups on what progress we're making.
youngest principal hired at PHS, 1st african-american principal in berkshire county