Going Public: A Conversation with Dr. Howard Benyon, The Incoming CGPS District Superintendent
On March 8th, 2023, Cape Girardeau Public Schools announced that they had chosen to promote from within the district, and hire the current Deputy Superintendent of Elementary Education for the CGPS District Superintendent position.
A search for the position began after the announcement of Dr. Neil Glass' retirement earlier in 2023. Dr. Benyon officially begins his role as the new Cape Girardeau Public Schools Superintendent on July 1st, 2023.
Dr. Benyon has 24 years of experience in the field of education with 18 years as an administrator. Before coming to Cape Girardeau, he was the principal at Jones Elementary and Newcomer International Elementary in Tulsa Public Schools, which is Oklahoma's second-largest school district.
On Thurs. April 13th, Cape Girardeau Public Schools will host a "Meet and Greet" event at 6 p.m. at the Terry W. Kitchen Central Junior High Auditorium for Dr. Benyon and his family. The public is invited to attend the event.
Here was our conversation.
First of all, can you tell me a little bit about some of the work that you have already done in the Cape Girardeau Public School District. You were selected as an internal candidate. So that probably does bring with it some advantages. So talk a little bit about what you've done within the Cape Public School System.
Dr. Howard Benyon: 0:49
Well, I first initially started with Cape Public Schools in 2019, which was the start of COVID in 2020. So, most of my experience with Cape Public Schools has been through those years of COVID. During that time, I was hired on as a Secondary Deputy Superintendent, and I was over fifth grade through high school, and then the Career Tech Center as well. And during that time, we've done a lot of different things. We looked at assessment, and curriculum and aligned those in order to just help support kids. And then also during that time, I was part of the team that set up the virtual learning, where we served 1400 students during COVID on virtual learning, and I was asked to take over the elementary Deputy Superintendent position. My experience is actually in elementary education, but I have done K through 12 curriculum. So, I was I felt comfortable moving into the elementary position as well, when Miss Turner stepped down and became the Federal Programs Director. And then I've done some things with them as well in elementary. This is my first year working with elementary, one of the big things that we have been trying to work on this year is aligning our reading program, and then also aligning our at risk for reading failure program that we have. And we're looking currently at some assessment programs that will be consistent across each building. That's where we're at in elementary right now. [I'm] just honored that [I] had the opportunity to actually serve in the district and, and looking forward to being the next superintendent.
You do come in with quite a bit of experience. Can you talk a little bit about your experience before you came to Cape Public School System?
Yes, sir. So, I started my career with Tulsa public school, which is a very large urban school district had about 40,000 to 45,000 students. High free and reduced lunch. The district overall was about 75%, free and reduced lunch. So, I've worked in different learning environments with a variety of students as well, a diverse group of students. I worked there for 11 years, I was a kindergarten teacher. And then I was taught reading first through third grade. And then I worked for a company called Community Action Project. And it was a partnership between Tulsa public schools and Headstart at that time, it was like 20 years ago, we didn't have full-day kindergarten programs in Oklahoma. And one of the ways we were able to do that, I'm sorry, not kindergarten for preschool programs. One of the way we did that was is that we partnered with Community Action Project and we created a half-time Headstart program and the other half-time for the student would be in Tulsa Public Schools. So, we did a partnership with them. I worked there for about two and a half years, I was an area supervisor. We had about 1,400, four year olds, and then they asked me to open up an elementary school. And so I took that opportunity and became a principal for Tulsa public schools. I was the principal there for about seven years. And then, we moved back here to Missouri closer to my wife's home, to take care of her mother. And then I started working with Woodland School District. I was the curriculum director there for K-12 and an elementary principal. As you know, in smaller school districts, you do a little bit of everything. I finished my doctorate here through St. Louis University and moved-- had the opportunity to work for Scott County Central. I took over Scott County Central. And I worked there for two years. They had some challenges. They were financially stressed, according to DESE (Department of Elementary and Secondary Education), they had about a 1% fund balance. So that was probably one of my biggest priorities and accomplishments-- was working at Scott County Central. We went from a 1% fund balance to a 13% fund balance the first year. The second year that I was at Scott County Central, I was awarded the new Superintendent of the Year for Southeast Missouri, which was a great honor. And then I had an opportunity to come to Cape Public Schools, which I was looking forward to. And Dr. Glass offered me the position. I accepted. So that's how I ended up here.
You've seen so many different types of schools and different challenges, and different states as well. Overall, what do you think the state of public education is? And what do you see in the future?
Yeah, I really think that we're in a good place. Yes, we had a lot of learning loss. But during COVID, we learned how to reach children and students in a different way, through digital media, through virtual learning, through lots of other ways. So, I know COVID was not the most beneficial thing for our kids. But as educators, I felt that we, we've learned how to teach kids a little bit differently, and engage kids a little bit differently. So I think there's a downside to COVID. But then there's also a positive side of what came out of COVID. So, I think right now, we're really in a good place where we can go in and really determine where all that learning loss has happened through using technology, which the reason why that we know how to use technology differently was because of COVID. So, I'm really excited to see the direction that we're going to go as a school district because we're really looking at our data differently so that we can actually recover some of that learning loss.
Okay, so let's talk a little bit about the education field and recruiting. What is something that you feel like maybe the public doesn't know about recruiting teachers and, finding teachers that will stay in a public system or just a school system in general?
Well, just hiring highly qualified educators, I think. Yes, that it's very important that we pay, our teachers as we value them. And right now, our pay is not quite where we would like it. I would say that Cape Public Schools probably is above most of Southeast Missouri's pay-- That they pay for our beginning year, beginning teachers. But, we still want to continue to work on that. But really, the more important thing is, is that making sure teachers feel valued. I think that's probably the most important thing that we really have been working on this year is because we want to make sure that they feel valued as well. Yes, finances are very important. Our teachers need to be paid more, but more than anything, they need to be valued. And I think that that's probably the biggest thing that we have been working on this year-- is to make sure that teachers understand how much we value them.
Anything else that you'd like to say about the future? And maybe the next year, or, or five years? What would you like to see in a Cape Public School System?
Well, we actually-- which, I'm glad you brought [that] up. This year, we are going through a continuous school improvement plan, we had an outside agency—the company's called EGL. They came and did a study, and they found some findings that will help make our district better. And so what it does is, we're actually working through that process right now and developing our plan. Once we've developed our plan for our continuous school improvement plan, we will be implementing it. And that really is what's going to be our roadmap for the next five years. So that's one of my big goals, going into the new position, is making sure that we follow that roadmap, because it was done by an outside entity. And they really were non-biased when they were helping us develop our goals and our objectives. So, we really feel that it's a good picture of where we need to go as a district. So, it's important for us to continue to build that improvement plan, and then follow the map of it.
Well, thank you so much, Dr. Howard Benyon, who will become the new Cape Girardeau Public Schools Superintendent after Dr. Neil Glass retires—And that will be official on July 1st.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai