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Orono High School Principal David Benson announced his plan to retire at the end of the school year in a meeting with his staff Tuesday (December 19) afternoon. The news was shared later in the day with other district staff members and district families.
“While his departure will be a huge loss to the high school and to the entire district, we are excited that Mr. Benson is starting this new chapter of his life,” said Superintendent of Schools Dr. Karen Orcutt.
“I am fortunate to have worked beside this great principal,” she added. “Mr. Benson is an incredible advocate for children, teachers and parents. Balancing these advocacies is a delicate process, but when he had to make any difficult decision it was always the child who was at the core of his tough choices.”
The district has developed a comprehensive plan and timeline on how to select Benson’s successor. Briefly, a survey of stakeholders will be conducted to determine the qualities desired in the next instructional leader of Orono High School. Using that information, the district will begin advertising and recruiting individuals who are believed to be a good match for the culture at Orono High School and the Orono school community in general.
“With the outstanding reputation that the high school has earned since Mr. Benson became principal, we are confident that we will attract a number of very qualified candidates,” Orcutt said. The plan calls for first and second interviews during March, with a tentative start date of July 1, 2018.
Benson began his career in education in Lewiston, Idaho, where he served as a teacher and then principal from 1974 to 1993. He joined Orono in 1993 as principal of Orono Middle School. He was responsible for developing the district’s middle-level program, as well as guiding construction of the new middle school building that opened in 2000.
He became principal of the high school for the 2005-06 school year. “Mr. Benson took Orono High School from good to great,” Orcutt noted. “He embraced the work that needed to be done to bring all students to their highest levels of learning. With the talented teachers and staff that he has hired, the future of Orono High School’s nationally-recognized success is secure.”
Ten years ago, OHS offered seven Advanced Placement courses. By the 2015-16 school year, there were 19 AP classes and five additional courses that grant concurrent college credit. Thirty-one percent of the Class of 2007 took and passed at least one AP course compared to 66 percent in the Class of 2017.
Other progress made during Benson’s tenure at the high school includes the expansion of courses in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) and courses in World Language.
For the past three years, Orono High School has been among a select number of schools nationwide to participate in the Global Learning Network. This allows OHS to compare the performance of its 15-year-old students to those around the world. The most recent international results, released December 6, 2016, show Singapore as the top country followed by Japan and Estonia. The average score of Orono students who took the latest test was higher than Singapore’s average score as were the percentage of Orono students who ranked in the top levels of the test.
During the 2014-15 school year, Orono High School was one of only two high schools in Minnesota to be distinguished by all four of the national media outlets ranking high schools in the United States: Newsweek, The Daily Beast, The Washington Post and U.S. News and World Report. The high school has also been named to the AP Honor Roll, designated as a Minnesota School of Character and received Top School Award from AFS-USA Intercultural Programs.
Earlier this year, Benson was named Person of the Year by the Long Lake Area Chamber of Commerce.
“For so many families and for so many years, Mr. Benson has been a positive force in our district,” Orcutt said. “There will certainly be many occasions to thank him for his service throughout the remainder of the school year, and we will be taking every opportunity to do so!”