Pence welcomes new principal
A new face to the Fairfield Community School District welcomed parents as they registered their children for classes Monday at Fairfield Middle School.
Floyd “Chuck” Benge was hired earlier this summer to be the principal at Pence Elementary School, assuming the position previously held by Chris Welch. This is Benge’s first year as a principal after serving as an assistant principal for one year at Aldo Leopold Middle School in Burlington.
Benge has spent most of his career as an elementary teacher in southeast Iowa, which is where he was born and raised. He grew up in Fort Madison and attended Western Illinois University in Macomb, Illinois. After obtaining his teaching degree, he taught various classes and grade levels in Burlington for 20 years.
Most of the time, Benge was assigned to teach early elementary grades. For a while, he taught under a program whereby kindergartners through second graders were placed in the same room. The idea was that the older kids could help the younger ones learn just as earlier generations had done in one-room schoolhouses.
He taught second grade and sixth grade reading classes at the beginning of his career, and then spent several years teaching first grade.
It’s fitting that Benge has spent so much of his career working in an elementary school, because that was where he realized he wanted to be a teacher. When he was in sixth grade, Benge mentored special education students in third and fourth grades. He said he has a nephew with special needs, so he was familiar with the problems special education students face and felt a calling to help them.
His desire to become a teacher was firmly cemented in high school, when he was able to do even more peer mentoring. During his freshman year, his first two classes of the day were study halls. Instead of twiddling his thumbs for a few hours, Benge volunteered at a first grade class, creating bulletin boards, listening to the students read and helping them with their crafts.
When Benge was a sophomore, he spent his study halls volunteering in a special education class. By the time he graduated from high school, he was convinced he wanted to be a teacher, and leaned in the direction of teaching special education since he had so much volunteering experience in that field.
His first taste of leading a classroom came during his semester of student teaching in Bushnell, Illinois, a town of about 3,000 people near Macomb. He hoped to find a job teaching in a similar small- to mid-sized town in the Midwest.
“I like to visit big cities, but I would never want to live in one,” he said.
Benge has been commuting to Fairfield from Burlington the past week, and hopes to find a house in town before too long. Although he has never taught in Fairfield, he does have some experience working here. During the summers of his years teaching, he worked as a salesman for a commercial cleaning service that caused him to travel throughout the area, which included stops in Fairfield. He grew to like the city since it felt so similar to his hometown of Fort Madison.
He cannot believe the warm reception he’s received since he started his job Friday.
“I’m floored at how welcoming everyone is,” he said.
He mentioned that someone has been sending him copies of The Ledger since he started his job.
Benge has busied himself these first few days on the job creating schedules for his teaching staff and assigning students to classrooms. He sees his greatest strength as understanding what teachers need in a principal, since he’s accustomed to viewing the world through the eyes of an instructor. He said he would try to emulate the best principals from his life such as Linda Kendal in Denmark, Iowa, and, more recently, Joe Rector in Burlington.
The greatest challenge he faces will be learning the names of 300-some students before school starts on Sept. 2.
“I want to learn the interests of each student, because that’s important to building a relationship with them,” he said.
Benge had to do that exact thing when he went from being an elementary teacher to an assistant principal in Burlington. Knowing the elementary students was no help to him in his new position because the students who went to Aldo Leopold Middle School came from another building than where he taught before. Benge had to build relationships from scratch, just as he will do here.
He said the part of the job he’s most looking forward to is helping others to be better teachers.
“I want to be a leader in the school and inspire others to achieve their goals,” he said.