Retiring area schools chief wins honor

Ken DeBenedictis will be doing what many people wish basketball player Michael Jordan had done. He’s ending his career on a high note.

DeBenedictis, who plans to retire from his position as superintendent of the three Hollis and Brookline districts in June 2005, has been named New Hampshire superintendent of the year by the state School Administrators Association and the American Association of School Administrators.

“It’s an incredibly emotional experience to be recognized by your peers,” DeBenedictis said. “It speaks to what we’ve accomplished together over the years. A number of building projects were supported, the curriculum was completely restructured and there was extraordinary teaching success.”

This year, in addition to those high notes, the district’s 10th-graders ranked No. 1 out of 74 state districts in the areas of English, math and science on the New Hampshire Educational Improvement and Assessment Program exams. They ranked No. 3 in the exam’s history.

The number of students in the three districts has also doubled since DeBenedictis took the job in 1995.

Fewer than 10 nominees competed for the combined honor, according to Mark Joyce, executive director of the school administrators association. “Ken is a great example and role model of the high-quality leaders who lead the New Hampshire school systems,” he said in a prepared statement.

The most difficult part of the superintendent’s job over the past year has been working to find a solution to the space needs for Hollis/Brookline Middle School, DeBenedictis said. The school reached its student capacity this year after district voters rejected efforts to pass a new school.

“We’re trying to reach out and be all-inclusive in all we do,” he said. “It’s been time and it’s been energy.”

For every hardship, DeBenedictis said there’s also a bright spot.

“The most enjoyable aspect of my job is always the children,” he said. “I have no greater pleasure than walking around the corridors of my buildings and talking to children of all ages and the teachers, and seeing that what we implemented (had a positive effect).”

The new year will mark DeBenedictis’ 40th year of working in education. He started in 1964 as an elementary school teacher in Reading, Mass. He took his first superintendent job in 1990 as assistant superintendent of schools for the Westford, Mass., School District. When he left that job, he moved to New Hampshire to take over his current position.

DeBenedictis recently informed the local district of his plans to retire. That doesn’t mean he’ll be calling it quits anytime soon, he said.

“I’ll probably continue doing what I did in Massachusetts, which is return to part-time, graduate-level teaching.”

He said he would be teaching readership and curriculum-development classes.

“It’s very, very enjoyable to me (to be) teaching those aspiring to be school leaders,” DeBenedictis said.

After all he’s done in his districts, he’ll likely set a fine example for them to follow.