By JAMES EVANS
Rutherford County Schools
MURFREESBORO — Christiana Elementary School principal Julie Benson did not begin her career in education.
She originally earned a college degree in fine arts and spent many years working as a graphic designer in advertising, a field that relies heavily on the use of computers and other technology.
But her husband Scott was an educator — and currently serves as the director for Lebanon Special School District — and so it wasn’t long before Benson went back to school to earn a teaching license.
“When I decided to make a career change, it was the enjoyment of working with the kids that pulled me into that new profession,” said Benson, who has served as the principal of Christiana since 2008 and has worked in all grade levels during her 20 years as an educator.
Benson is preparing to make another change after being named the new Instructional Technology Coordinator for Rutherford County Schools. She succeeds Trey Duke, who has been appointed to a restructured position overseeing the district’s federal programs, which includes Title I services and the Response to Instruction and Intervention program.
When she first became principal of Christiana, Benson brought with her a desire to introduce more technology into the school, because with her background, she understood how important it was for students and their futures.
“She’s always been a leader and out front with the need for more technology in the schools,” said Steve Solomon, the Hardware Technology coordinator for the school district. “Her insistence is what led to the first low-cost Windows book that worked well within our technology environment.
“Ms. Benson will continue that collaborative nature between the two technology departments.”
Benson previously taught at LaVergne Middle School and in Wilson County, including a stint at Wilson Central High School. She said she has enjoyed her time at Christiana and will miss the relationships that helped make the school successful.
“It’s a great school, a good community and very supportive,” she said fondly.
Richard Zago, the assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, selected Benson for her new role because of her past efforts with instructional technology.
“She’s worked all three grade bands — elementary, middle and high school,” Zago said of Benson. “When we’ve come up with new ways to implement technology in the classroom, we always tested it with her school.”
Duke previously oversaw instructional technology and the RTI program. With the recent retirement of longtime Title I Coordinator Amy Wise, the Title I position was restructured to include the RTI program because it serves similar groups of students.
“Trey’s already doing the training of the coaches for both RTI and Title I,” Zago explained. “He was doing identical trainings with both groups and that made him ideal for the restructured position. It was a natural fit to bring those two roles together.”
Duke is the former principal of Smyrna Elementary School — a Title I school — and won the Milken National Educator Award in 2008.
“I’m looking forward to the opportunity to continue to help offer high quality education for every child, especially those who are at-risk,” Duke said.
Duke oversaw Instructional Technology for the past four years and advocated for the conversion of school-based technology specialists into tech coaches to support classroom learning. Under his leadership, the district transitioned all those positions and increased the number of positions from 27 to 35.
“We changed the focus of those positions to improving instruction through technology to maximize student achievement,” Duke said. “I’m most proud of how we restructured that role because our tech coaches do such a great job.”
A search for a new principal for Christiana Elementary School is under way.