PITTSFIELD -- Leaving this summer after three years as principal of Pittsfield High School, Tracey Benson believes he's been offered a unique opportunity to experience public education from the ground up.
Benson, who plans to seek a doctorate in education beginning in the fall, said he's been fortunate to have had opportunities emerge within the Pittsfield Public Schools after he moved to the Berkshires five years ago.
"It wasn't all planned," Benson said during a recent interview. "But it has been a wonderful experience. My wife got a job at Williams [College], and I was fortunate to get a job at Herberg [Middle School]."
Benson and his wife, Devyn Spence Benson, live in Williamstown. He is originally from Milwaukee, and she is from North Carolina.
After his wife began as a professor at Williams, Benson was hired in 2008 as vice principal at Herberg, having most recently worked in the school system in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
He had previously worked in education in Texas and in North Carolina. In spring 2010, he was named principal at PHS.
Benson said he values the opportunity he has had to work for two months with former PHS Principal JoAnne Soules, who had come out of retirement to fill a vacancy, and later with former Superintendent of Schools Howard "Jake" Eberwein III, who selected him to lead the high school at age 32.
"He was always a wonderful mentor to me," Benson said.
As principal, he was one of the youngest to serve in city schools and likely only the second African-American to lead a high school in the area. William Clark served as principal and taught at Mount Greylock Regional High School from 1961-85.
Benson said he has been accepted for an educational leadership graduate program at Harvard, but he is also considering other opportunities. He intends, however, to continue his education in the fall. His ultimate goal is to further the ideal of preparing every student for a career or for college.
There has been progress in many schools, he said, but "we aren't there yet."
His experience as principal included "working side-by-side" with the superintendent, other administrators and officials, and "gaining insights into the workings of a school district" -- something he doubts he would have been afforded in a larger system.
Benson said he also enjoyed working with and learning from the teachers, adding that the Pittsfield system has a dedicated, strong and stable core of teachers. The community as well is supportive of academic achievement, he said, and that helps produce "mature, well-rounded" students.
An area where the city system excels, he said, is in forming partnerships with nonprofit organizations and other entities to support students and improve the educational experience. "This system is way ahead of many others around the country," he said. "It should be a model."