SHANDON — Shandon Joint Unified School District Trustees did not have to look very far to find new Superintendent/Principal Kristina Benson.
She was just down the road at Templeton Middle School, where she was the principal for the past nine years and part of the Templeton Unified School District for 19 years.
“I think there are a lot of positive things that have happened out here and I saw an opportunity to come out and be a new set of eyes and ears and bring something new out here,” Benson said of coming to Shandon.
Make no mistake, Benson is happy to be at the small, rural school district east of Paso Robles.
“It’s a little gem out here,” Benson said. “It’s a small pocket with some really exciting things that given the opportunity there is a lot going on out here. It’s just on a smaller scale, so I think people don’t notice it as much.”
Enrollment for the current year at the high school was just under 100 with another 200 at the elementary school. Being a two-school entity allows for the district to be nimble.
“I think with a small school you have more of an opportunity to try things,” Benson said. “It doesn’t cost as much to trying things on a smaller scale. That definitely lured me out here.”
Benson was chosen by Shandon trustees from a pool of candidates in June and started in her new position on July 1. She replaces Teresa Taylor, who retired at the end of the 2017-18 school year.
Nearly two dozen candidates applied for the position and the trustees interviewed six finalists before selecting Benson.
“They had a lot of really great candidates and I feel blessed to be out here and have the opportunity to be a new set of eyes,” Benson said. “I didn’t settle. I chose to come out here and I’m really, really happy that I did.”
She wasted no time getting to know the community and the students. The California Mid-State Fair provided a great venue for Benson to see Shandon students shine.
“It was really fun to see the kids projects and follow them through to the auction,” Benson said. “It was fun to see, and say, ‘Hey those are my kids. Those are Shandon kids and they are doing really well.’”
Benson made it a point to learn as much as she could about the community prior to the school year starting.
“They have taken me on tours,” Benson said. “It’s been good, just learning the community and what’s important to the community. The school is very much the center of the community. It’s important and what happens at the school is important.”
Prior to establishing a career in education, Benson worked in the laboratory sciences serving as a pathology assistant, assistant forensic serologist, and forensic alcohol analyst. This experience was the foundation for Benson’s development of the Templeton High School Biotechnology Institute, including a college preparatory forensic science class.
She earned her undergraduate and graduate degrees from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and is completing her doctorate in Educational Leadership at California Lutheran University.
Benson has a strong personnel background with extensive experience in budgeting, employee relations, implementing district standards, and implementation of professional development for faculty and staff.
One of her first duties at Shandon was to shepherd the district’s summer projects that included modernization of a kitchen at the elementary school as well as freshening up the district buildings — all paid for with money from Measure K. The $3.15 million bond was overwhelmingly passed by voters in 2016. Nearly all of it has been spent, Benson said.
“It’s just about completed,” Benson said. “I came in during construction and painting projects. It was fun to get out and see what was happening. Everything had been approved prior to my starting here. My job was more facilitating all of that happening.”
Local and state level administrators have recognized Benson’s leadership abilities through district, county, and state committees, as well as the serving as a local representative for the Association of California School Administrators (ACSA).
“The Shandon trustees have selected a highly skilled and dedicated north county educator to serve as their next superintendent/principal,” San Luis Obispo County Superintendent James Brescia said.
Benson has been pleasantly surprised with the options that available to Shandon students.
“Things like online classes and the FFA program is really very extensive here and had done very well at the fair with both animal projects and industrial arts projects,” Benson said.
With the new school year less than a month old, Benson said a point of emphasis for her dedicated staff has been making sure the students know they matter.
“I’m working a lot with the teachers on the resiliency of our students,” Benson said, “making sure our students know that we are really happy to see them everyday and that they are important to us. That is a faculty goal we have for this year.”