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New River Falls superintendent takes over

“The transition has been somewhat fast and furious,” says Jamie Benson, now four-plus weeks into his job as River Falls school superintendent. “I have 15 years of school district superintendent experience, but the reality is that there’s a learning curve to get used to a different set of procedures, policies and people on a job like this.”

Benson’s not complaining. He couldn’t be happier to be where he is.

One reason is the gracious, accommodating way everyone has greeted and tried to make him feel settled in.

“To a person, whether it’s been in-house here or out in the community, everyone has been so friendly and eager to help me with my personal needs,” Benson said. “It’s a genuine sincerity, a kindness that I feel as each week passes.”

Benson values this welcome mat because he’s still commuting home to his wife Jan in Spring Green – almost a four-hour drive.

Weekdays Benson rents a condo in River Falls on a monthly basis.

“We hope to put or house on the market by next week or so,” he said. “The goal is to have it sold before the snow flies…I am very much looking forward to ending the long commute.”

Benson said the decision to apply for the River Falls superintendent job, get hired and now be in a position to live here with his wife seems like good fortune.

“I’m very excited about the move,” he said. “For us, this seems like the right time in our lives to have found this place.”

Benson said he’ll do more observing until he sorts through and gets a grasp of all the complexities of the school district.

“I want to put all the pieces together in my mind about the various roles, responsibilities, the processes and systems, and how they function before deciding if there are any changes to be made,” he said. “I want to get the lay of the land first. To do that, you listen more than you talk.”

Benson said the school district appears to be very well run and that he had “big shoes to fill” following his predecessor, Tom Westerhaus.

“But we won’t rest on our laurels,” he said. “From co-curriculars to academics, we will be in a mode of continuous improvement.”

Benson praised local voters for passing a $19 million referendum that will “make our buildings safer, inside and out…and also more efficient and easier to maintain.”

Benson was hired by the school board last May. He will be paid $160,000 annually. His total compensation package, salary and benefits, is $205,710.

For more on this story, please see the Aug. 1 print edition of the River Falls Journal.