Many community residents have said they are eager to meet the man who will be guiding the Benton School District in the coming year and an opportunity to do so will be coming up on Monday, Feb. 27.
At 7 p.m. that day, a "meet-and-greet" event is scheduled to introduce the newly hired superintendent, Jeff Collum of Longview, Texas, to the community. That event will be held in the district's new athletic complex.
And while local residents are eager to meet the new superintendent, Collum says he is equally looking forward to getting to know area residents.
In a telephone interview Friday with Collum, he said he is "very excited and impressed" with the Benton School District and the Benton community.
"I'm really impressed overall with the academic accolades the district has received as well as the extracurricular accolades at the state and national levels," Collum said.
"The Benton community has already been very welcoming," he added. "I'm very impressed and excited and looking forward to getting up to Benton, Ark. We've been through there a number of times. We have visited a church in Little Rock as we began traveling back and forth from Longview to Little Rock and stopped in Benton one day when we got sort of lost.
"We found out it's really a nice community, and one thing led to the next and then when I saw the superintendent posting, I began to research the community and district and saw it was an opportunity I didn't want to pass on."
Collum was interviewed by the school board last Monday and it was announced Tuesday night that he was the unanimous choice of the seven-member panel.
"After meeting with the board and getting a feel for their vision and mission and where they want to take the school district in general, I feel we can work together and feel we can continue to do some wonderful things for the Benton district," Collum said.
He commented that the district's "new high school is beautiful. I've just been able to see the exterior, but I can tell just by looking that it's a state-of-the-art facility. I'm looking forward to meeting the kids and teachers. That's what makes the buildings come alive."
Collum noted that his start date here is July 1. "I'll finish out the school year here in Tyler and move to Benton sometime between May and June, hopefully."
Collum currently is serving as executive director of secondary education of the Tyler ISD, which includes oversight for two 5A high schools, six middle schools, an athletic department, career and technology education and university initiatives. The family lives in Longview.
Collum's wife, Cara, is a math teacher and volleyball coach, but currently is a stay-at-home mom to their sons, who are 5 and 3. "She doesn't plan to teach now," he added.
"We have a busy household," he added. "Every evening when I walk in the door, it's a new adventure."
Initially, Collum plans to spend time "getting to know the staff — and that's everyone — teachers, maintenance, all staff. I'm really big on building relationships, People are our No. 1 resource, and I also want to spend a lot of time getting to know the people in the Benton community who support the school district.
"I want to learn about the school district from the ones who are there, so I will come in slowly, trying to evaluate objectively. Maybe I'll be putting some ideas and recommendations in place after I get to know the people who are here.
"We've been so impressed with the community and the welcome we've received thus far," he said. "We weren't just looking at a school district, but also a place to raise our family. We felt very comfortable that Benton would be a great place to do that. It just happened to also be a great professional opportunity for me, but in the grand scheme of things, it's an opportunity to be a part of a great community.
"We're very excited and look forward to coming up for the community event on Feb. 27, which I understand is a grand opening for one of the facilities," he said.
"It should be an exciting time."