By Nick Pedley
News Editor 

Ashley Benz focusing on building relationships at H-M-S

Hartley native is new elementary principal


July 29, 2021


New H-M-S Elementary Principal Ashley Benz is eager for students to return to school next month.

A familiar face is now at the helm of Hartley-Melvin-Sanborn Elementary.

Ashley Benz started her new role as principal earlier this month. The Hartley native graduated from H-M-S in 2004, returning to the district in 2014 to teach fourth grade. She spent the past five years serving as the elementary instructional coach before taking the leap to the top job and succeeding Cathy Jochims.

For Benz, the H-M-S Community School District is home.

"I absolutely love it," she said. "We just really wanted the small-town feel for our kids when they were going into school. There is such community pride for the school here."

As instructional coach, Benz spent her days with teachers improving their classroom techniques to drive student achievement. Though she didn't have one-on-one interaction with students, she believed the job gave her greater impact on how they performed in school.

"When I was a fourth grade teacher, my impact was basically on my classroom and that was it," she said. "When I moved into a coaching role, my impact moved to all teachers and students in small doses over the years."

Just like students, each teacher learns differently and grasps concepts in different ways. Benz said she had to adapt her methods to get messages across that resonated with instructors so they could translate those techniques to their classrooms.

"It's all about building those relationships and figuring how each person learns best, and then adopting my methods to meet their needs because it's not about me," she said. "It helped me grow as a professional."

Prior to coming home, Benz taught fourth grade in Sioux Falls, S.D., for five years. She earned her teaching degree from the University of Sioux Falls in 2008 and also holds degrees from Black Hills State University and Dordt College.

Benz credits her move to the principal's chair to great leaders she's had throughout her career.

"I have had amazing leaders who have pushed me and shaped me. All of them probably saw something in me before I saw something in myself," she said. "I wanted to have that impact, too. They impacted me and I want to impact others."

So far, Benz has met with the elementary teachers to discuss their goals and ideas for improvement. She has enjoyed building relationships and is looking forward to creating bonds with students and their families this fall.

"A lot of times in the instructional coach role, I didn't always have that parent interaction because I wasn't their teacher," she said. "I'm getting to know some of the families, and they're getting to know me."

Benz was also eager to use the elementary building to its fullest potential this fall. The facility is set up for collaborative learning, but the COVID-19 pandemic limited what teachers could do last year.

"I think this year will look very different. My hope is that this year we can utilize the building more collaboratively," said Benz. "I think it will still feel brand new. The second you walk in here, there's still some excitement about the newness of it."

Benz's immediate goals for the elementary school are maintaining and growing a positive culture among staff members.

"For me, you just really have to focus on that culture being solid, because it has been solid and we want to continue. We have to make sure everyone feels welcome here and continuing on our initiatives," she said. "I want to continue on some of the foundation that's been set and continue to make that stronger."

Benz, 35, lives in rural Hartley with her husband, Jesse, their two children: Alayna, 10, a fifth grader at H-M-S; and Hayden, 8, a third grader. As a family, they like to spend their time outside and traveling when time allows. Personally, Benz enjoys reading, learning and spending time with her family.

Though she's just settling into her new office, the new principal was eager to hit the ground running when students return next month.

"Other than conversations one on one with teachers, it's been really pretty quiet here," Benz said. "I'm looking forward to everyone being back in here."


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