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Westrum ends 21-year tenure at Benson School District

Lee Westrum, who started his teaching career 21 years ago at the Benson School District and spent the last six years as the district's superintendent, is leaving his post. He begins a new job as superintendent of the Wadena-Deer Creek School District on July 1. Tribune photo by Carolyn Lange

BENSON — When Lee Westrum was a fresh college graduate from Bemidji State University in 1992, his first job was as a social studies teacher at Benson High School.

Twenty-one years later, Westrum has done everything from coach basketball, football, golf, the knowledge bowl team and served as activities director, prom advisor, junior high principal, high school principal and, for the last six years, he was the district’s superintendent.

“I’ve had a lot of jobs,” said Westrum. “It’s been an interesting tenure.”

Westrum’s tenure at Benson ends at the end of the month.

He begins his new job as superintendent of the Wadena-Deer Creek School District on July 1.

Westrum said he was ready for a “new challenge” and wanted to see if could be successful in another district.

Wadena is also where his wife, Jennifer, grew up and is closer to Westrum’s hometown of Clearbrook.

Although he “felt a calling to go north,” Westrum said leaving Benson won’t be easy for his family, which also includes two daughters, aged 7 and 12.

On June 10, Westrum met with the district’s staff for the last time. “That was a little tough,” he said. Some of the current teachers were working at Benson when he started teaching, a former teacher introduced him to his wife and some of the teachers he’s hired are Benson High School graduates.

“I know everyone so well,” he said. “I’ll miss the people the most.”

Westrum said it’s uncommon for a teacher to move up all the ranks in a school district to the job of superintendent. It’s a journey he’s glad he’s taken. “I have nothing but good memories,” he said.

Westrum has high praise for the school district and community of Benson, where he also served on the city council for seven years.

Benson is a “strong, independent community” that “fights hard for everything it gets,” said Westrum. “It’s an outstanding community.”

It’s also a town that supports education and its school district, said Westrum, who said being involved with city and school government helped him learn the importance of collaboration and “working together as a team” to maximize tax-payer funded resources.

That team effort is also necessary to make a school district run well and to “pull off a typical school day,” said Westrum. “Everybody’s job is important no matter what it is.”

Although there are challenges ahead for the Benson schools, including declining enrollment and a future review of school facilities, Westrum said he’s proud of the many accomplishments in the district. He cited enhanced student educational opportunities, like a new robotics program and college in the classroom, and adding cross-country and an anti-bully program. He said he’ll remember the fun times of coaching Benson athletic teams as well as the heart-wrenching experiences when tragedy struck the Benson student body.

The Wadena-Deer Creek School District has also been through challenges, including a powerful tornado that severely damaged the fifth-to-12th-grade school building in 2010. Students moved into a new school building last fall.

Westrum said the Wadena-Deer Creek District’s students survived a “traumatic” situation but are “headed in the right direction” with positive energy and new educational programs. He said there’s a “good vibe” in the community and he’s excited to be a part of the next chapter in that district’s history.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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