Two former Conway principals are preparing for the school year in different ways this time around.
Karen Lasker, from Bob and Betty Courtway Middle School, and Renee Bennett, from Raymond and Phyllis Simon Middle School, are sitting behind new desks, having both recently taken on new job titles.
Lasker is now Conway’s director of personnel and Bennett is the director of programs and professional development.
“Karen and I were hired together as principals and now we were hired together as directors,” Bennett said.
Both agree their roles as principals prepared them for the new challenge.
Lasker, who is now in charge of all things human resources, said she’s familiar with the responsibility the new job entails.
“As principals, we do hiring all the time and we just make sure we have the most qualified people in the positions that we have in the building and you oversee and supervise those,” she said.
Lasker said she does the same thing, but on a larger scale.
Bennett said being principal required her to get involved in every aspect of the building and her new role — which includes overseeing the gifted and talented program, Career Technical Center, ESL (English as a second language) program and more in the district — is similar to what she did at Simon.
“Now, I’m pretty much involved in every aspect at the district level,” she said. “It’s just sort of a larger set of what I was dealing with.”
Lasker said she loves interacting with people and that obtaining a personnel position was a goal she had set long ago. She said she happened to mention that to someone and when Dianne Allen — who previously held the position for 19 years — started discussions about leaving, the role opened.
“This just kind of fell into place,” Lasker said. “This was just almost a natural progression I would say. I just fell right into it.”
She said replacing Allen will be “big shoes to fill.”
Bennett said she never set a goal to become a director.
“If you had asked me this a year ago, I would’ve never dreamed that I’d be in this position but when the opportunity presented itself, I took a good hard look at what it entailed and if the district felt like I was ready for this position, then I was ready to tackle it,” she said. “It was just a God thing.”
Both said they’ve met a few challenges since coming on board.
Lasker said the new role has forced her to step out of the routine she developed as a principal and to think differently, always thinking about what Superintendent Greg Murry told them about asking the “why” questions.
“I learn something new and different everyday,” she said. “It’s just very fulfilling … it’s a lot of hard work, don’t get me wrong, but it’s an enjoyable place to be.”
Bennett said she’s already helped bring positive changes to a few of the programs she oversees.
“We want to make sure that just because we’ve always done something this way, [we] don’t continue that way,” she said. “But with our fresh set of eyes in these positions, to ask the questions that need to be asked and make sure, even though we’re doing it this way, why are we doing it this way … is this the best way to do it.”
The two said they are looking forward to next year and being able to look back and reflect on how their first school year went in these roles.
“That’s what we did as principals and that’s what we’re going to do in this position is do a deep reflection on the year and see what we’ve accomplished and how we can make life better, not just for me, but for the district as a whole and everyone we come in contact with to make their lives better and make Conway the great district that it is,” Lasker said.
While they are excited for school to start, Lasker and Bennett said they can’t help but think about the aspect of the first day of and all the joys it brings.
“I’ve been very sad and thinking about that a lot,” Lasker said. “It’s so weird after all these years, 30 years you’ve been around students, and then to all of a sudden to transition away from the parents and the students is hard.”
She said she’s found herself thinking of all the things she would do this year.
“It’s going to be a little while,” Lasker said. “I’ll probably sneak out and get to some schools that first day just so I can have that feeling. It just puts a smile on my face. It’s just a part of you. [Got to] reprogram my mind … got [to] let it go,” she said.
Bennett said she’s going to miss the relationships with the staff, students and parents but more than anything, the hugs.
While they acknowledge the change, the two said they are glad that the places they have called home for the past seven years are both in great hands with their assistant principals turned principals — Amy Jordan at Courtway and Christi Parrish at Simon — who will continue the loving, caring and family-like culture at the schools.