“I have been so fortunate to have had such a glorious professional journey,” says retiring Winston Churchill High School (WCHS) Principal Joan Benz. “My years as principal of Churchill High have been so meaningful. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to form wonderful relationships with students, staff and parents. Even though I’m retiring, these bonds will remain with me forever.”
Over a span of 44 years at Montgomery County Public Schools, Benz has served as a special education teacher, teacher specialist, assistant principal of Mark Twain and Tilden, principal of the Regional Institute for Children and Adults (RICA), Poolesville Middle/High School and then Churchill for 21 years.
Originally from Oxford, Mass., Benz graduated with a BA in English from the University of Massachusetts and earned her Master’s in Special Education from Eastern Michigan University. In between assignments at MCPS, she took a sabbatical to secure a PhD at Virginia Tech. After she earned her doctorate, her love of learning and exploration of new interests led her to earn yet another degree — this time in marriage therapy.
Benz’ accomplishments as principal of Churchill are numerous and include the US News and World Report selection of the number one high school in Maryland as well as one of the top high schools in the U.S. — honors that Churchill has consistently been awarded under her leadership.
“Some of the important achievements I take credit for are the initiation of the Churchill High Educational School Foundation to support the goals and interests of both staff and students. I also value my experiences with the Scotland Partnership for Excellence. Most recently, we implemented wellness programs in partnership with the Montgomery County Mental Health Association to identify sources of strength, promote communication skills among peers and give students and staff tools for dealing with stress and depression. I also have thoroughly enjoyed the diversity and exceptional talents of so many of the students and staff,” she said.
Her proudest moment every year is graduation. “I’m so pleased to shake each graduate’s hand and know this is only the beginning of his or her journey. It’s just amazing that so many students come back after college and find jobs near our community so they can send their own children to the same schools they attended. That says a lot about their experiences at Churchill that they want their own children to continue the tradition.”
While she was at Churchill, Benz was fortunate to travel to China four times with County Executive Isiah Leggett’s team, the College Board and with Churchill students. In China, she had the opportunity to visit many schools to observe the differences in Chinese and U.S. schools.
“The schools in China have the most unbelievable facilities and I was thrilled with the quality of the education in China. I learned so much while I was there,” she said.
In her retirement, she is planning to travel more. “I have traveled a lot in my life and I plan to even do more now that I have the time — and don’t have to ask for permission to leave,” she said. Germany may be her first adventure – and she has already been asked to join some of the Churchill student trips next year.
What words of advice does she have for her successor? “The Churchill community is very demanding — but it has the most special people who give generously of their time, talents and financial resources to make their schools as good as it can possibly be. They value education and realize how important quality education is for the next generation. The students are also exceptional and always go the extra mile. I would tell the new principal to enjoy the community, the students and the staff — they are extraordinary.”