John Benkert was sworn in as Hendry County School Board’s newest member on May 29 after being appointed to complete the term of longtime member Pat Langford, who himself was appointed by Gov. Scott, to fill the Tax Collector position left open when Peggy Hampton retired last November.
As a strong supporter of education, John said he is very excited about his appointment.
John’s background includes 20 years in the Air Force, where he flew EC130H for seven years – 1,000 combat hours. He also tracked satellites in deep space and worked with the NSA for seven years in recovery and security.
He also served as a liaison with the Norwegian government at the American Embassy in Oslo.
But John always wanted to be a teacher and, in fact, for seven years he was an instructor in the service – even becoming Instructor of the Year.
When he was a sophomore in high school the packing company his dad worked for was bought, and sold off in pieces. At 50 years of age, his dad was out of a job. He found one requiring hard, heavy work he was not able to do so he tried selling cars – a job he was not at all suited for. He then became the school janitor but young John didn’t realize what a great thing that was until a fellow student told him it was “pretty cool” that he got to see his dad whenever he wanted. So, John ended up helping his dad in the summer. He got to see how hard his dad worked and his honesty – things most kids don’t get to see in their parents at that time of life.
From his blue collar upbringing, he said he always understood the value of education – and that knowledge is power. It’s the best way to reach your goals.
It’s up to each student to set his or her own goal and John takes seriously the “job” to prepare them to reach that goal. That, he said, is success, and that is what he hopes to facilitate for Hendry County students.
As a business owner, he helped start the Education Task Force under the Economic Development Council.
The Education Task Force is set to help Hendry County produce kids ready to become successful. It is the community’s job to provide the tools that will allow our children to become successful. “We hurt children if we are not involved,” he said. “Businesses need to share their needs.” That way, schools can respond and provide the skills most needed in today’s market.
He has always encouraged business people to go to the schools; to be involved and try to help.
He has made it his mission to make sure Hendry County graduates are ready to take on a job or the next step in their education. As owner of CPR Tools, he said about 90 percent of its original personnel were from outside the county.
Now, some 75 percent of the jobs there are filled by Hendry County people – engineers, programmers, administration, computer repair personnel.
Building well-educated residents is how we will sustain ourselves, he believes.
John came to LaBelle from Washington, D.C., with his wife, Sue, and their son, Andrew, who was seven years old at the time. His son attended UES, LMS and graduated from LaBelle High School. One of the things John is grateful to the school system her for is teaching Southern manners to his son. It’s a great asset for young people, he believes.
Andrew took advantage of the two-year Curtis scholarship and will attend UCF. He hopes to study medicine eventually.
Before being appointed to this position, he met with board members because he wanted to understand the issues this school board faces. In preparation for accepting the seat on the board, he talked to teachers, administrators because they know the problems. It is the school board’s job to listen to the issues, to set policy and the budget, and he was preparing to have a running start.
We need more technology in our schools, he noted, and that will mean looking at the budget with more creativity.
That will mean more community members – both parents and business people – need to volunteer time and equipment to the schools, he believes.
He means to do the best he can for Hendry County students because, he said, “Kids are the most important asset we have.” John is looking at this as an opportunity to contribute a lifetime of experience to generations current and yet to come.
“I just love it,” he said with a smile.