Debra Bentley, who has served as Johnson City Schools’ director of instruction and communication since 2005, first began studying to become an educator at the University of Virginia-Wise after graduating from Daniel Boone High School.
She went on to study school administration and receive her doctorate at East Tennessee State University, where she focused in the early ’90s on how elementary schools should look in the 21st century.
After helping establish Mountain View Elementary School as its first principal from 1995 to 2005, she used her past experience as a teacher and administrator in West Virginia’s Wyoming County Schools and Virginia’s Wise County Schools to help serve the city school district in the county she grew up in.
But there’s more to Bentley, who answered five of our questions to provide more insight into her personal interests and professional life.
What’s your favorite movie?
“I’m not a real movie freak. I hate to say that, but I would say I like the classics; I haven’t been to the theater in a long time.
“Probably one of my favorite movies is ‘Old Man and the Sea’ with Spencer Tracy. That’s one I could watch every day if I had the time. I love Ernest Hemingway, so that’s my connection.”
What is your favorite music artist or band?
“My college roommate and I are still really close friends, and we actually recently attended our 12th Chicago concert. All these years later, we still enjoy seeing the band Chicago. That was our favorite band back in the dorm.”
What drives you in your life and in your position as an educator?
“What lured me here to Johnson City Schools was the opportunity to be part of creating and building a new elementary school. The interesting thing was I was just finishing my doctorate dissertation on the elementary school of the 21st century. Keep in mind, this was 1992.
“In my interview with Dr. Mike Simmons, the superintendent at the time, he was really intrigued to meet the lady who had just done an extensive study of what an elementary school in the 21st century should look like.
“I’m lucky that I wrote a dissertation that I got to use in my career.”
What’s your favorite part about your job today?
“In my role today, I think it’s still that connection to teaching and learning that gets me out of bed every morning. I enjoy being with teachers, talking to principals and sitting around the table discussing effective teaching practices. I still feel very much connected to the classroom.
“The best part of my day is going into a classroom and watching students learning.”
What are some of your most memorable moments from working in education?
“I guess there are more small memories than ‘most memorable moments.’ What excites me most after all these years of being principal at Keystone and Mountain View is for me to run into my old students who were once 5 or 10, and seeing them out at a restaurant or at an event married with kids. It’s always memorable when they say, ‘Hey, Dr. Bentley! I want you to meet my wife and children.’
“That’s where the memories are — when they take the time to say, ‘I remember when you helped me with this or taught me that.’”