Ilene Benzman: KIPP Legend

by KIPP Houston on Jun 23, 2016

in Team & Family

At KIPP we often showcase "To and Through College" achievements, but what about those other Big KIPPsters who make it “Through and To Retirement”?

Ilene Benzman was born in St. Louis, Missouri and throughout her childhood her family moved to Chicago, New York, and Miami Beach where she met her high school sweetheart, who she married after college.  Her husband worked for a company that transferred them to Houston in 1965. She was a stay-at-home mom until his untimely death.  In 1978 she wanted a job with the same hours as her school-aged children and joined Elrod Elementary staff in HISD where she worked for 12 years. Ilene went on to work for Anne Patterson, the District Superintendent for HISD, in 1990 until the office closed in 2005. Mike Feinberg hired Anne to assist him with the opening of KIPP New Orleans West (NOW) and also hired Ilene in the summer of 2006 to assist Anne while preparations were underway for the opening of the school.  She will retire on June 30, 2016.

Ilene has served the Team & Family in many ways. Her most famous role will always be as the voice of KIPP’s main number as she helped KIPP families and friends alike through many questions and concerns with the greatest of grace.  She will be missed as the always welcoming face of the McGregor Fieldhouse.

Why did you decide to work at KIPP?

I met Mike and Laurie Bieber when they were first starting KIPP in 1994-1995. KIPP has come a long, long way from back in the day! It has grown with leaps and bounds from one 5th grade class to thousands of children on waiting lists. It is a far cry from when Mike was knocking on apartment doors asking parents to trust him with their children. I loved the KIPP philosophy then, and I still love it today. When I retired from HISD in 2003 and wanted a part time job, I KNEW I wanted to be part of KIPP.

What made you stay for so many years?

I have only actually been working at KIPP for 10 years. It doesn’t seem THAT long! What made me stay?  A lot of things – staff, the teachers, the administrators – the entire “team.”  A big part of my working at KIPP has been the students, the parents, and KIPP’s complete commitment to families. It was a no brainer.

How has working at KIPP affected your life?

I have ALWAYS felt tremendous gratitude that I was able to be part of KIPP from infancy. Although it is part of my DNA, Mike and his team have renewed my faith in hard work, vision, and what can be done when your heart and soul believe in the goal. Working at KIPP has enriched my life more than words can say – it is an “emotional” thing!

What’s one of your most memorable moments? How did you feel?

This sounds cheesy – really cheesy – but it had to be the time that Mike (who towers over me) put his hands around my head and told me that he wanted me to put “everything I know”  into all of my coworkers’ heads. (I felt confident that he didn’t mean this literally!) This may not seem like a big deal, but for me it was everything. It made me feel validated, appreciated, and that I just may have made a small impact on KIPP in my time here.

What are you going to miss more about your job?

The people I work with – both at 10711 AND at 6700. They are the BEST!!!!!

What will you definitely not miss?

The alarm clock going off at 4:45 a.m. 

What do you plan to do now that you´re retiring? 

ANYTHING and EVERYTHING I want to do WHEN I want to do it!!! Spend time with my husband. Spend time with my 7 grandchildren. Go to the first movie of the day. Travel – taking small and big adventures. Spend a day (or more) doing absolutely nothing! Complete “fixing” my house from the flood. Go to museums and exhibits. Etc., etc. etc.

Do you have any words of wisdom to leave with students, teachers, or staff? What about future students, teachers, or staff?

I truly believe that I am NOT wise. I am “exposed.” My wisdom comes with age (I am proudly the oldest employee in KHPS) and experience. I have been fortunate – so fortunate – to have worked under the best teachers/mentors on the planet – Anne Patterson and Mike Feinberg.  (Sadly, I have only been with Sehba a short time, but I have come to respect her and admire her as KIPP’s Superintendent and as a person.)  Anne and Mike have taught me things that I could only learn by example and opportunity. So, if I were to leave “words of wisdom” to students, teachers, and staff, it would be this:

Look at every opportunity as a learning experience. Some experiences may be good, some bad. But each one will have something to teach you if you are willing to think about it. Use people. Ask for advice. Pick their brains. There are times when it literally “takes a village” to accomplish something. Then, take away what you can use at the time and file the rest away in your brain for another day. One day, you will pass your “wisdom” on to someone else. Above all, remember to love what you do, have fun doing it, and don’t take things or yourself too seriously!!!

Ilene, you will be missed. We love you.