Karen Hammer was named Benton School District Teacher of the Year for 2016 during the district’s traditional back-to-school breakfast at the Benton Events Center and was recognized by the school board during its September meeting. Mrs. Hammer is an 1977 graduate of Benton High School, has taught 25 years at Benton High School, and has a total of 33 years in the teaching profession. Karen now teaches oral communications and journalism. She has also provided leadership to the Student Council, directed school plays and served as adviser to the school’s newspaper and yearbook staff. She is the wife of State Representative Kim Hammer and has three children and five grandchildren. Congratulations Mrs. Hammer! We are so proud of you!
Dr. Mike Skelton, Superintendent, officially began his duties on July 1, 2016. He is entering his twenty-fourth (24) year in education. Dr. Skelton worked in the West Memphis SD for nine (9) years serving as a teacher, coach, and bus driver. He stepped into administration in the Pocahontas SD serving as an assistant principal for three (3) years. He worked for four (4) years as an assistant principal/principal while in the Paragould SD, and then he spent seven (7) years working in the Jonesboro SD as a principal/assistant superintendent prior to coming to work in the Benton School District this year. Dr. Skelton has earned his bachelor’s, master’s, specialist, and doctorate degrees from Arkansas State University. He is also an adjunct professor for William Woods University and Arkansas State University.
Kevin Chastain is a 1979 graduate of Benton High School and a graduate of Southern Technical College. He has been employed by the Benton School District for twelve years and is now the Plant Manager. Before beginning his current position, he spent a number of years working in the manufacturing and construction industry. He performed custom fabrications as owner/operator of C&C Plastics, Inc., for 11 years. Kevin and his wife, Donna, are lifelong residents of Benton where they have raised their children, Spencer and Emily. Every member of the family is a Benton graduates.
Barry Smoke is an IT veteran and entrepreneur. With a resume consisting of 15 years of network administration & application development at both Bryant Schools and AR Division of Legislative Audit. Barry is now CEO of SANpliance, LLC., a tech industry startup centering on revolutionary virtualization and storage appliances for simplifying data systems design.
Barry also does IT consulting with concentration in VOIP and website application design.
Barry has three sons currently attending school in Benton and a daughter with four daughters of her own, including twins, who will also attend school at Benton.
Jeff Freeman, a 1987 Benton graduate, has over 20 years experience in IT, specializing in support of healthcare, government, education, and non-profit organizations. Jeff is the founder of Up-link Internet, a local ISP & Managed Services provider offering services to Benton, Saline County, and surrounding areas in Central Arkansas. Up-Link hosts the Benton School District's website; Jeff and his team developed the district's new design.
Adam Jacobs attended Benton Public Schools from kindergarten through graduation in 2005. He was the Valedictorian of his senior class. His mother, Tamme Adams, teaches 9th grade PreAP Civics and Economics at Benton Junior High. He graduated from Hendrix College in Conway, AR, in 2009 with a Bachelor of Arts (BA), Physics and Computer Science (Double Major), summa cum laude. While at Hendrix, he served as a National Undergraduate Fellow at Princeton University from June, 2008, through August, 2008. Through Princeton's Plasma Physics lab, he conducted research under the guidance of Dr. John Finn (Los Alamos National Lab) and Dr. Lang Lao (General Atomics).
He is presently a PhD candidate pursuing a degree in Physics and Astronomy at Stony Brook University on Long Island, NY. His research at Stony Brook focuses on the intersection of (astro)physics and computation. He will complete his PhD this spring. He is married to Dr. Erin S. Young, PhD, Professor of Literature at Empire State College on Long Island, NY.
Laura Baber, Chief Financial Officer, has been in education for twenty-eight (28) years. She has a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Arkansas Tech University and a master’s degree in elementary administration from Henderson State University. Ms. Baber spent her first eight (8) years in education as a kindergarten and first grade teacher. The next eleven years, she was a Title 1 facilitator before moving into administration as an assistant principal, a position she held for two (2) years. She was the principal of Angie Grant Elementary for seven (7) years and graduated from the Arkansas Master Principal program in May, 2015. She began her position as CFO in July, 2015.
John (JT) Thompson, transportation director for the Benton School District, has worked in education for 23 years as a science teacher, coach, and transportation director. He was the head girls’ basketball coach at Hallsville, Texas, for 8 years and has also coached football, baseball, track, and tennis. He holds a BSE in education and a BA in science from Ouachita Baptist University, and an MEd in educational administration and a principal certification from Lamar University.
Lita Gattis, Principal of Benton High School, has been in education for 30 years. Her first teaching job was at Lakeside High School. Mrs. Gattis came to Benton in 1983 as a science teacher and girls’ basketball and track coach at Eastside Junior High School. In 1985, she moved to the high school, where she taught physical education and health and coached the Lady Panther basketball and track teams for the next five years. After a short stay at home to raise her two daughters, Mrs. Gattis returned to Benton High School in 1994 as a counselor. She became an assistant principal in the fall of 2008 and was named principal in the fall of 2013.
Mrs. Gattis is an honor graduate of Gurdon High School and attended the University of Arkansas and Henderson State University, where she received her BSE in 1982. She received her MSE in Counseling in 1993. In 2007, she returned to Henderson State University and received certifications in building-level administration and district-level administration, respectively.
Her husband, Keith Gattis, is employed with Union Pacific Railroad. They have two daughters, Kristin (Brad) Barker and Lauren Gattis, who are both graduates of Benton High School. They also have twin grandchildren, Brantley and Braylin Barker, born in October 2015. Mrs. Gattis serves on the board of the Benton Athletic Memorial Museum, the Benton Chamber of Commerce, and the advisory board of UALR Benton. She is an active member of Holland Chapel Baptist Church.
Lori Bacon, Principal of Angie Grant Elementary, is a 1991 graduate of Benton High School. While a student at BHS, Mrs. Bacon was actively involved in many clubs and activities, including Student Council, secretary of her junior class, Panther cheerleader for three years, and served as captain. She was voted “Most School Spirit” by the BHS faculty during her senior year.
After high school, she attended the University of Central Arkansas on an academic scholarship and earned her bachelor of science in education in 1995. She began her career teaching fourth graders at Angie Grant, where she taught for nine years. She earned her master of science in education administration at Henderson State University 2000.
She served as the assistant principal of Caldwell Elementary for eleven years and returned to Angie Grant as principal in August, 2015.
She is married to Tony Bacon, and her proudest accomplishments are her twin daughters, Lizzie and Maggie (BHS Class of 2025).
Curt Barger, Principal of Benton Junior High, has been in education for eleven years. His career began in Ashdown, Arkansas, where he coached track and football and taught health and physical education. After seven years in Ashdown, he became the principal at Foreman High School. In 2013, he became the principal at Benton Junior High. Mr. Barger graduated from Warren High School. He has a bachelor of science degree from the University of Arkansas Monticello and a master’s degree from Harding University in Searcy. His wife, Donica Barger, is also an employee of Benton School District. They have two children who attend Benton schools.
Angie Dischinger, Assistant Superintendent of CTE and Academic Support Services for the Benton School District, has been in education seventeen (17) years. She completed her undergraduate degree at Henderson State University, teaching credential from California State University San Bernardino, and her master’s degree in education: school administration from the Azusa Pacific University. Mrs. Dischinger has served in various educational roles that include: middle school teacher, cheer and dance coach, ASB director, high school assistant principal, alternative high school principal, and high school principal. This is Mrs. Dischinger’s first year as Assistant Superintendent of CTE and Academic Support Services for the Benton School District.
She treasures spending time with family and friends. She has a wonderful husband and two daughters. She enjoys scrapbooking, reading, developing her faith, and traveling. Previously, she enjoyed riding dirt bikes…until she broke her arm.
Howard Perrin has held a special place in Stacye Shelnut’s heart for most of her life! Mrs. Shelnut was born and raised in Benton and attended Howard Perrin as an elementary student herself. After graduating from Benton High School in 1989, she attended the University of Arkansas where she received a bachelor of science in education degree in 1993.
Her first teaching job was at Landmark Elementary in Pulaski County, but every other year of her twenty-two years in education has been in Benton. She received her master of education in educational administration and supervision degree from UALR in 1997 and taught at both Angie Grant and Benton Middle School before becoming an assistant principal for 16 years when she served at Caldwell, Grant, Benton Middle School, and Perrin. This is Mrs. Shelnut’s second year to serve as the principal at Howard Perrin.
She and her husband, Eric, have been married for 21 years and have two children, Grant and Grace Anne, who attend Benton schools.