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Superintendent heads to Germany after 22 years on Fort Benning

Superintendent Dell McMullen will receive the Georgia Pewter Cup at the Fort Benning Recognition of Excellence Breakfast and Awards Ceremony July 30. The award is both a gesture of thanks for 22 years of valued service to Fort Benning schools and a gift before parting — McMullen leaves July 31 for the Kaiserslautern school district in Germany.

Part of Department of Defense Dependents Schools, the district includes 9,500 enrolled students, kindergarten through 12th grade, with 500 more expected this school year. McMullen officially takes the reins as superintendent in Kaiserslautern Aug. 2.

As with any transition, there are mixed emotions. While looking forward to the imminent move, McMullen said she will still miss the many people — educators, staff, installation command and families — she has met during her tenure.

“I loved being at Benning,” she said. “I love the people. They could not have treated me better. We’re a family here, and I will miss them just like I will miss my family. I’m leaving a big piece of my heart here.”

During her 16 years as superintendent, McMullen saw many changes, including the consolidation of Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala., Robins Air Force Base, Ga., and Fort Rucker, Ala., with Fort Benning schools under the Georgia/Alabama district in 2003.

Despite the challenge of balancing her schedule between 10 schools, four installations and two states, she made time for visits to classrooms and one-on-one conversations with students. It’s a priority she plans to keep in Kaiserslautern, where she’ll manage 19 schools within four military communities, she said.

“It thrills me when I go into schools and the students know my name,” said McMullen, who received AdvancED’s Excellence in Education Award last year. “I know it will be a challenge to be in classrooms as much as I’ve been here. I’m going to figure out how to continue to spend time in schools, even though I’ll have twice as many. That will be my challenge and my goal.”

McMullen first came to Fort Benning in 1987 as the principal of Loyd Elementary School. After three years, she became assistant superintendent, then superintendent in 1994, the same year military schools were centralized under the Department of Defense Domestic Dependent Elementary and Secondary Schools.

“Dr. McMullen talked about and modeled the ‘Benning way’ … always do the right thing, always treat others respectfully and always strive for excellence,” said Tommye Woods, director of Student Services for the Georgia/Alabama District.

“I will miss her leadership, her optimism, her verve and zest and her dedication to excellence,” Woods said. “She has left a great legacy to the military families here in the states.”Nancy Barnett, teacher at Loyd who interned under McMullen, said she appreciates her ability to listen, her “thirst for knowledge” and her positive outlook.

“She was not only our leader; she was a caring and visible member of the Fort Benning community,” Barnett said. “Whenever she spoke and made decisions her focus was always on what was in the best interest of the military child.

As she heads for Germany, McMullen is leaving on a high note — she called the previous school year’s AdvancED accreditation visits “the most exciting” thing to have happened during her tenure.

“It was extraordinary how our entire school system came together … and tried things we never tried before,” she said. “The feedback we got from our accreditation agency was just awesome. We exceeded expectations throughout the district.”

That kind of success, inspired by “the power of the team,” which she learned at Fort Benning, is something she hopes to take with her overseas, she said.

“It’s a great opportunity to grow,” she said. “I feel just as enthusiastic as I did when I was 22, my first year teaching. I’m looking forward to the same things I loved doing here at Benning: working with principals and teachers and kids. That’s where I get my joy: from being in the schools, watching what teachers do and watching what students do.”