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NEW PRINCIPAL SPOTLIGHT: D'Anne Bennett, Swartz Upper Elementary

Posted Date: 04/29/2024

NEW PRINCIPAL SPOTLIGHT: D'Anne Bennett, Swartz Upper Elementary

For the past 30 years, D’Anne Bennett has made the extra 30-minute drive to Swartz Upper Elementary, passing several other Ouachita Parish schools along the way.

As a West Monroe resident, Bennett could make it easier on herself and find a job teaching at a school closer to her house, but when she did her special education student teaching at Swartz Upper in 1994, she knew it was where she wanted to be – and was meant to be.

“I love the kids,” Bennett said. “I enjoy the community. It’s a smaller community, but they’re just so close knit. It’s been worth a 30-minute drive for 30 years. It’s a family. Swartz Upper has really good teachers who are focused on student achievement. They support each other.”

Bennett shared those sentiments just minutes after finding out she was named the next principal at Swartz Upper, effective July 1. Once the announcement was made public, she received a video from one of her teachers sharing the news with her class.

The students started cheering and broke out in silly dances. The energy of that classroom is what Bennett is hoping exudes throughout the whole school under her leadership.

“I want to grow the community – grow the positivity,” Bennett said. “I am a very positive person, and I get along with everybody. I want that to become the norm.”

When Bennett first stepped foot in Swartz Upper, administration was not on her radar. In fact, teaching did not start on her radar either. Bennett thought she wanted to be a dentist, but that changed after her first year of college.

As someone who always loved playing school as a child, Bennett switched her major to education and was advised to take advantage of the dual major – elementary education and special education – at ULM, then NLU.

“The more I got into the special education part of it, I was like, ‘I kind of like this special education side of it,’” Bennett said. “So I did my regular student teaching at Kiroli Elementary and then did my Special Ed student teaching out here, and then I got hired out here.”

And she never left. Bennett started off teaching students with autism and later a combination class of resource students for the majority of her 19 years in the classroom. Again, Bennett did not have her eye on leaving the classroom, but when the number of students with special needs dropped, the school faced losing a special education teacher.

Bennett moved into the Reading Interventionist position and spent half her day at Swartz Upper and the other half at Swartz Lower – the newer elementary school for the lower grades once Swartz Upper reached about 900 students and needed to split to accommodate the growing community.

“I’ve had some really good principals that have been at this school, and I had really good principals growing up too,” Bennett said. “There’s a lot of professions I think where people just compete, and that is so not the way we are – at least at this school. We are open to helping each other, and whatever we can do in any kind of sense, and that’s nice.”

Bennett is a product of Ouachita Parish Schools, starting at Kiroli Elementary, then Boley – a middle school for 7th-9th graders at one time – and then graduating from West Monroe High School. Her teaching certification looks like she really loves school because Bennett went back to get certified in different areas she thought she may enjoy teaching, including a Master’s of Education in Educational Diagnostics, a Master’s Degree Plus 30, Educational Leadership Certification and a Content Leader Certification.

The Educational Leadership Certification was prompted by then-Swartz Upper principal Becky Beezley.

“I didn’t realize at the time she was preparing to retire, and she was looking at the future,” Bennett said. “I never thought of it like that. I thought, ‘Not me’. I’m quiet and more on the reserved side, but I had that motivation from her.”

Although Bennett claims she is quiet, communication is one of the biggest things she hopes to maximize as principal. When she became assistant principal in 2016, Bennett had a hard time calling parents to discuss what their child had done wrong. She was used to being a positive person in the classroom with most of her parent communication centered on her students’ good work and behavior.

“One thing I learned from (outgoing principal) Ms. (Janita) Maxwell is you call the parents and you tell them the facts,” Bennett said. “That’s all you can do. I had to remember that. Now, it doesn’t bother me to call parents.”

However, Bennett does try to follow it up with positive communication.

“If it’s a kid I had to call about two weeks ago and say your kid did this bad thing, and then see they’re on the right track, I’ll call the parent and say, ‘I’m really proud of how they’ve gotten through this and what they’re doing now,’” Bennett said. “I’ve tried to make a point to write handwritten letters to the parents telling them that I appreciate what they’re doing at home.

“There’s so much negativity in administration when you have to deal with the parent with issues or complaints and the kids, you just want something happy going home.”

Bennett plans on carrying the positive communication throughout the whole school building too – from faculty to students to community members.

“I’m always willing to listen because someone might have a better idea than the way I’ve thought about it, and so I definitely want to listen to the teachers because I do value what they say,” Bennett said. “I just want to bring back that community feeling – that family feeling that we used to have when I started here.

“We have really great teachers, and I don’t want to lose them. So whatever we can do to help them, support them, let them play a big role in the decision-making, we’ve got to do that.”


2016-Present: Assistant Principal, Swartz Upper Elementary

2013-2016: Reading Interventionist, Swartz Upper and Swartz Lower Elementary

2002-2013: Special Education Teacher (Resource), Swartz Upper Elementary

1998-2002: Special Education Teacher (Self-Contained), Swartz Elementary

1994-1998: Special Education Teacher (Combination), Swartz Elementary