Donna Bennett’s office doesn’t look like a principal’s office.
Instead of a mahogany desk and dark bookshelves, her office at Maxwell Elementary School is a crayon box of bright yellows, blues and reds.
It suits her. The room looks like a place to play and have fun, which is appropriate, because that’s what she does, and the kids who visit there are in pre-K through first grade.
She banters easily with her office staff and her pupils, and occasionally plays small pranks on her teachers.
“I love to be around people and laugh and have a good time. (To be) able to see the good in things and the silly side of things,” she said.
But though her office is a cheerful place, she really doesn’t like to spend much time there.
She would much rather be out on the school grounds working directly with the 702 children in her care.
Nothing makes her happier than seeing the difference she makes in a child’s life, she said.
“That sounds so cliché, but it is the truth,” she said.
Last week, Bennett was invited to a classroom where children who had been struggling with sight words at the beginning of the school year read books to her. Then they wrote complex sentences using commas in a series.
“And you see their little faces, and you bring them up here (to the office) and you cheer for them, and you give them a reward. To me, this is happiness,” she said.
For a while out of college, Bennett thought she wanted to do something different. Though she had always loved children and wanted to teach, she was deterred by the small salary. She went to work for a Fortune 500 company, but she never found happiness there.
So she went back to school and in 1995 earned her teaching certificate from Augusta State University. She has been happily teaching ever since. After teaching in Columbia County and Washington, Ga., she became assistant principal at Maxwell in 2003, and is now in her fourth year as principal.
Bennett and her faculty and staff have been working to make education fun for the children and to give parents the tools they need to help their children succeed.
The school has made AYP for 13 consecutive years and has been designated a Title I Distinguished School for 11 consecutive years, which Bennett says is a testament to the dedication of her faculty and staff.
On Thursday, a parent insisted on seeing Bennett specifically to tell her how the Max’s Den has helped her child improve his academic performance.
The Max’s Den is Maxwell’s parent resource center. Teachers write “prescriptions” for materials that parents can check out to help in areas where their child might need a little more help.
“She said she has seen the biggest difference in her child in the last four weeks, since she’s been visiting that and checking out the materials and working with him at home,” Bennett said. “(That is) another thing that makes me happy.”
Bennett said her school is her home away from home and her faculty and staff are her second family. But when she is not with them, she enjoys spending time with her husband, Jim, and their children, Jessica, Zach and Jake. They go to as many University of Georgia football games as they can fit into their schedules and in the summer, they love going to the beach.
She also enjoys shopping, a pastime that gives her quality time with her mother.
“Anywhere there’s a good sale, that’s where I love to shop,” she said.