'Tis the season for giving in the Tri-Lakes areaREAD ONLINE
Family man is named Cardinals superintendentPublished February 26, 2017 at 12:00 a.m.
HASKELL Before anything else, the most important people in Heath Bennett’s life are his family.
“Every move I’ve taken has been about family … ,” Bennett said. “I’m always going to put my wife and children first and do what is best for my family.”
Bennett, who started his career in 2000, has worked for five school districts, and each time he has moved or changed jobs, it has been because of family.
“When I started out teaching and coaching, I thought I would coach forever,” Bennett said. “I played ball in high school, and after I got my master’s degree, I went for one interview, and I got the job.”
At the time, Bennett’s wife, Amy, was in nursing school at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, so working in Horatio “was kind of a no-brainer.”
Bennett and his wife currently live in White Hall and have been married for 16 years and have two children: a daughter, Mazie, who is 10 and in the fourth grade, and a 3-year-old son, Bo Henry.
Bennett was recently named the new superintendent for the Haskell Harmony Grove School District and will start in June. He has been the assistant superintendent for finance and personnel for the White Hall School District for the past six years.
“Harmony Grove tries to have very well-rounded children, and they do whatever they can to have children excited to come to school every day,” Bennett said.
“If you have kids who want to come to school and be part of the system, then you have a chance to have a great school system and have a lot of things to be proud about.”
Bennett graduated from Dierks High School in 1995 and received a bachelor’s degree in education from Henderson State University in 2000 and a master’s degree in education and administration in 2002.
Bennett began his career as a teacher and coach at Horatio High School from 2000-2003, coaching football and basketball. In 2003, he was the high school principal at Hackett High School for a year before becoming the high school and middle school principal for the Mount Ida School District for six years.
Bennett, who is the first in his family, aside from his uncle, to earn a college degree, made the move to Mount Ida to be closer to his dad, Eddie, who had a heart transplant.
“It was about an hour from where I grew up, so it gave me a chance to be closer to my dad and my family,” Bennett said. “Amy is from there as well.”
He had the opportunity to return to coaching while at Mount Ida.
“During my second year at Mount Ida, a situation came up where they needed me to take over the girls basketball program, so not only was I the high school and middle school principal, but for four years, I coached the junior high and senior high basketball teams,” Bennett said.
“I had some great kids. They may not have been great athletes, but they did anything we asked of them.”
He said they made the state tournament all four years and won a pair of conference championships.
“But by the end of the four years, my daughter was 2, so I told them I could either coach full time or be an administrator full time, but I couldn’t do both,” Bennett said.
Following his tenure at Mount Ida, Bennett was the superintendent for the Foreman School District from 2010-2011.
“While I was at Mount Ida, the school board asked me if I would be interested in going back and getting my education specialist degree to be the superintendent,” Bennett said. “So I went to [the University of Arkansas at Little Rock] and got that finished up in 2005.”
While Bennett was in Mount Ida, his dad died, a number of years after having the heart transplant.
“My moves have been about family,” Bennett said. “I have been blessed and fortunate to work with a couple of the best superintendents in the state, including Benny Weston and Larry Smith.
“Financialwise and curriculumwise, they are as good as the state has to offer.”
Bennett said he was very blessed to work with people like that, and he said White Hall took him in as its own, and that was more than he could have ever asked for.
“We will definitely miss White Hall; there are some great people here,” Bennett said. “But I am real excited about the opportunity to go over there and jump in and do whatever I can to help out and move forward and have a great year.”
Bennett is replacing Daniel Henley, who has served as superintendent at Harmony Grove for the past 28 years but has been with the district for more than 40 years.
“I have been here a long time,” Henley said. “It was time to retire. I am very excited and sad; it was a tough decision to leave.”
Henley informed the school board of his decision last fall, and Bennett has visited the school a couple of times, including coming to a football game against Glen Rose High School and a basketball game this spring.
“They are excited,” Henley said. “They feel like they found a good young man, and I feel like he will do a wonderful job.”
Henley said he and Bennett have visited a couple of times, and Henley has tried to pass on “as much as I could.”
“I think he will do great,” Henley said. “I think he is an ideal candidate.
“He comes from a strong financial background, and I think he will do a wonderful job.”
Bennett, who is his own person, said he doesn’t plan on being “the next Daniel Henley.”
“I’m Heath Bennett. I’m going to jump in with both feet and do the best I can,” he said. “I don’t plan on changing very much. I just want to get in there and see how I can help out, especially the first year.
“I’m super excited to get to work for that community and that board.”
Bennett said Harmony Grove’s ever-growing district drew his interest.
“I was kind of approached about applying, and I know some of the staff and have for a few years,” Bennett said, “but they are a growing district, and they are in a great county and community.
“Their teachers and parents want the best for the kids academically, and they are striving for excellence every day.”
Harmony Grove has grown exponentially in the past few years, with more than 1,300 students in the district, Bennett said.
“I think they are up 90 kids this year, so they had to hire staff after school had started, just to work with all the students,” Bennett said. “One of the biggest issues that we will face is possibly looking to go for a millage campaign in a couple years to build possibly a new high school and a new cafeteria.”
Bennett said that right now, the district is having to pay teachers to teach 150 students a day because they “have had so many students who have come in the past four or five years.”
Henley said Harmony Grove built a junior high addition four years ago to try to accommodate the district’s recent growth.
“It has just been amazing,” Henley said of the student increase. “All of Saline County has grown a lot, and some parents feel students might do better at a smaller school.”
Bennett said Harmony Grove has a lot of kids who are coming from Benton and Bryant.
“I would be very shocked if [Harmony Grove] doesn’t gain another 50 to 70 kids when school choice opens up April 1,” Bennett said. “It is crazy. The town [of Haskell] has almost as many people as we have in White Hall, and we are a 5A [school], and they are 3A.”
He said Haskell is on the brink of moving up to 4A, which would cause some growing pains athletically, much like when the Bauxite School District moved up.
“They would go from the biggest 3A to the smallest 4A,” Bennett said.
He said looking over the past six years at White Hall, possibly the best thing to come from it was the working relationships with the staff and principals and the team concept.
“Letting them know that we are all in it together, and I have an open door at any time …,” Bennett said. “With the board’s support, we were able to raise salaries consistently and have been very financially sound every year. Every year that I have been here, we have offered Christmas bonuses and stuff like that.
“Looking back, what I have done is make this job much easier to walk into for the next person than when I got here.”
Staff writer Sam Pierce can be reached at (501) 244-4314 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Staff Sam Pierce can be reached at email@example.com.