By LAUREN FLYNN KELLY  — The cheers could be heard from a few blocks away. “Mr. Swann! Mr. Swann! Mr. Swann!” chanted hundreds of little voices waiting for the man who has been a central figure at Hyattsville Elementary School for the past two decades. HES faculty and staff, joined by Principal Teresa Bey and Assistant Principal Duff Durkin, held a special farewell rally at the end of the school day on May 14 to honor retiring principal’s secretary John Swann.

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Longtime principal’s secretary John Swann waves to the crowd of students and staff gathered to wish him well on May 14. Photo by Lauren Flynn Kelly

Swann began working at HES in 2001, but it was four years earlier when he started volunteering at the school with a reading program offered by his then-employer First Union and realized he had a passion for education. When his management position in banking was eliminated as a result of First Union merging with Wells Fargo, accepting an offer to work full-time at HES was a no-brainer.

A lot has changed over the years, said Swann, who has worked for five different principals. “When I first came here, they bussed in from Seat Pleasant,” he recalled. “After I was here about two years, they redistricted everything. And I think once they made it into a community school, we really had a lot more parental support because everyone was here in the community.”

His jobs have included scheduling, purchasing, helping with attendance and registration and coordinating field trips, but he’s always done a little bit of everything. “I try to be a support system for the principal and the teachers. Anything that isn’t educationally involved, I try to take on so that they can spend more time with the kids.”

Swann loves how engaged families are with HES and has become close with many staff members, but it’s “hands down” the children that will be hardest to leave, he said.

Bey said she has always been impressed with Swann’s willingness to go “above and beyond” the duties of secretary, to the point where she first felt like she was competing with the teachers for his attention when she joined HES in 2016. “He really believes in customer service and he told me, ‘Ms. Bey, I always believed that my job was to make sure that the teacher’s job is as light as possible, so whatever I can do to assist them, that’s what I’m going to do,’ and he does that.” Whether it’s bringing in his own tools to pitch in around the gardens or dropping everything to judge a lip-syncing battle, “I’ve never heard him say, ‘Oh, that’s not my job.’”

“Hyattsville Elementary students and staff are truly going to miss Mr. Swann. He is the glue that has held HES together for 18 years and keeps everything running smoothly,” said first grade teacher Tracy Peele. “Though he is now starting his new chapter of retirement, he will always have a special place in our hearts. He will always be an HES Lion to us all.”

To show their appreciation, the teachers organized the “pep rally” outside the school on his last day, declaring it “Swann Day,” said Peele. Parents arrived early to stand with their children’s classes and many students held up handmade signs wishing him well. The day before, the staff also presented him with gifts from their classes and a cake.  

Swann, who is a resident of Anne Arundel County, said he looks forward to “just taking it easy and enjoying life” in his retirement, spending more time with his two high school-age grandsons and helping out his elderly parents.