Winnetka Heights resident David Benn has been a teacher for 31 years. The last 20 of them have been at Greiner Middle School on Twelfth and Edgefield. “Greiner has so many enrichment opportunities that you don’t find at the other schools. The students here, whether they are in the Arts Academy or not, are exposed to ballet, opera, theater, orchestra and more,” he says. Named after Pharmacist William Edward Greiner in 1915, the school has an Exploratory Arts Academy within the neighborhood public school. Students from all over Dallas can apply for the Academy program, which offers specialized Arts classes such as Theater, Music, Dance and Visual Arts. Musician Stevie Ray Vaughan attended Greiner and the Foundation created in his memory established a scholarship program that has awarded hundreds of thousands of dollars to deserving music students. The school in turn has named their state-of-the-art theater the “Stevie Ray Vaughan Performance Hall.”
Just as Oak Cliff is urban with a small town feel, Greiner has a similar vibe to Benn. “Although Greiner is one of the biggest middle schools in the state, it really feels like a small community,” he states. Benn started his teaching career in Oklahoma and then taught at Hogg and Bowie Elementary schools after moving to Dallas.
Benn was the Theater Arts teacher at Greiner and then decided to teach Language Arts, which he has done for the past five years. This year, he’ll be taking on the extracurricular subject again and going back to Theater. “We’ll have the 6th graders too, since DISD has moved 6th grade to middle school,” he asserts. “I’m not sure what to expect with that, but I’ll find out in a couple of weeks and I think it will be fun.”
Benn has won several awards over the years, including the “Secondary Teacher of The Year 2006” award for DISD. A few years ago, he was also awarded the “Golden Oaks Teacher of the Year” given annually by the Oak Cliff Foundation and the Oak Cliff Chamber of Commerce. He has also been the recipient of the “Northwood Institute Award for Innovative Creativity in the Classroom.” Benn’s acting talent doesn’t stop in the classroom either. He scored a role in the movie, JFK, playing Ken O’Donald, the man who took the President to Parkland Hospital after the assassination. “I went to the audition during my planning period and really had to juggle my schedule to be a part of the film, but it was quite an experience,” he recalls.
“People are always surprised when I tell them I teach middle school,” he says. “They ask how I do it because the kids are so difficult at that age. But I love the kids! I love the kids more than the adults most of the time,” he admits. Benn still gets contacted by students he taught 30 years ago. Some of his students have gone on to be quite successful, such as Stephanie Simpson who created the acclaimed children’s show “Wishbone,” Jacob Climer who is now a costume designer in New York, and Yvonne Rojas who is now the Assistant Principal at her own middle school alma mater. Benn jokes with his students, telling them he will treat them well, because they may grow up and become his boss, as Ms. Rojas did.
Benn sometimes mentors other teachers from different schools and feels grateful that his school has not had some of the negative issues that other schools have had. “We have such a gem here, and many North Oak Cliff families don’t realize that this is even a viable option,” he says. There are several other Greiner staffers that share his dedication to the school. He remarks, “Many teachers have been there even longer than me, and we all think that the kids deserve everything from this parade to that program to anything else we can possibly give them.”