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Fugitive Canaries and Avant-Garde Ballerinas: Denise Schwed Looks Back at 46 Years at Packer

Denise Schwed started at Packer 46 years ago as a Lower School teacher before bringing her formidable expertise and years in the classroom to the Admissions Office. Denise quickly established a reputation as someone who got to know every applicant and their family, taking the time to understand their unique learning styles and aspirations. We sat down with this Admissions veteran to hear some of her brightest recollections from her time at Packer, and find out what she's looking forward to in retirement. 

Do you have a favorite memory from your times in the classroom?

I remember a child bringing in a canary for pet day. I asked him if it ever came out of the cage and he said, “Oh yes, all the time.” We were in a room with incredibly high ceilings and of course the bird flew to the top. One of the members of our facilities team had to come with a giant ladder and chase it around. The bird was also right next to the window. I was thinking: Okay, the kids are out at recess… If it flies out the window, I guess I could always go down to Poppy's Pet Palace and buy another one!

How has your philosophy about admissions changed over the years?

I don't know that it has changed much. We’re always looking for children who will be successful here, who will be happy here, and who can do the program. Of course, we are a different school than we were when I started in 1975, but at the core we're still very much the same. We are still a community school that's built around inclusion and kindness.

Can you describe the Admissions playdates you have with the three and four year olds?

It’s really just an observational play time for us to see their language skills, play skills, and get a sense of their personality. You have to craft a balanced class. So, you can't have 20 Alpha children — you have to have some leaders and some followers, some “louds” and some “quiets.” And, we look to build a community made up of children from all kinds of different backgrounds, racially, socioeconomically, family structure, etc.

What has been your most memorable experience in the Admissions office?

It’s always exciting around Halloween. Some of the four or five year olds come into the office in costume. I had one little girl who was absolutely adorable and whip smart. She walked in, in this sort of frilly outfit and I said, “Oh my goodness, are you a fairy?” And she said, “No! I’m an avant-garde ballerina.”

What are you excited for during your next chapter?

Sleeping until eight. Flexibility in my life to travel, not only within the confines of when I'm on vacation. Just having a sense of freedom without a concrete plan.

For more about Denise, look back at her Know Your Pelicans feature.

If you would like to submit well-wishes to Denise, please send them to

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