CIS principal to retire after 30 years in education

After 30 years in education and 26 of them as a principal or assistant principal, Barry County native and 1988 Purdy graduate Jeff Swadley has announced his retirement, effective June 30.

Swadley’s career began in 1993 at Southwest, where he taught seventh- grade civics and geography and coached high school boys basketball, among other sports.

Swadley’s trajectory in education is unlike most, as only four years into the field, he applied to become middle school principal — prior to any hours toward a graduate degree.

He got the job and spent two years in the post before transferring to Cassville as middle school assistant principal under Jill LeCompte, as well as middle school athletic director.

After three years, Swadley returned to his alma mater as elementary principal for 10 years, then he went back to Cassville and was high school principal for four years. He is retiring in his sixth year as Cassville Intermediate School principal.

Swadley said when it comes to his early entry into administration, he left the decision in the Lord’s hands, a running theme through each of his job changes in Barry County.

“They asked if I was willing to apply for middle school principal, and I told them I’d have to talk to my wife about it,” he said. “I talked and prayed with my wife, and we felt I could have a greater impact on more kids as an administrator.”

Swadley said his philosophy in education has not wavered over three decades.

“My goal has always been to change a child’s path,” he said. “The truth is, we all have paths, but if you can help a kid realize their potential and identify their strengths, it’s easier to find a path to success. That as my favorite thing to do, whether as a coach, teacher or principal.”

Thy key to fulfilling that duty, Swadley said, is not the highest-quality instruction or greatest curriculum. While those things help, the biggest key is being able to build relationships of trust and love.

“It’s all about creating relationships with kids,” he said. “When I started at the high school, we were not performing ell, and through my career, I’ve been able to go into places and help them do better than they thought they could, and even better than I thought they could.

“I’ve known teachers that teach really well, and have great curriculums, but that lacked building the kinds of relationships where kids believed they cared. Everywhere I’ve been, they talk about test scores being good, but that all comes down to a kid believing you care. When it came test time, I would tell kids to do their very best, and they do because they believe we cared.”

Swadley said when looking back at his career, he takes the most pride in being the one to turn a building from good to great.

“I’ve been blessed to go into places that need repair to the people and morale,” he said. “I was lucky enough to be able to walk in and show I cared and turn it into a better school than when I started. I met a lot of great educators that knew the ins and outs and speak a great language, but it’s a different thing to work with people who don’t care about kids. That can become a roadblock.

“The greatest teacher can be an expert in any subject, but the kids won’t perform if they don’t believe that teacher cares. For me, either you bought in, or you had to go.”

After 30 years in the field, Swadley said some of the most impactful interactions for him have happened after a student have graduated.

“My favorite thing is when I see a kid who graduated after having a tumultuous time with me as principal, and they come up and hug me in Walmart,” he said. “Even the kids I had to punish knew that I cared, and you can punish a kid and still show love through that.”

As for his future, Swadley, a widower, said he’s not looking to much further past next week, when he is set to get married in the Bahamas.

“We get married on Jan. 7 in the Bahamas, and she is a retired school teacher, as well,” he said. “After that, I would like to still work, so I am praying and believe God will open the doors he wants me to go through and close the doors he doesn’t want me in. I have some opportunities to go work at other schools or take on other business ventures.

“I will just pray on it because that’s what I’ve done my whole life, and it’s always worked for me.”

At 54, Swadley said the main thing he is most grateful for is the Barry County area, where he was born and raised and worked his whole life.

“I have been fortunate and blessed to live in Barry County my whole life and work at three different districts here,” he said. “I don’t think there is a better place in all of America. The people work hard, love their kids, love their schools and love their sports. I’m grateful and think Barry County has the best people anywhere in the world.

“It’s been a blessing and a pleasure to work in their communities and schools.”