Cassville admins change administrative roles

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Policy change helps curb comments about violence

In just a few weeks, Cassville High School Assistant Principal Keith Robertson will take the reins as principal, and Principal Jeff Swadley will be taking over as principal of the intermediate school.

Robertson

Both have worked in tandem for the last three years as an administrative and disciplinary team to create pathways for a rich, successful educational environment and set appropriate boundaries for students to learn and flourish in.

“Over the last three years, I’ve been grateful to Mr. Swadley to be able to take an active role in the decision-making process,” Robertson said. “To have a role in that process is an opportunity that not many assistant principals get. It will make the transition easier.”

Swadley gave high praise to Robertson, saying he has earned the right to fill the position of principal.

Swadley

“He earned it,” said Swadley. “He spent the last few years learning discipline and the Cassville system and he’s absolutely earned the right to fill that seat.”

Prior to coming to the Cassville district, Robertson served as principal at Liberal High School for four years, and taught high school English at Carl Junction for five years.

His main goal and focus as principal is to continue Swadley’s work.

“I want to continue to create the pathway Mr. Swadley has created,” Robertson said. “I believe there are more opportunities for preparing kids for success that we have yet to tap into. And, I think that’s not just a Cassville goal, but a community goal.”

“I have loved my four years [here],” Swadley said. “We have come a long way. I definitely think we’ve made good progress. We have had the opportunity to move from good to great.”

One item both feel has made a difference in that progress is listening to student input.

“Our students have learned in the last four years that they have a voice,” Swadley said. “And it has empowered them to move from seventh to third [in the Big 8] because they have a vested interest. Almost everything we’ve done has revolved around student input and teacher input. That is the first time they were allowed to do that and they have given us very valuable information.”

Swadley is looking forward to going back to what he calls the foundation of education.

“The focus [in education] is on the high school,” he said. “I think it’s in the wrong place. It’s about the foundation. You have an opportunity to change the kids’ pathways. I’m happy with all we’ve accomplished [in the high school]. We went from ranking seventh to third in the Big 8. The school attitude and spirit is better overall, and test scores have improved, but I’m ready to go back to the foundation.”

Swadley spent 10 years as elementary principal at Purdy, three years as assistant middle school principal at Cassville, and two years as middle school principal at Southwest, where he created and built a middle school concept.

“I like creating pathways,” Swadley said. “You can’t have a great high school without a great elementary and middle school. At the elementary level, you have the opportunity to make a pathway for them to be successful at the next level, but also later on in life. You have a better chance of impacting them.”

When it comes to discipline, some school policies have been adjusted due to recent conflicts arising from student comments about school violence. Out of concern for everyone’s safety, any comment made about weapons at school, violence or threats of violence could result in an immediate 10-day suspension, followed by a review.

“We’ve gone through the process and how we deal with comments or remarks and how we deal with violence or threats of violence,” Robertson said. “We were really entering unchartered territory because it’s not something we had to add before. We counsel students and help them understand why it’s inappropriate to make those comments and what the impact could be.”

The principals first tried a five-day suspension.

“That was part of the attempt to curb those behaviors, but that was unsuccessful,” Robertson said. “So, since that time, the length of suspension has been increased to 10 days with an assessment and communication to let parents know what the issues are and consequences the student will be facing.

“We do an assessment of the situation [to verify that the comment was actually made], then refer based on the level of threat. So without any investigation done on our part, it’s just a claim or allegation, and once we make the determination that something has been said, the suspension starts as 10 days, and as part of that review process, it could be 10 days, fewer, or more than 10; that is a collaborative decision made by Dr. Asbill, Mr. Swadley and myself.”

Some referrals were made to law enforcement — which thereafter, a student’s fate is essentially out of administration’s control.

“When there is a comment made about school violence or about weapons while at school, we’re obligated to report that to our school resource officer (SRO),” Robertson said. “He makes the referral to the juvenile office. I can’t tell you how many, but more often than not, once we make our referral to our SRO, we are not involved in the legal proceedings.”

The suspension policy change, along with one-on-one and group conversations administration has had with students seems to have helped curb the comments.

“It improved the most after Mr. Swadley and I and Chief Kammerlohr met with the entire student body a couple weeks ago,” Robertson said. “Since that time, things have gone a little bit better, and part of that was Officer [Troy] Wenzel helping, too. Students started taking initiative to do some things like the positivity project and the kindness initiative. Our kids are playing a big role in improving the atmosphere of school. Mr. Swadley and I have what I think are good things to help, but our kids are really seeing that they have a positive impact at school and they are really doing their share.

“When it comes down to it, what any principal wants is to change is a student’s behavior,” Robertson said. “You don’t just assign a consequence for the sake of a consequence; and what it takes to change one student’s behavior may not be the same for another. We have a handbook in place we follow, and we know that a student isn’t [always] going to be real happy but [discipline] builds relationships.

“Just like when your parents use discipline, they do it because they love you and want you to improve. We’re the parents of 500-plus kids and everything we do here is to improve students. We’re open to finding ways to make our school the best place it can possibly be. This is why we are here.”

“This school belongs to the community,” Swadley said.

With the moves, salaries for Robertson and Swadley both changed. Robertson is paid $72,325 as the assistant and will move to $85,000 as principal. Swadley is earning $89,625 as principal at the high school and will be paid $85,000 as the intermediate principal.

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