By Ricki Demarest
There is a stack of books to read. There are national parks to visit; grandchildren to play with; vegetables to harvest.
Then, there’s the “bucket list” wish to see a game in every Major League Baseball stadium in the country.
Outgoing Roxbury High School Principal Jeffrey Swanson is poised to spend his time wisely. After 15 years of service at Roxbury High School, he will no longer shepherd 1,300 students and 130 staff members through the home of the Gaels each day.
Recently, as he looked back on his career, Swanson said he was most proud of “having the school recognized for its academic and its co-curricular accomplishments.” Swanson highlighted two initiatives that he was particularly proud of. Starting in September of 2019, Roxbury High School will begin to host the ATPT Academy, part of the Morris County Academy system.
“We will be an academy for athletic training and physical therapy and related to the Morris County School of Technology,” he said. “It’s an experience for athletic training and physical therapy that was two years in the making.”
On the technology front, Swanson said he was happy to see the “Roxbury Reimagined” effort move ahead. He hoped that this multi-year district plan would open doors for students who wish to focus on cyber skills.
Meanwhile, the district website’s 2016-2017 State Report Card narrative states … “beginning in 2014, we opened the doors to our nationally recognized programs in the fine and performing arts to students from other districts.” The narrative also states that 90 percent of Roxbury’s graduates continue a formalized education
after graduation. Around three quarters of the students participate in clubs, sports or organizations. Niche.com has listed Roxbury within the Top 100 Public High Schools in New Jersey.
The glowing reports are a testament to Swanson and his staff. When he first walked into the principal’s office in 2003, a school scandal and a revolving door on the principal’s office left him facing a community riddled with distrust.
“Respect was at the heart of the issues,” he noted. “I’m not sure the kids had a great deal of respect at the time for the teachers.” Fortunately, Swanson possessed the right credentials to turn things around. His professional journey began with a bachelor’s degree in history and education from Muhlenberg College (now University) in 1977. While teaching social studies at Mt. Olive High School, he went on to get a master’s degree in history from East Stroudsburg
State University in 1983. In 1988 he transferred his teaching skills to Morris Knolls High School. By the next year, Swanson had been promoted to assistant principal at Morris Knolls. Eight years later, his duties expanded to include director of Instructional Services in the Morris Hills Regional School District, a post he remained in until 2003. At that point he was tapped to lead Roxbury High School.
In addition to his impressive classroom and administrative experience, Swanson was a veteran football player and wrestler who coached both sports at the high school level. He used the ideals embodied in coaching to change the overall attitude in Roxbury.
“Being part of a team means a collaborative effort of people pulling together for a single goal and dealing with adversity,” he said. “You learn how to win and lose with dignity, rely on other people, and work together.”
Demonstrating to students and staff that they were important helped win over the community.
“They could be trusted, (and they could) … count on being able to communicate with administration and teachers,” he said.
“Walking the walk” day by day and year by year displayed Swanson’s
commitment. His actions, he said, echoed the beliefs of the residents themselves and helped transform Roxbury High School’s image.
“People who grow up in Roxbury really like and appreciate doing that,” he said.
“There’s a certain connection with school and community that makes them want to stay here.”
So, what makes a good principal? Swanson’s answer made it sound easy. First of all, show students how to become people of character, and second teach them to read and write.
“Those are lessons that stick with kids forever,” he said.
Dominick Miller, formerly the Eisenhower Middle School principal, will be building on these past successes as the new principal. Swanson said he feels that his successor is on track to make more progress in the district.
“He’s got a good creative mind and he understands the value of staff and their thoughts and ideas,” he said. “He will be able to step in and follow up. The efforts that you’re making go from one year to the next.”
As for the man called “Swan daddy,” progress will be a much quieter affair. “I come in contact with at least 500 plus people a day. Things are gonna be dramatically different.”
Yet, as he polishes the Principal’s Cup award he was given at graduation, he may be contemplating a very personal return to education.
“When I came to Roxbury I was a course and a dissertation away from a Doctor of Letters and I am still there. Personal accomplishment would be my reason (to finish).…see if I can find the time.”