LIVINGSTON – In her two stints as a school superintendent, Dr. Elizabeth Duran Swinford observed that children of different backgrounds can learn and teachers want to be challenged.
Both lessons would help her as the next Livingston Parish school superintendent, she said.
Swinford is one of five applicants for the superintendent’s job. She is scheduled to be interviewed at 6 p.m. Monday, April 15, at the Central Office in Livingston.
She is chief executive officer of PD Remix, of Forest Hills, N.Y., which recruits certified teachers in other countries who are willing to come to the U.S. to teach for three years.
She was associate superintendent for human resources for the East Baton Rouge Parish school system from 2003-2010. In 2016, Swinford applied and was interviewed for the Livingston Parish superintendent’s position, which went to Rick Wentzel, who is retiring.
Swinford holds a bachelor’s in biology with a minor in elementary education from Interamerican University of San Juan, Puerto Rico. She holds a master’s degree in educational leadership and a doctorate in organizational leadership from Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Beside working for the East Baton Rouge Parish school system, Swinford also was director of certified personnel for the Caddo Parish school system from 2001-2003.
She taught math, science and biology in Puerto Rico and Florida before becoming an assistant principal and principal. After working in Louisiana, Swinford was school superintendent in Vicksburg, Miss., and Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Swinford said she retired from education after losing her brother and sister in less than three weeks, which came shortly after her mother passed away.
“I went from the youngest in a family to having only a sister,” she said. “You don’t want to make decisions when grieving.”
Now she said she is ready to return to education.
“In a time of diminishing resources, I have been an innovative leader who has embraced an entrepreneurial approach to meet the changing needs of school systems. Partnerships with private enterprise and individuals enable school systems to expand academic programs at school sites,” she said in her cover letter.
Her work in school districts with children of diverse ethnic, racial and economic backgrounds has taught her how to connect with all kids, she said.
“You have to be able to see children and their families and struggles and develop plans for student success,” Swinford said.
“This is coming back home,” she added. “I lived in Louisiana. I have a lot to offer the parish.”
There is no easy answer to filling the ranks of teachers, Swinford said.
“My background in administration was in human resources,” she said, offering her a chance to review teacher applicants.
Two areas stood out, Swinford said, teacher salaries and “how we support our personnel.”
“Professional development is very important and we need to ask teachers 'what do you want to do?'
“Teachers love to be innovative. Teachers may have an elective course they would like to teach,” she said.
“We’re hiring young techies. We need to tell them, come with your set of skills and we will develop on that,” she said. “They like to be in some type of leadership position.
“I like to be in the classroom, spend time with teachers to see how they are doing. At the end of the day, we have to achieve something, for kids to be successful.”
Swinford added, “We don’t know what the future looks like, but we have to prepare them with what we have today.”
This means tapping into technology that can help the education process.
“About 20 years ago would you have asked Alexa, ‘Turn on my TV,’ ” Swinford said. “What will be it like in 20 years?”
“There is a vast amount of technology being offered and administrators have to prepare kids for the future,” she said.
“Technology is transforming how we teach. There are some unbelievable 1-to-1 programs,” Swinford said. “How they learn with it will prepare them for the workforce.”
While superintendent in Tuscaloosa, Swinford began a partnership with the Mercedes-Benz plant that builds four classes of cars.
“Students could learn logistics, how to use a forklift, warehouse skills, inventory skills and still graduate with a high school diploma,” she said.
Even if students choose a career track, Swinford said she wants them prepared to meet the requirements to enter college.
After being in the workforce, a student might decide he needs additional education that a college may offer, she said.
“We want them to understand they should have nothing in your way,” she said.
“Some are too young right now to make this decision, but they should have the option to expand” their dreams, she said.
“I ask, being a mechanic is great, but don’t you want to own your own business?” she said.
Swinford cited the example of her own grandson, who graduated from high school in Louisiana and wanted to be an auto mechanic.
He decided he wanted to run his own shop, so he has enrolled at the University of Texas to learn about business, she said.