Superintendent Swigart Leaves Profound Paw Print On The Latrobe Wildcat Community

Sofia Serge, Staff Writer

    In 1979 Judith Swigart began her illustrious career. After 40 years in public education, Swigart, 62, is retiring.

    “There’s no magic lightbulb that goes off saying it’s time to retire. For me, I just knew it was time,” Swigart said.

    Swigart began her career in public education as a business teacher at Nazareth Area High School in Lehigh Valley. After finding her love of business classes in high school, she majored in business education at IUP. Before moving to Greater Latrobe she taught business for 16 years and eventually served as Principal and Assistant Superintendent at Nazareth. In September of 2008, Greater Latrobe was proud to welcome Judith Swigart as the district’s first female superintendent where she oversaw all aspects of GLSD. (3,700 students, 435 staff members, and 267 teachers).

“I’ve been Superintendent since September of 2008,” Swigart says. “I don’t think anybody ever wakes up and says they want to be a Superintendent. I became a principal first during my time as a teacher. I got my principals certification and I became an assistant principal and then a principal and then I had an opportunity to be an Assistant Superintendent in a different district and the job opened and I applied and I was lucky enough to get it.”

    Throughout her time at Latrobe, Swigart focused on providing a safe learning environment that offered unparalleled opportunities for students of all interests. Because of her background as a teacher and principal, Swigart understood the importance of helping students find their calling.

    “One of the functions of a high school in my opinion is to help students identify what they do want to do and what they don’t want to do, and they go hand and hand, Swigart said. “Career pathways is so important.”

And what advice does Swigart offer for anyone who wants to go into any ranking of education? Swigart says, “I believe the background has to be in education to be an effective superintendent. If you have an interest in being a teacher, no matter the level, I think if you have strong leadership potential during that time as a teacher then I think that there is a path in education. And that is so wonderful and offers so many opportunities to be a principal and lead a building and if you have an interest in doing more you can lead an actual school district which is what a superintendent does. I think education is the key and when I talk to students who want to be teachers I say pick it for the right reasons, because it is a difficult job and it’s becoming even more difficult than it may be used to be, so make sure you go into it because you really want to be a teacher and to impact students lives, because that is the key.”

    With unique initiatives and partnerships such as Kennametal’s Young Engineers, and Inventionland’s marketing curriculum, Mrs. Swigart has focused on providing career based opportunities for all students.

    “Without the support of Mrs. Swigert, none of our career pathways initiatives would be possible,” GLSD Mentorship Coordinator Anthony Princeton said. “She has given us the ability to show students how their learning in the classroom applies in the workforce and discover how their passions can be transformed into careers.” Princeton and his position are new assets to the GLSHS.

    Swigart also understood the importance of community support. She founded The Non-profit Greater Latrobe Partners in Education Foundation that is dedicated to encouraging community-wide participation in order to enhance and expand enrichment opportunities for all students in the Greater Latrobe School District.  

     “That is one of the big things I feel so blessed to have been part of as far as development,” Swigart said.

    The first goal of the non-profit foundation was to raise money to build new sports facilities for the Athletic department. “That is one of the big things I feel so blessed to have been part of as far as development,” Swigart says. The Non-profit Greater Latrobe Partners in Education Foundation is the foundation that is non-profit and supports public education at Greater Latrobe. “We started with the 5 million dollar capital campaign which did the athletic fields, the field house, and the Rossi Field. That was their initial projet, but now we do annual campaigns that give money back to the school district, to teachers, and to funds for various programs. It really is a wonderful organization.”

“What Mrs. Swigart did was organize the Greater Latrobe Partner in Education Foundation,” GLSD Athletic Director Mark Mears said. “She created the foundation which became the lynch pin for how to raise the money. If Mrs. Swigart didn’t exist I truly believe neither does that complex. The whole athletic community is deeply indebted to her and I know as an Athletic Director I am indebted to her because we obviously have the easiest scheduling process now of anybody,” said Mears.

    Since the initial project, the foundation has done annual campaigns that give money back to the school district, to teachers, and to fund various programs.

    “Mrs. Swigart was involved in the formation of the A+ campaign. In the arts realm it helped with the junior high corridor renovation and a new entrance to the junior high as well as improved security,” GLSD Director of Development Jessica Golden said. “In terms of academics, that was when we did the renovation to do the interactive whiteboards in every classroom. Mrs. Swigart was very influential in initiating these projects.”

    Swigart has also had to overcome obstacles during her time as superintendent. The rise in technology has proved to bring many new challenges. Technology, although it may be hard to imagine life before it, is still fairly new, and it can prove to be very helpful for students, or it can be used to divide and hurt students.

     “My children didn’t grow up with phones like this, Swigart said. “I think the use of technology on such an individual personal basis is the part that blows your mind and the level of which you can communicate with each other is truly different and it’s an interesting thing because it can be used for such good and it can be used for such bad.”

   Headed by Mrs. Swigart, The GLSD school board passed Board Policy 249 on May 22, 2012 prohibiting all cyberbullying and bullying, while also outlining the plan of action for any student suffering from mistreatment.

    “There are cases where students are saying things to each other that do carry over into this building and they are things that we deal with,” GLHS Principal Jon Mains said. “We try to educate students as early as elementary school to think about what you are posting. Is it harmful? Your post should be focused on you or on something positive, instead of something negative or directed at someone else. The key for us to prevent cyberbullying is education.”

    Swigart’s main priority as superintendent was to provide a safe learning environment. Throughout Mrs. Swigart’s time as superintendent, the district has installed security cameras and hired multiple resource officers to serve and advise.  

“The school resource officer was added during my time and I had previously worked with a school resource officer when I was principal of a high school. Coming here we didn’t have anything like that and I really do believe it is important not only for the safety, but also for the students to feel like they have a resource to go to. We have been very lucky to have Officer Daer, he is a really good person and is able to interact with students on a level that I don’t know if administration or teachers can, so that has been a real plus as well. You could say it is unfortunate that we need school police at this point, but we do,  and I think that we have been blessed with having some really good people who are able to work within a school.”

    “In my time here Mrs. Swigart has brought me in, in corporation with the city police department and on top of that she went ahead and hired an additional five other retired state troopers to assist us in the building and to assist the students mainly, GLSD Resource Officer Robert Daer said. “She was instrumental in bringing those people here and getting the right people for our staff and our students. I’ve certainly always been appreciative of her and how thorough she was with making sure they are the right people for our kids.”

    Mrs. Swigart’s care goes beyond the district itself. As a member of the Rotary Club, a volunteer organization of business and professional leaders who provide humanitarian service, Swigart has impacted the community in order to build goodwill and bring peace in the world.

    “Judy has been very active over the years,” current Rotary club member John Rusbosin said. “I have always respected her. She is a great woman. She has helped with the education of some of the youth and has been very involved with the Rotary for years. She has helped with the annual dinner and supported our golf tournament. Judy is very supportive of the local community. She has an optimistic eye in whatever task is before her.”

      Mrs. Swigart’s personal contributions to the local community is a testament to her efforts in school community support.

    “At Latrobe we have truly strong community support, Swigart said. “When you look at for instance the high school and the art that hangs in the buildings, I have never been in any school that has had that kind of community support.”

    The Latrobe community, students, teachers and staff have been greatly impacted by Mrs. Swigart. Her accomplishments throughout her time as superintendent will leave a lasting legacy for the district and community.

    “I think retiring or leaving a district such as Latrobe you miss the interactions of the people,” Swigart said. “Not just the students, but the people you work with, and one of the greatest honors that I have had in my lifetime is graduation, being able to issue diplomas to students who you know have met the criteria of the school district. It really is a highlight for any superintendent in my opinion.”

    On July 31, Mrs. Swigart will officially retire as superintendent of GLSD. She is looking forward to travelling and spending more time with her family.

   “I would love to travel but I do not have any specific plans,” Swigart said.  “I do have a granddaughter who is four and a half, and I have another grandchild on the way who is due the end of May to beginning of June, so the two of them will keep me busy. I’m hoping to have a lot of things to do with different interests.”

    Swigart’s impact will forever be felt at GLSD, and she will continue to be an active member of the Wildcat community.

    “Although I went to Derry and my children grew up on the eastern part of the state, my grandaughter and second grandchild, if they continue to live where they do now will be Wildcats,” Swigart said.  “I am very excited for what lies ahead for them, and the entire Latrobe school district.”