After time away from education, new Rangely Junior/Senior High principal Berry Swenson is excited to be back in the field he loves
RANGELY I Berry Swenson had never been to Rangely before.
But, upon visiting for the first time, he could tell right away it seemed a good fit, for a number of reasons.
One, Swenson is a geologist by training, and the Rangely area is known for its prehistoric art, dinosaur quarries and Native American petroglyphs and pictographs. Two, his wife, Amelia, prefers to live in a desert climate, and Rangely offers that.
But, most importantly, it offered him a chance to return to the field he loves — education.
After being out of education for the past couple of years, Swenson was hired as the new principal at the combined Rangely Junior/Senior High.
Not that he lacks experience. Swenson has served as a principal for 15 years — most recently in Olathe from 2006 to 2009 — and a teacher for five.
The problem was, after he got married three years ago, he and his wife had difficulty finding employment in the same town. So Swenson worked for a financial planning and advising firm in Colorado Springs, where his wife had a good job with a company — Aleut Management Systems — that does government contracting.
But his heart was always in education.
So when Swenson found out about the job in Rangely, he was immediately interested.
“Dr. (Barry) Williams is acquainted with a gentleman in Colorado Springs I had worked with, and he knew I was looking for a job and he knew (Barry) had a track record of working to improve academic performance, so he got us together,” Swenson said of how he found out about the Rangely principal’s job. “We had a good interview and things worked out.”
The two shared more than the same first name — though they have different spellings. They shared a common philosophy about education.
“We were closely aligned in that we believed students should be ladies and gentlemen first, then scholars second. While extra-curricular activities are important, the first two take priority,” Swenson said.
Williams, who is in his second year as superintendent of the Rangely School District, liked Swenson’s background and skill set. The school board approved his hiring at a meeting July 22.
“Mr. Swenson is a positive, enthusiastic educational leader with a focus on student learning. He comes to Rangely with a wealth of educational and administrative experience and has a strong desire to continually improve the educational experience for students and teachers alike,” Williams said. “As a school district and a community, our desire is to have an educational system in which student academic growth is at the forefront of our efforts. We feel that Mr. Swenson has the skills and abilities to lead the school and establish an environment in which all students grow and achieve academic success.”
Swenson is Rangely’s fourth high school principal in four years, but he said the district is committed to improving stability.
“We are going to work very hard to recruit and retain a quality instruction staff and faculty that serves the instruction and social development,” Swenson said of administrative and staff turnover. “The superintendent and the board are well aware of the instability and are working hard to provide the best education environment for these students.”
Swenson’s background includes experience as principal of a combined school. He also has experience with a four-day school week. The 2009-2010 school year was the first year for the combined Rangely Junior/Senior High, and this soon-to-start school year will mark the transition to a four-day school week for all schools in the Rangely district.
Classes for Rangely Junior/Senior High will start Monday, while classes at Parkview Elementary will start Wednesday.
“I have worked in a four-day week before, in Big Horn, Wyo., which is just a little smaller than Rangely,” said Swenson, who was principal of a combined middle school and high school there.
As far as the switch to a four-day week for Rangely schools, Swenson is looking forward to being a part of the change.
“The goal is to lose no instruction time and to minimize the disruption to teaching and learning,” he said. “I’m excited to help the staff implement that as effectively as possible for our students.”
To accommodate the new schedule, classes will start a little earlier and last a little longer.
“So teachers can cover the same amount of material in fewer days,” Swenson said.
Classes will begin at 7:45 a.m. and finish at 3:45 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Fridays will be in-service days for teachers and offer a makeup opportunity for students. Fridays will also be a day for parents to schedule appointments for students, so they don’t interfere with in-class time.
Besides Big Horn, Wyo., Swenson also had experience as principal of a combined school at Olathe.
“This is the third time,” he said. “I was in Big Horn for three years, Olathe for three years and now I have a chance to do it here.”
The junior high and senior high students share the same building, but the goal is to keep the respective students separated as much as possible.
“In a small school with limited faculty resources, it is simply economically efficient (to have a combined school),” Swenson said. “But I will work very hard to keep the separation between middle school and senior high students, because they are at different development stages in their lives. We do have a very distinct Rangely Junior High School and Rangely Senior High School.”
Swenson has only been on the job for a short time, but he already feels comfortable in his new surroundings.
“I grew up in Gillette, Wyo., which when I was growing up there was about a mirror of Rangely,” Swenson said. “So this is sort of like coming home.”
Now if his wife can just find a job.