Dr. Robbie Swint Jr. will begin his role as Unalaska City School District's new superintendent starting July 1.
Dr. Swint has over a decade of experience working as principal, vice principal and assistant principal at Department of Defense schools. While his educator role with the Department of Defense has taken him all over the world, he has previously lived in the North Slope Borough School District, where he worked as a principal.
Dr. Swint has been on the island since mid-May, attending school board meetings and shadowing his predecessor John Conwell, who has been the district's superintendent for 14 years.
KUCB's Maggie Nelson sat down with Dr. Swint to hear more about his experience as an educator and his plans for the upcoming school year. He says he's hoping to use his first year as UCSD Superintendent to learn about the students', staff and families' needs, and to better understand "the appetite of the community."
SWINT: I had a close friend who had worked in Fairbanks. And I was saying, 'I want to do something different.' She said, 'Well, have you ever thought about Alaska?' I said, 'No. I don't ever want to go to Alaska. I've watched those Alaska shows. I don't want to meet up with a bear.' She said, "I think you'll like it.' And so I went and did some researching. I did you know two years in Alaska. And we left Barrow [Utqiagvik] right after the COVID started in March of 2020. We left in June of 2020. We needed to go back — my son was there. So I have four kids, two grandkids and a grandchild on the way. My son and his wife, they're expecting their second child, but they were having some challenges. And so my wife and I had to go back to North Carolina to try to get them back into the right place. And they're fine now. But we got caught up with the COVID, but I applied for a couple superintendent positions, interviewed for some, didn't get them. So I just decided I was just gonna wait until the COVID got over and then try to go back and apply again. And then the Alaska positions came open. And then I applied to Unalaska. And it was so surreal because I thought I did well, but you never know in an interview because you don't know what they're looking for. And I've always said, I wanted to start out in a community like the one like Barrow, in Yukon Flats School District, so you can embed yourself in the community. They can get to know you. You can get to know them. And we can make the infrastructure something pleasant by producing those productive and responsible school kids to go out and help. I just remember when they called and told me, I'd been selected, I was [like], 'Wow.' And so we stayed there. And I started transitioning with the current superintendent, Mr. Conwell. And I was saying, 'I need to get there. I want to get to Unalaska and see the lay of the land before the position starts on July 1. And so we started working on it. That went to the school board, and they approved it. And so he told me my date, and we came up May 15. And I will say this by ending — my wife is the one who makes me realize we've moved 29 times, and we've been married 23 years, but most of it was out of the military. They would move me. And sometimes when you get to one place and you don't like it, they move you to somewhere else. But I've enjoyed the moves. We're ready now to settle down. And this will hopefully be my last spot, last stop. And then I can move forward and go into retirement. So we're talking about maybe 15-20 years at best.
KUCB: And how are you feeling about starting your position as a superintendent during this unique time with the pandemic kind of right at our heels — it's been a long year of distance learning, remote, hybrid, a mix of all those things?
SWINT: I was talking to the new principal, her name is Dr. Clayton. And we felt like this probably is a good time, because you're coming in — I know, in 2020, they didn't have the PEAKS that was given to the kids, they stopped doing the testing. We stopped a lot of the evaluation process. And then this year, even though I was not a part of a school system, she was and so she experienced some of those things. We had kids who were in school online. I think it's a good time to revamp some things. I don't plan on changing anything. I would probably just add a couple of things. And, you know, slowly add things. I don't want to change anything. I've already talked to Mr. Conwell about that. I want to just focus on the positives because I know that it was very trying for some educators and students and parents. And so we just want to look at the positive things that was happening in Unalaska City School District and move forward with it. The things I want to add is things to enhance maybe the academic part. I want to put a survey out to the students and see where they are. So I like it — it's not coming from a great dynamic year where things were great, great, great, and then you've got to come in and fill those shoes. So now, I feel like this is a great time for Mr. Conwell to go out and a great time for myself to come in and, and just keep it going and keep it moving.
KUCB: As you begin this journey, what are you personally most looking forward to?
SWINT: Trying to unscramble all this stuff that has been given to me. I know Mr. Conwell, he said, 'I don't want to overwhelm you.' That's when I said, 'No, overwhelm me — give it to me.' Because I want to always have — I'm the type of individual that always wants to have something that I'm working on. So right now we're working on grants, and I've helped, you know, to write grants, but the way you do it here is you go in and there's a template that you have to fill out. So I'm trying to get acclimated with that to go in and do the best job that I possibly can. Something personal, with me, is that I would love to write another book, you know, because in dissertating, you write your book. But I want to write another book. I don't know what the topic is — I kind of have an idea what I want to talk about. My mother, who passed away, who inspired me to be where I'm at now, she did get her PhD in elementary education before she passed away. I just [want to] write about her journey because I think her journey can help some of the young kids who have what I call made mistakes, and I made multiple mistakes and probably make a mistake everyday, but how you can take that mistake and still be successful.
KUCB: And is there anything else that you'd like to share with the community of Unalaska?
SWINT: As I was going through and deciding to become an administrator, I'll never forget the superintendent that I still kind of keep in contact with now. And one of the things that he shared is he said, 'Wherever you go, go and try to find the appetite of that community.' And so right now I'm just trying to find the appetite of the community. So I can see where I fit in. But I want to be, you know, very transparent with the community and share those things that need to be shared. But just give me an opportunity to lead this great district because I have actually did my research on it and it's a great school district. You have a person who's been a superintendent here for 14 years and that's uncommon. Usually, they last anywhere from three to five years. And so I think Mr. Conwell has done a very great job here at Unalaska.