Back to Class
Swofford makes move to Eureka Springs, leaves administration behind
Kelly Swofford is almost a fixture in Carroll County education. During a career that has spanned parts of five decades, he’s been everything from a teacher to an administrator, working with and mentoring several generations of the county’s youngest residents, primarily in Green Forest and Berryville.
Next year, he’ll be making his first appearance in Eureka Springs, where he’ll join the elementary school staff as a fifth-grade math and science teacher.
“It’s a pretty major change,” said Swofford, a Green Forest native who’s served as the principal at Berryville Elementary School since 2015. “I’d always said that, at the end of my career, I want to go back and teach. I truly love fifth grade — that’s my favorite grade level — math and science is my cup of tea.”
Swofford’s first year behind a teacher’s desk was 1989 as a fourth-grade teacher in Berryville. He followed that up with four years as the assistant elementary principal in Green Forest before eventually returning to Berryville.
“I missed education and came back to Berryville and started teaching fifth grade again and loved it, but then I had the opportunity to go back into administration and that’s what I’ve been doing since then,” he said.
That second turn in the front office included a brief stint at the middle school before Swofford found his way back to the elementary school level.
“This is my third tour of duty in Berryville,” said Swofford, echoing a statement he made in 2015 when he was first named elementary school principal. Initially, he didn’t intend to leave. Then again, he’s never been far from home.
“I feel blessed to work in two great school districts,” Swofford said, “and now I’ve got the opportunity to wok in a third great school district. We’re blessed to have three really good quality school districts in our county.”
Swofford, 57, earned his bachelor’s degree at College of the Ozarks and later completed a master’s degree in educational administration at the University of Arkansas.
“It’s just amazing how time gets away, isn’t it?” Swofford said. “The majority of teachers that I hired for elementary [at Berryville] weren’t even born in the 1980s, so that’s been kind of interesting.”
As for the prospect of teaching in a new district and completing the Carroll County trifecta, Swofford said he’s looking forward to the opportunity.
“I guess what’s nice is that I don’t feel like I’ve ever left on bad terms,” Swofford said. “I’m not leaving now on bad terms. The administration has been very supportive.”
The Berryville School District board accepted Swofford’s resignation as elementary school principal in February, and the Eureka Springs board voted to hire him in April.
Berryville superintendent Owen Powell had nothing but kind words for Swofford and wished him well in his new district — a move that means he will have taught in all three school districts in Carroll County.
“That is unique, isn’t it?” Powell said. “I think he’s excited about getting back into the classroom.”
Eureka Springs superintendent Bryan Pruitt said he’s glad Swofford chose to give his district a try.
“He was just kind of ready for a change,” Pruitt said. “I think he had the opportunity to stay [in Berryville]. He’s really good. We’re fortunate to have him.”
Making the decision to accept the offer from Eureka Springs wasn’t easy, Swofford said, but in the end, he feels as if it will be a good fit.
“It was a very tough decision,” Swofford said. “I just felt like it was the best fit for me professionally. It really fit my skill set. My strength is math and science and my history of project-based learning and outdoor learning, so it was just a really natural fit for me.”
As for his prospective students, Swofford said he most wants them to know that he cares. As an educator, Swofford described himself as “invested” and “empathetic,” driven to “take kids from where they are to as far as they can go.”
“My favorite question for parents is, ‘What do you want me to accomplish for your child?’ ” Swofford said. “It’s always interesting the responses you get. Most of the time, they want them to be respectful and become productive citizens and that’s the path that we start on, those soft skills that sometimes are forgotten. They’re extremely important so these kids are well-rounded, productive citizens.”
Swofford said he’s blessed with innumerable memories of all the students and staff he’s had the opportunity to work with during his five decades in education, but that is was hard to pin down a particular favorite.
“Just all the wonderful kids that I’ve had the opportunity to be a part of their lives and education,” Swofford said. “I’m blessed to have parents that were my students, so that’s rewarding that they come back and actually have nice things to say.
“I think the rewards of seeing kids grow and thrive, there’s no better feeling for me.”