Karla Swafford weaved her way through the halls of West Hall Middle School on Friday, taking a look at her new home this fall.
Swafford was offered the position as principal Thursday, and she could think of nothing better than getting back to the atmosphere of a middle school community.
“There’s a real sense of community with the athletics, academic competitions and band and chorus festivals,” she said. “I really loved that about North Hall Middle, which I know is present in this school, too.”
Swafford is leaving her position as Oakwood Elementary School principal — and her son, who is moving into the third grade there — but looks forward to seeing her former students.
“Oakwood is a feeder school for West Hall, so I’ll know lots of children and parents, which will be great,” she said. “And when my son gets to sixth grade, he’ll be coming to us, too.”
Swafford received her bachelor’s degree from Georgia State University and was hired as an English teacher in 1994 after student-teaching at North Gwinnett High School. She moved to the assistant principal position at North Hall Middle School in 2001 and became director of Lanier Career Academy in 2005.
Swafford has been principal at Oakwood since 2006 and says her dreams of teaching and becoming an administrator started much earlier.
“I’ve known since I was 7 that I wanted to be a teacher,” she said. “While everyone else was playing beauty pageant, I was playing school.”
When Swafford worked as a student office assistant at Pierce County High School in Blackshear when she was 15, she then decided she would someday make it to the principal’s chair. Swafford is replacing Sarah Justus, who retired last week after 30 years as an educator.
“Karla Swafford has great experience in all elementary, middle and high school areas,” Hall County Superintendent Will Schofield said. “I know she’ll be an incredible leader at West Hall.”
At West Hall Middle, Swafford hopes to focus on her love of literacy and help students to develop their reading skills.
“Some believe that once a child learns to read in elementary school that we stop learning how to read, but I think we’re constantly evolving as readers,” she said. “Once we learn to read, we are reading to learn. If we don’t teach students that, we’re doing them a real disservice.”
Swafford said one of the district initiatives is to get students on their correct grade level of reading by third grade, but it doesn’t stop there. She plans to encourage critical reading strategies that students will develop in middle school, high school and college.
At Oakwood, she encouraged reading outside of the classroom, and the 492 students achieved 1 million minutes, an average of 14 minutes per student per day.
“I let them decorate me like an ice cream sundae and stood in a plastic pool,” she said with a laugh. “I let them pour all this stuff all over me, and it was so awesome that they were able to celebrate how much they’ve read.”
Although Swafford said Oakwood Elementary has become “very important” to her in the past four years, she’s excited about her new adventures with the older kids.
“I am going to miss my babies. Being with younger children is magical,” she said. “But I look forward to getting back with the middle schoolers, going to football games and cheering on the Spartans.”