Girdner, Swisher settle into new roles
Two familiar faces to Douglas County schools found themselves in very different leadership roles when classes resumed on Monday — Joe Girdner as principal at Douglas High School and Marty Swisher as principal at ASPIRE Academy.
Swisher has transferred after 12 years as principal at Douglas to take charge of ASPIRE and Jacobsen High School as well as the adult education program. Girdner was promoted to the Douglas principal’s post after having served as vice-principal at the school since 2014.
“It’s been a fun three days,” Girdner said on Wednesday. “The kids have been great and our staff is excited about the school year, so we’re off to a great start.”
For Girdner, a 1992 Douglas graduate, this represents a special opportunity.
“I’m very proud, honored and humbled to be in this position,” he said. “It’s pretty unique to be the principal of the school that you graduated. This is a great school and a great community. We have a great staff that’s proud to be here and great kids from families that are supportive.”
Likewise, Swisher was upbeat on Thursday when asked about opening week at ASPIRE — an acronym for All Students Pursuing Integrity, Responsibility and Education — in addition to his responsibilities in directing the Jacobsen High School alternative education and adult education programs.
“I’ve enjoyed getting to know the kids this week and working with the staff over here … they’re fantastic … so it’s been great,” he said.
Swisher acknowledged that there are challenges in the transition from Douglas with an enrollment of approximately 1,700 students to ASPIRE with 85 students. Then again, he grew up in a small school environment as a 1981 graduate of Whittell High School, which had an enrollment of about 200.
“I think the smaller environment gives me an opportunity to get to know kids better,” he said. “We had a retreat the last two days to create a culture of trust, some bonding and the family atmosphere that ASPIRE has. It’s was a lot of fun … my goal is to really get to know them and support them.
“And we’ve got great kids,” he continued. “I think there’s a misconception in the community at times that this is where bad kids go, and that’s completely not true. Most of the kids choose to come here. They want a smaller environment and to have that family sense of support and belonging that you don’t get at the big schools.”
Swisher emphasized that he misses being at Douglas.
“I love Douglas High School and I always will,” he said. “I felt I left Douglas in a good place. But like I told the kids here, I chose to come over to ASPIRE, and so far it’s been great.”
Among the changes at Douglas, Girdner explained, students entering their junior or senior year will have an opportunity to receive dual credit through the Western Nevada College Jump Start program. The Jump Start College’s dual-credit academic program, now in its third year, allows Northern Nevada high school students to earn up to an associate degree when they graduate from high school.
“We’ve expanded the program so juniors and seniors are eligible and will be taking 30 credits a year, 15 credits each semester,” he said. “Juniors who start in the program this year will be able to graduate with a high school diploma next year, and an A.A. degree, so that’s pretty exciting. It’s a huge savings, the tuition for them ultimately comes to about half the price for the student and families … and then the school district covers their book cost.”
At the same time, the most simple of traditions continue to hold true on the Douglas campus.
“We fly the flag out there and we say the pledge every morning during third period at the start of our announcement,” Girdner said. “That’s part of our tradition.
“I want this to continue to be a school that kids are excited to come to and proud to be Tigers,” he added. “I want parents to be proud to send their kids here and I really want it to be a community school that people are proud of and want to be a part of.”