BALDWIN COUNTY, Ala. (WALA) - School Board President Angie Swiger believes providing a world-class education in a fast-changing world is important and, worth the one cent sales tax Baldwin county voters will decide whether to keep paying in November.
Swiger recently spoke to FOX10 about Baldwin County Schools, their successes and challenges and her passion for working to make education — and life — better for children.
"I absolutely love being on the school board. It's a complete labor of love for me; it's not always easy and it's not always fun, but… I can't imagine anything being more rewarding," shares Swiger.
Swiger said working hands-on with principals and teachers in schools to provide opportunities for children is especially rewarding.
The Louisiana native, mother of four and realtor is passionate about her position.
Ten years ago, she and her husband sold a successful business in Birmingham and moved to Gulf Shores.
"We came from a very, very good system in Hoover and I knew we had a good school system here, but I wanted to be part of making some changes so that we could be even better," Swiger said.
Swiger now only has one son still in Gulf Shores schools but says that, even after he graduates, it's something she will always want to be involved.
When she and her family first came to the area, she saw a need for more educational opportunities for children to choose from. She specifically named foreign languages, arts and college-level and AP courses as those classes she says the area's schools were light on.
"I just felt like we could offer more," said Swiger.
Swiger volunteered in the Gulf Shores schools, just as she had done in Hoover. She was elected PTO president.
By 2005, Swiger served as PTO President at both the middle and the high school.
"I'm always one that says if you're going to complain, you're going to have to be a part of the solutions," believes Swiger.
In 2008, that philosophy led Swiger to run for office, to represent the school board's District Five. She said she won because she and her team "just did the work."
"It's a passion for me," Swiger said."I can see what can be done and it really only takes one or two people speaking up with an idea."
She said the people she works with make her job especially enjoyable but she is always thinking of the goal of K-12 education: graduation.
"If you can help kids graduate, help kids get to college, help keep kids from dropping out, I think it's life changing for children. I think we're in a phenomenal place I am extremely excited about where we are, we've made great strides even in the last couple of years," she said.
"Digital Renaissance is going to be a phenomenal opportunity for our kids, I've seen teachers excited about it and it gives me goose bumps really to think about it for our kids," Swiger shared.
Swiger said they are also working on an Academy concept. She said the school board has done well to reach out to the community and have people work with the schools to offer kids opportunities.
"We're going to accommodate Airbus, Austal, Thyssen Krupp, companies that are going to be looking for skilled workers, who are going to be looking for students who can graduate and go straight into those jobs," Swiger said.
The said the road hasn't been easy, but the Baldwin County school system has been resilient in the face of challenges. Swiger says in the past two years, the economic recession and the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill have threatened to demolish coastal economies.
"We've managed to pull together our resources, use what we have better to streamline our system. I think it says quite a bit for how we've run this system that we've been able to not only save money and overcome our financial challenges," believes Swiger.
However, providing a world-class education is not cheap. Swiger is counting on Baldwin County voters to vote to keep the one-percent education sales tax. She said the tax brings in $27 million a year.
Swiger says people could find it easy to dispute voting in the tax but that "in order to be progressive… education, above all things, has to be on the forefront."
"The world is changing very quickly, so all I would ask of people is to have an open mind and try to see things in a different way, so that we can continue to progress," she said.
For Swiger, progress can be measured by comparing Baldwin County Schools today, to what she left in Hoover but said she is thankful for Hoover's school officials sharing their success with Baldwin county.
The Learning for Life program (which is an umbrella for Digital Renaissance and the Academy concept) is better because of the collaboration between Hoover's Principal and school system and Baldwin County, according to Swiger.
She says she's catapulted off of that help to make Baldwin County's schools better than when she came.
"I think we've come so far that — I don't know if this is going to make it to Hoover — but I think we've surpassed [Hoover]. Here, in Baldwin County, there is so much passion, we've done
it a little bit better; we've taken what we've learned and we've done a great job."
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