CharterFolk X Vol 7 – Elaine Swafford, “As it Turns Out, It’s Not Really a Job.”

Good Morning, CharterFolk.

This week I’m delighted to recognize Elaine Swafford, Executive Director of Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy, as CharterFolk Extraordinaire.

Elaine has contributed so much to the charter school movement, starting of course with her work at Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy, which has blazed trails helping more girls excel in STEM fields.

In the process, she made Girls Academy one of the most respected charter schools in all of Tennessee.

Not only was Girls Academy the first charter school to be approved by the Hamilton County Board of Education, but it became the first single-gender public school in the State of Tennessee. It’s early years were certainly challenging ones. But then the school’s board of directors found Elaine, and the school was transformed. For those of you who have three and half minutes I encourage you to hear the story of the school’s progress under Elaine’s leadership over the past eight years.

What are Elaine’s first words on the video? What was the first reality she embraced when she jumped full in to becoming a CharterFolk?

The same understanding that every other CharterFolk Extraordinaire understands:

“As it turns out, it’s not really a job.”

Jumping with full abandon into the charter school story is just so much more than a job, and Elaine models that as well as anyone I know. She shows that it’s a chance to be part of something so much bigger than yourself, inspiring others along the way. Just like she and the Girls Academy inspired the founders of Chattanooga Preparatory Academy to make a similar opportunity for boys …

… as Chattanooga Prep’s website attests.

Look at this picture of Elaine and some of the founders of Chattanooga Prep at the moment the new school’s charter was approved. Is that the portrait of someone who thinks of her service as just a job?

I don’t think so.

Now Elaine and Girls Academy are onto their next thing, starting a whole new charter school, this time a Montessori school that will serve all genders.

In the early months of the COVID crisis, staying on stride to get a new charter school approved, you think you could get that done if you consider the undertaking just a job?

I don’t think so.

Nor does Elaine take her other responsibilities in the community as just a job. How many times have we CharterFolk been reminded that we have to go out and speak at Chambers of Commerce and Rotary Clubs to educate the public about charter schools. What does Elaine do?

She gets her school awarded by the Chamber of Commerce …

And she becomes the President of the Rotary Club!

And finally, she brings the same spirit to her advocacy involvement as well. Not long ago Tennessee’s Charter School Center had a board that was 100% white and male, and while those guys made, and continue to make, extremely important contributions to help that organization advance and should be appreciated for their service, the need to diversify the board was pronounced. Who was among the first to volunteer? You guessed it.

As TCSC CEO Maya Bugg put it:

Elaine is a truly inspiring champion for public charter schools, building a lasting legacy for Chattanooga’s first public charter school and all of its students. The TN Charter School Center is beyond honored to have Dr. Swafford as a member of our board and a champion of this work.

And as Elaine stepped forward, several other prominent leaders of color did the same, giving Tennessee’s primary charter school advocacy organization a new level of strength and credibility that will serve the state’s broader sector of charter schools for many years to come.

It’s yet another example of how Elaine considers her service to charter schools so much more than just a job. And it’s another reason why I couldn’t be happier than to recognize her here as a shining example of CharterFolk Extraordinaire.