Incoming Eden Prairie superintendent prepares to take reins

With Curt Tryggestad, Eden Prairie Schools’ superintendent for the last five years, departing to lead Perpich Center for the Arts in Golden Valley, Dr. Josh Swanson prepares to take the helm Aug. 21.

Swanson, having served for several years as the assistant superintendent, described that transition as one marked more by continuation than anything else.

“I think, as superintendent, one of the things I want to do is make sure we continue on the great path that we’re on,” said Swanson. “I’ve been heavily involved in our strategic direction as a district in the time I’ve been here, in each of the roles I’ve served. I want to make sure that we continue to focus on our mission.”

That mission, said Swanson, boils down to the mantra, “inspire each student every day.” Swanson explained the difference, in his view, between inspiring and solely teaching.

“If we’re teaching students, we want them to be able to regurgitate — to be able to do something that’s just very rote,” said Swanson. “To inspire is to draw out their gifts, talents and interests. To inspire somebody isn’t necessarily directing them what to do, but also supporting alongside them.”

He expressed enthusiasm about the upcoming transition, while praising Tryggestad’s work, both with the district and with himself personally.

“We’ve been working together for the last five years, and honestly, Curt has been a great mentor,” said Swanson. “He has done great work in the district, and with his background and passion in music, I think he will be a great fit — he brings a ton of skills and knowledge to Perpich.

“I’m excited for him, and also excited to continue to serve in the new role,” added Swanson.

That new role will expand Swanson’s oversight of the district in the finances, human resources and communication realms. He noted that he would continue his focus on making sure the district continually adapts to changing technology, an effort he spearheaded in his role before the assistant superintendency, that of executive director of technology.

“If you’re going to help inspire students, you need to be in their space and engaging in their space,” said Swanson. “It’s a significant strategy, built into our strategic plan, of how we leverage digital resources.”

That education with respect to technology, said Swanson, wasn’t just about teaching students to use technology in and of itself. Equally important is finding ways of incorporating technology into learning, for the purposes of maximizing educational outcomes.

“[We ask], ‘How do we help set them up as they enter into post-secondary, or into careers or other opportunities, to develop the skills they need?’” said Swanson. “As we think about our instructional practice, it’s shifting … we talk a lot about more hands-on, more practical, and we’re really into marrying the conceptual frameworks and the pragmatic work of it.”

That process, said Swanson, isn’t just about integrating technology for the sake of learning the technology. More interactive learning, he said, was more valuable.

“If you take anything that you’ve learned throughout your life, and if you get a textbook and somebody talks about it, but you never actually experience it, it’s worth something, but it only goes so far,” said Swanson. “But, if you take some information that you learn in a class and you actually get to do something with it, create something with it, engage in some way that’s meaningful to you and produces something that’s of value, now that learning really becomes embedded inside of you.”

Swanson also pointed out that, past providing tools for the advancement of learning, technology has also reshaped what students are learning.

“[Technology] has empowered our students in ways that we didn’t have throughout my education, as a K-12 student, because they’re provided access in a global environment,” said Swanson. “They can get access to people and concepts and ideas, and along with that comes an even higher need for the ability to be able to take that information that they’re gathering and be able to understand it and put it in context and make sure what they’re getting is accurate.”

Swanson officially takes the helm Aug. 21. He expressed eagerness about working with everyone in the district to continue the body’s mission.

“We have absolutely phenomenal people in place in our leadership positions,” said Swanson. “I come from a place of service, asking, ‘How can I continue to help them continue to do great work?’”