Dacotah Swett is our new principal

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Photo Courtesy of Aida Irving

Assistant Principal Dacotah Swett will become Lowell High School’s next principal after being approved for the position by the Board of Education and superintendent on May 14. Swett was born in Oakland, California. Her first name, Dacotah, comes from an older spelling of a Native American Sioux tribe word and translates to “friend to all” or “peaceful.” Since her father was a diplomat, she spent her childhood in many different places, including Washington D.C., Honduras, Mexico, Chile and Venezuela. After Swett graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School in Fairfax, Virginia, she attended North Dakota State University, where she completed her undergraduate degree in chemistry. After graduating, she got a master’s degree in biology from San Francisco State University. Swett was a student teacher at Lowell High School in the 1980s, before she was hired to teach at a middle school in the Mission. In 1990, she returned to Lowell to teach chemistry. After taking a sabbatical in 2000, Swett spent two years coaching teachers in science for the district, before returning to teach at Lowell in 2003. Swett eventually became the science department chair and then joined the administration when Principal Andrew Ishibashi asked her to become an assistant principal. Starting next school year, Swett will be the second woman to ever be the principal of Lowell.

What do you love about Lowell?

Everything. I think we have fantastic students, we have an energetic staff, we have a lovely location. Our building is a little old, but we’ve had some improvements. If you’re part of Lowell, I hope you get that Lowell spirit. I think sometimes people don’t know that we have this extra spirit. I love that people take care of each other. I love the way people sit in the halls and do their homework. I mean I know I sound all Pollyanna and everything, but there’s so much to love about Lowell–there is. And even still, there’s room to improve. And that’s the piece that’s kind of exciting. Yes, we have wonderful history. Let’s keep making wonderful history.

How will your experience as a teacher affect the way you approach being principal?

I think I do have an understanding of the tremendous responsibilities that our teachers have within the classroom, and what a complex job it is to really understand their subject area and their students. Teaching is an art and a science.

Are there any programs you would like to implement?

I think I would like to meet with my faculty and gather their ideas. And sometimes we find out about things that then we want to go for. Maybe we need to write some more grants. It wasn’t that long ago that we didn’t have robotics and now we do. Maybe we need more 3D printers, maybe we need to have an engineering class, I don’t know. We just need to have an opportunity now to generate new ideas.

Is there anything you would like to change about Lowell?

I would like there to be more communication. Sometimes I find students who’re not sure what room they’re supposed to be in, where they’re supposed to be doing if there is some strange schedule. More communication with parents. I’m not trying to change anything all at once, or anything like that. I feel like any large institution such as we have here with 3,000 people, we always look to see where we can make changes for the better. If you make many small improvements over time, it ends up being a big improvement after that time, so some little changes.

I don’t want our students to be so tired. I mean maybe that’s one of my initiatives. It’ll be the “Get More Sleep Initiative”. We’re smart, let’s figure this out. How can we get more sleep while we still get our job done? You know, something has to give sometimes. I know, for myself, I don’t watch TV. I don’t have time for TV. I work hard and then I have to go to bed. I’m in bed before ten, because I’m up around five. And sometimes I’m up earlier. Definitely, I need to at least try to get my sleep. So I’m going to try and serve as a role model to get more sleep. And I have some ideas about that. I mean everybody–students, staff–typically everybody’s kind of underslept. I used to collect data from my own students. And I did see a correlation. The students that got more sleep they were definitely more happy. They were more like, “everything’s fine,” because they could handle it better because they weren’t exhausted.

Is there anything small you would like to change?

I would like to bring back grade level meetings so that I can actually address the students directly by grade level. So that I can welcome the freshman, and let them know what my expectations are of them, and similarly talk to groups of students and help them to understand what is expected of them at different grade levels. For example, juniors always have to be prepared for all their extra testing. Sophomores have to be prepared to take the PSAT. Juniors should be also prepared to take the PSAT. Seniors should know November 30th is that big deadline for UC applications. So I would like to have grade level meetings so we have some messages going out to them all at once, and they’re in a big cohort, and then they can receive the same message, and there’s no confusion about what we’re supposed to be doing.

What will be your priorities as principal?

I haven’t had too much time to make that completely crystalized in my head, to be completely honest. It’s only been a couple days since my appointment. I think safety and wellness of students is always a big priority. Having everyone on our campus feel valued and a member of the community. Having a shared vision of why we’re all here. I want one Lowell. I want everyone to feel genuinely a part of the community. Ensuring that everyone on our campus feels valued, safe and part of the community. That’s a big priority. My other priority is making sure that all of our classrooms are as good as they can be, in every way. What goes on inside of classrooms is the most important part of school. So making sure the learning experience for students is top notch.