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August 4, 2013

School’s alumnus returns, this time as superintendent

She's latest educator in family to work in Webbers Falls

WEBBERS FALLS — After serving seven years in Shawnee, Dr. Dixie Swearingen found just the right job as Webbers Falls’ new school superintendent.

“There had been several openings at smaller schools, but they didn’t tug at my heart the way Webbers Falls did,” she said.

Swearingen was known as Dixie Kaye Ross when she was the president of the 1975 Webbers Falls High School senior class.

“My whole family is from Webbers Falls,” said Swearingen, who was hired as the superintendent earlier this year. “My dad, Robert Ross, was the first ag teacher here. My mom was a home ec teacher and librarian.”

Webbers Falls Principal Judy Morton was a classmate. Known then as Judy Lynn Gamble, she was the secretary of the Class of 1975.

“We played basketball together, spent nights at each others’ house,” Swearingen said.

Morton recalled: “We went to church together. She still sings in the choir, but I don’t.”

Webbers Falls is not much bigger than it was when the two graduated in a class of 25 seniors. The class of 2013 also had 25 seniors, Morton said.

Swearingen said Webbers Falls’ enrollment, from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade, could be between 290 and 300.

That’s a marked contrast from Shawnee High School, which has about 1,200 students, she said.

“It has been a goal of mine to be superintendent,” she said. “But if you are superintendent in a large school, you are separated from your students.”

She said she expects to work well with her former classmate and current staff.

“When you work as a team, you get more accomplished,” she said. “You get more work out of employees. It’s always better to collaborate.”

Although Swearingen comes from a family of educators, she didn’t get into education until well into adulthood. She was working for a certified public accountant in Muskogee and leading a youth program at First Baptist Church of Webbers Falls when she decided to change course.

“I felt it was my calling to continue to work with youth,” Swearingen said.

After earning her master’s degree in 1991, she taught math for one year at Porter, then eight years at Gore. She was Gore Elementary’s principal for six more years.

She earned a doctorate at the University of Oklahoma and decided to work at a larger school.

Swearingen said one of the big challenges she faces at Webbers Falls is “keeping enrollment up to keep funding coming in.”

She said she also wants to help teachers bring academic rigor up “where it needs to be.”

“We are doing well financially. Dudley Hume did a great job to make sure we were doing well,” she said, referring to her predecessor as superintendent.

She said her goal now is to work with the principal to make sure students do well.

“Another challenge is to make sure our teachers are up to date with technology,” she said.

Reach Cathy Spaulding at (918) 684-2928 or cspaulding@muskogeephoenix.com.

Meet Dr. Dixie Swearingen

AGE: 56.

HOMETOWN: Webbers Falls.

PROFESSION: Webbers Falls school superintendent.

EDUCATION: Webbers Falls High School class of 1975; bachelor’s degree in accounting at Oklahoma State University; master’s degree in math education,  Northeastern State University; doctorate at University of Oklahoma.

FAMILY: Husband, Graham, three sons, two grandchildren and one grandchild on the way.

CHURCH: First Baptist Church of Webbers Falls.

HOBBIES: Working outdoors.

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