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After focusing on school business and operations for 25 years, principal ready to take a leading role

Ever since he got into Christian education, Clay Swanson has enjoyed staying out of the spotlight.

That's been especially true in terms of his 25-year career as an administrator, all of which has been spent as a vice principal, beginning at Valley Christian School in Auburn, Wash. SETH GORDON - After working as a vice principal for 25 years, including the past 15 at Westside Christian School in Portland, Clay Swanson ?accepted his first principal position at C.S. Lewis Academy in June.

Swanson had just finished his 15th year in that same role at West Hills Christian School, a K-8 school in Portland, in the spring when a board member at C.S. Lewis Academy inquired if he was interested in the Newberg school's vacant principal position.

Despite his preference to stay behind the scenes and the many adjustments that moving to a smaller K-12 school would entail, Swanson jumped at the opportunity to take his first principal job.

"I loved being No. 2," Swanson said. "That's just always been my joy and yet God put me out of that position and a principal spot opened. It's really not my gift, being the lead, and yet here I am. It was just the next step of my career and it's just a great school."

Swanson comes to C.S. Lewis having taken an orthodox path to education that made him well suited to leading the operations side of school administration.

A native of Detroit, Mich., Swanson spent 12 years in the Air Force before pursuing his college education, but his original intent was to become a pastor

While at orientation at Nazarene Bible College in Colorado, a professor asked him if he had ever considered Christian education.

After looking into it further, Swanson saw it as a more fitting calling and eventually enrolled at Northwest College (now Northwest University) in Kirkland, Wash.

Swanson opted to pursue a bachelor's degree in management, but was hired as a janitor at nearby Valley Catholic and advanced up the ranks to become director of its before- and after-school program. After receiving his degree, he was hired as a physical education teacher.

"I just learned each step along the way and just fell in love with education," Swanson said.

When it came time to move into administration, Swanson quite intentionally opted to purse an MBA at Colorado State University instead of enrolling in a more traditional education program. In his experience, most Christian schools opted to promote excellent teachers into administration, but they often didn't have the organizational skills needed to handle all aspects of that role.

"That's where I saw a lot of Christian schools stumbling when I was in college," Swanson said. "They were successful teaching, but they couldn't run the school. That's why I went the MBA route. It gave me all the tools that I need to do budgets, communications, sales and that other gamut. I always wrap myself around great educators and they can teach me the facets of education that I don't know."

Swanson quickly discovered that his skill set made the operational role of vice principal the best fit for him and he was happy to let others take the lead role not only in academics, but also representing the school and shaping its vision.

"I'm a very 'just get-it done sort of person,'" Swanson said.

Coming from a school with an enrollment of 450, Swanson was a bit worried about the adjustment he faced in coming to a school with approximately 100 students, but as he learned more about the school, that feeling transformed into anticipation once he realized just how many things C.S. Lewis does well.

"Their motto, 'Preparing Students for Life,' that's kind of my heartbeat," Swanson said. "They don't just throw them out in the world and say, 'Go figure it out.' They help them prepare and get ready for it, all of those basics things that a lot of kids don't get."

Swanson said that was hammered home during one of his visits to campus, where he was approached by a kindergartner, who promptly looked him in the eye and introduced himself.

"Who does that?" Swanson said. "Then I watched the high school students do the same kinds of things. They are very respectful and have learned that throughout their career. So I'm assuming that when they go out in public and meet their employer for the first time they're going to look them in the eye, shake their hand and say hello. That, to me, is huge."

The fact that CSLA has relatively few administrators also means that Swanson will still get to indulge himself a bit by personally handling some of the operational roles and tasks that he has gravitated toward as a vice principal.

He said that adding high school education to his purview will also be a challenge, but he is confident he will have plenty of support as he gets up to speed.

"It's definitely a new adventure for me, one that I'm willing to learn and we have a great staff that knows what they're doing," Swanson said. "We have great support staff around as well, so I'll glean from them."

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