March 2, 2016

In More Than 50 Years, Jacqui Swain Has Helped Prepare About 1000 Teachers

3-2-16 profiles in ed swainIn the fall of 1969, as a sophomore, I walked into the Princeton University Office of Teacher Preparation to investigate the possibilities for a career in teaching. Mrs. Swain was presiding. Last week, a 41-year teaching career behind me, I walked into the Teacher Prep Office again. Mrs. Swain is still presiding.

The Office has moved, from West College to William Street. The program has seen five different directors, many changes in personnel and about 1000 University students gaining New Jersey Teacher Certification. Jacqueline L. Swain remembers, and has helped, all of them. “She is Teacher Prep,” said current program director Christopher J. Campisano. “If you want to know, Jacqui’s the one to talk to. She’s the heart and soul of the program. It’s the extraordinary program it is because of her work, because of Mrs. Swain. Anybody who walks through that door, regardless of whether they’re graduating or they were here 10 or 20 years ago, Jacqui will know their name.”

Jacqui Swain was born in Princeton, where her parents, grandparents, and great grandparents lived in a rambling old house on Clay Street near Witherspoon. Her parents moved to Rahway, where she went to school. She attended Rider College, graduated with a degree in Commerce and returned to Princeton, where she still lives. 

She began working at Princeton University in 1965, first in the biochemistry department, then the Office of Project and Research Administration and the Woodrow Wilson School before coming to the Program in Teacher Preparation in August of 1969.

Racial Barriers in the ‘60s

Her first years at Princeton University were difficult ones. Being a black woman working at Princeton in the 1960s was challenging, to say the least, and her tenure there almost ended more than 50 years ago.

“Princeton was really segregated then,” she recalled. “It was all white and it was all male.” She described seeing her job application delayed, then being sent to wash glassware and feed mice at the now defunct biochemistry department while less qualified colleagues were sent to work in offices in Nassau Hall. “The business office at the Woodrow Wilson School was not a pleasant place to work,” she stated.

The only black person working at Woodrow Wilson, “subjected to several racially motivated incidents” and repeatedly denied a transfer: “I just quit,” she said. But immediately the personnel department called and wanted her back for an interview.

“I was sick of Princeton, but they told me they had just hired an African-American man, who was going to be the first director of a teacher certification program at Princeton. So I was introduced to Henry N. Drewry, and that interview went real crazy.” It ended with her saying, “Mr. Drewry, you know what, I don’t think I’m the person for this job,” and she left again.

Later that afternoon personnel called to tell her that Mr. Drewry wanted her to come to work on Monday morning, but she was sure he had made a mistake, so she put her interview clothes back on and returned to the office. “He had interviewed so many people I thought he had mixed things up. I said to him, ‘Do you remember me?’ He said ‘Yes,’ and I said, “And you want me to come to work for you?’”

The answer, of course, was “Yes,” she eventually agreed to stay for a 90-day probation period, and she and Mr. Drewry went to work, for the next 20 years until Mr. Drewry retired from the University in 1988, building the Teacher Preparation and Placement Program.

“I watched him grow a program — from one student to over 77 in one of those years,” she recalled. The numbers have fluctuated greatly over the years, and her responsibilities have changed frequently as the Teacher Preparation Office has taken on responsibility for several different programs, most notably the Princeton University Preparatory Program for local high school students and the Teachers as Scholars Program for teachers.

“People say how can you stay in the same job for 50 years,” Ms. Swain reflected, “and I say it’s never the same from year to year. When I first came it was just Henry and I. We added lots of different kinds of programs. We had a middle school summer program, a mini-grant program, a history program, and many others.

While Ms. Swain’s job has always been handling student and alumni applications for certification and jobs, she happily described the job as a bit less hectic over the past 5-6 years since the office hired a program manager.

“We’re back at 14-15 students now,” she explained, “but it’s a much more rigorous program. The state has added more and more heft to the requirements. We are now nationally accredited. Now everybody in the office has a doctorate. When you were here, nobody had a doctorate.”

Ms. Swain continues to be impressed with the students who complete the program. “The students who come in really want to do Teacher Prep, because they have to do that in addition to all their courses. You can’t get certified in four years now. You had to do teacher prep in four years when you were here, but our students now come back for an extra semester to complete the professional education portion of the requirement — and it’s a grueling semester.”

Next Chapter

Although she has no imminent retirement plans, with more than 50 years of experience in education, she expressed an interest in substitute teaching, or perhaps taking up a job offer she’s had in the office of an immigration lawyer on Witherspoon Street, or as a hospital volunteer. “Hospital workers are the best people and they never get thanked properly,” she stated.

Having sung with many different choirs and other vocal groups, she is still a soloist in a church choir. A commissioner for the Princeton Housing Authority, she is involved with several civic and community organizations. She has a grown daughter who lives in Willingboro and works as a social worker for Mercer County.

Ms. Swain described her memories of students she has worked with over the past five decades. “There was no student who came into Teacher Prep who didn’t have to come by me. Dealing with students and getting to know the students are my fondest memories.” And as her colleague, Anne Catena, director of professional development initiatives, stated, “Jacqui is incredibly committed to stay connected with the students. She is a wonderful resource for us all.”