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Passion for education fuels Swift’s leadership of Middlebury Interactive Languages

MIDDLEBURY — As the first female acting governor of Massachusetts, the youngest woman to be elected to the Massachusetts State Senate and former vice president of an innovative venture capital fund, Jane Swift — who sidelines as a professor at Williams College, political advocate, and mom of three — is used to being a trailblazer.
But for all of her varied accomplishments, the CEO of Middlebury Interactive Languages may well have been destined to end up working for education advancement.
“My parents just placed a really enormous value on education,” Swift, 48, said in an interview last week.
The native of North Adams, Mass., grew up in what she described as a “middle-class, blue-collar” family. Her mother was the first person in her family to go to college. Swift herself was educated in public schools. Though she said her teachers were “wonderful,” she was troubled to find upon arrival at Trinity College that her peers, many of whom had attended elite prep schools, were significantly better prepared for Trinity’s rigorous curriculum.
“That was a big shock to me,” Swift said.
The experience made a lasting impression.
“The level of education disparity in this country just eats at me,” she said.
Swift was elected to the Massachusetts State Senate as a Republican when she was 25, just three years after graduating from Trinity. In 1997 she left the senate to become Secretary of Consumer Affairs, and in 1999, at age 36, she became lieutenant governor of Massachusetts. She became acting governor in 2001 immediately following the 9-11 attacks in New York City, when Gov. Paul Cellucci left the post to become U.S. ambassador to Canada.
Swift left office in 2003 after fellow Republican Mitt Romney won the race for governor. Since then, she has made her passion for equalizing K-12 education a priority, though she has done so in the private sector.
“I worked for a long time in Massachusetts on education issues, and we had a really significant impact, I think, in improving the quality of education. I see a tremendous opportunity to do that, and the need for folks to do that in the private sector — with an understanding of the pressures and challenges facing public sector officials,” Swift said.
Middlebury Interactive Languages is a joint venture between Middlebury College and K12 Inc., the country’s largest provider of curriculum and online education for K-12 students. It develops software products and curricula that can be used in kindergarten through 12th-grade classrooms.
Swift said when the position at Middlebury Interactive Languages became available in July 2011, she had been “lightly looking” for her next leadership opportunity.
“I wanted something in the education field where you could build a team and really make a difference,” she recalled. “A mission-driven organization. When the opportunity to lead an organization that combines many of my passions for a great cause presented itself, it was easy to say yes.”
She stressed that she thinks that learning global languages is now a central part of making sure that every child has an equal shot at job prospects in their future.
Swift has been commuting to and from Massachusetts, splitting her week between travel for work, spending time in the MIL office in Middlebury’s industrial park, and time with her family (husband Chuck Hunt and their three daughters) at the couple’s farm in Williamstown, Mass.
But in a few weeks, the whole family will make the move to Vermont.
“We rented a great house in the middle of town,” said Swift.
Swift admits that it was hard to make the leap.
“We live right now on the farm that my husband grew up on, six miles from my parents, the house my parents bought when my mom was pregnant with me,” she explained. “So we are definitely leaving a wonderful living situation.”
But Addison County had plenty of appeal.
“It’s the kind of atmosphere we like to live in,” Swift said. “We really value living in a small college town in New England. My husband loves the rural nature of the community. And all three of my girls play field hockey, and field hockey is much more prevalent in middle school and high school in Vermont.”
Swift is also looking forward to getting to know Vermont communities through her work with MIL. In her early years as a state senator, Swift remembered, she was able to visit many community events and meet a number of people in the course of her work. She hopes MIL’s work in Vermont communities will afford her similar opportunities. The company recently donated language learning software to more than two dozen area schools at significantly discounted prices, and Swift anticipates that the opportunity to meet with school communities around the state will present itself.
Running for political office in Vermont, though, is not on her radar.
“I am so grateful for the experience I had, and that I loved, in public service,” Swift said. But she added that these days she prefers to be an engaged public citizen in more quiet ways — writing checks, fundraising, campaigning for causes. She prefers to be out of the direct spotlight herself.
One of the draws of the move to Vermont is to keep her family out of a sometimes harsh media spotlight.
“To a certain degree, having a little more anonymity and where everybody doesn’t exactly know who you are will be welcome,” she said. “I think it’ll be interesting. But (coming from a small community) it is odd to walk through the grocery store and not know anybody! Though we are starting to meet people, so that’ll change quick.”

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