From his days coaching athletic teams to walking through the halls at Downers Grove South High School, Principal Ed Schwartz maintains his focus is always centered on the students.
Even as the calendar counts down the final days of school and the start of his official retirement, he insists he doesn’t need the spotlight.
“We’re all working together,” Schwartz said. “During the day, I’m no more important than any other adult in the building.”
When Schwartz decided he would retire at the close of the 2022 school year, he never imagined the incredible path he would navigate in his final years as an educator, leading the school and faculty through the pandemic closures of 2020 and the building reopening that would follow.
Despite the ever-changing needs of students and faculty, he always made time to listen and speak with parents, said Georgia Hash, associate principal for curriculum and instruction at Downers Grove South. She said Schwartz has an honest and straightforward approach.
“He spent a good part of the time communicating with parents,” Hash said.
Downers Grove South has a student population of more than 2,800, and Schwartz does his best to know students by name, calling out to them in the hall, chatting with them at activities, Hash said.
Schwartz said he never imagined himself as a principal. His first love was sports. He grew up in Dubuque, Iowa, the youngest of nine boys. He enjoyed math and saw the opportunity to become a math teacher as a way to stay connected to sports through coaching. He has taught high school math and enjoyed coaching boys basketball and softball.
His coaching tenure came to an abrupt end when at 25 he was diagnosed with testicular cancer. A newlywed, his wife supported him through his treatments and he decided to end his time coaching. He pursued his master’s degree in education, but said it was fellow educators who saw his potential for leadership, inviting him to consider school leadership roles.
He joined Downers Grove South as an associate principal in 2005 and was named principal in 2014.
Through the years he has gone above and beyond his administrative responsibilities, whether it is sharing his personal story of surviving cancer to helping students raise money for cancer patients and shaving his head for a St. Baldrick’s fundraiser.
“He would participate in those types of things to show the kids he is equally invested in what they are working on,” Hash said.
This spring, Schwartz was honored with the Illinois Directors of Student Activities Principals Recognition Award, recognizing his participation, support and commitment to student activities.
He said students have just four short years in school, but realizes the importance of those years in their life and the impact of their relationships with peers and teachers.
“I’m most proud of the relationships I’ve been able to develop,” Schwartz said.
He recalled starting his teaching career in 1989 before the prevalence of the internet and cellphones in every student’s pocket. Today, he makes YouTube video announcements to reach out to students and the community.
He said he will miss the students and faculty as he looks at life in retirement, but he has a long list of projects around the house and hopes to have more time for golf and travel.