One of America’s True Education Heroes:
A Conversation With
Dr. Walt Griffin
F

or over 37 years, Dr. Walt Griffin has dedicated his professional life to Seminole County Public Schools in Florida. From math teacher to superintendent, Dr. Griffin climbed the rungs of success at SCPS, always giving and always making a difference. Achieve Magazine caught up with the superintendent as he prepares for retirement, to get his views on life, the pandemic, longevity in a career, and more. Enjoy this conversation with one of America’s true education heroes.

Dr. Walt Griffin walking with child

Achieve Magazine (AM): As you approach retirement, what will you remember most about your career at Seminole County Schools?

Dr. Griffin: What I will remember the most about Seminole County Public Schools is the dedicated teachers, administrators, and motivated students. I am most proud of some of the innovative projects that we have put in place. Projects such as PSI High, Elementary “Physics Bus,” Coding for All starting in kindergarten, as well as our emphasis on citizenship.

AM: It is very unusual for a superintendent to spend such a long time running a district, and even more unusual to spend your entire career there. What are some of the advantages other districts should consider when deciding to follow a similar path with their leadership?

Dr. Griffin: I’ve had the pleasure of working in Seminole County Public Schools for 37 years. During the course of this time, I served as a math teacher, assistant principal, middle school principal, high school principal, executive director of high schools, and superintendent for the past nine years. My longevity in the district has given me the opportunity to create long-lasting and meaningful relationships. In fact, many of my former students are now employees, teachers, or administrators at many schools around the district. I am always so proud to see them and so thankful that they decided to give back to Seminole County Public Schools and educate children.

AM: You have a bit of a reputation as a turnaround principal. What should principals consider when they are trying to raise the level of performance at a school?

Dr. Griffin with two women, holding up books and smiling

Dr. Griffin: As a principal, I’ve worked on two different turnaround projects. One at a very large middle school (Millennium MS) and a second at a very large high school (Seminole HS). Both schools were struggling academically, and my task, as well as that of my team, was to turn the schools around academically. In order to do that, the culture had to change at both schools. We believed that all students deserve opportunity and support, and they will thrive when taught by great teachers and given adequate resources.

AM: In 2014, you were named a National Future Ready Superintendent and invited to the White House to share the innovation taking place in Seminole County Public Schools. What was that experience like?

Dr. Griffin: That was one of the highlights of my career. I had the opportunity to visit the White House and meet the president. It was great being surrounded by the other National Future Ready superintendents and having the chance to collaborate and share ideas. One major takeaway from that event was that it’s all about great teaching and technology. I believe there was agreement among the group that technology is a tool that will aid and motivate students and help teachers plan meaningful and engaging lessons.

Dr. Griffin sitting and smiling during a ceremony
Being selected as a National Future Ready Superintendent is one of the highlights of my career. I had the opportunity to visit the White House and meet the president. It was a great opportunity being surrounded with the other National Future Ready superintendents and having the opportunity to collaborate and share ideas.

AM: You were awarded the Biliteracy Leadership Award from the Florida Hispanic Education Coalition. What is the importance of biliteracy and multilingual abilities in general?

Dr. Griffin: Biliteracy is an important part of who we are. The School Board and I, in collaboration with businesses and other leaders, have been encouraged to produce bilingual graduates. We are so proud that there are opportunities at all grade levels for students to pursue a second language.

Dr. Griffin with fellow colleagues at an event

AM: What do you see as some of the positive trends in education that came out of the pandemic?

Dr. Griffin: First, we figured out we were able to connect all students to the Internet. We learned by prioritizing that we were able to get devices in the hands of all our students. Our amazing teachers rose to the occasion and learned many new skills, to provide a quality online experience for our students. I believe some of the takeaways will be the ongoing ability to connect with students in different ways. For example, maybe an online homework bank in the evening for students who need extra assistance. Maybe online courses for students who need to be out of school for extended illnesses. I think the greatest lesson learned for me was that of the resilience of our students and teachers, and how quickly they acclimated to major changes.

AM: How has equity figured into your tenure as superintendent?

Dr. Griffin in his gown with his wife
Dr. Griffin and his wife, smiling
We have seen some positive trends come from the pandemic. First, we figured out we were able to connect all students to the Internet. We learned by prioritizing that we were able to get devices in the hands of all our students.

Dr. Griffin: Equity has been the cornerstone of my work. I learned as a young administrator that if you truly believe in all students, all students can and will achieve. We have a program called Advanced Opportunities. In this program, we have identified over 6,000 students who would have been overlooked for advanced coursework and placed them in advanced classes with proper supports in place. Over 95 percent of our Advanced Opportunity students are earning grades of “C” or better in their classes. The Advanced Opportunity students represent all subgroups. It takes initiative, quality instruction, and strong administrators to make a difference in a student’s life.

AM: As you look back on your career, what remains unfinished? What do you wish you had done?

Dr. Griffin: There is much that remains unfinished. We still have a large discipline disparity that needs to continue to be addressed. In spite of all our efforts, we have much to learn and much to do in this area.

AM: What is next for you, Dr. Griffin?

Dr. Griffin: After 40 years in education, I am looking forward to traveling and spending time with my wife, my children, and my four grandchildren. I have many interests outside education and look forward to having the time to pursue them. I will always keep my eye on Seminole County Public Schools and be available as a resource to anyone that needs me. I have learned that education is the great equalizer and the tool that brings hope to reality.

After 40 years in education, I am looking forward to traveling and spending time with my wife, my children, and my four grandchildren. I have many interests outside education and look forward to having the time to pursue them.
Dr. Griffin walking with his wife down a bricked street