Robert Griffith on Friday announced his retirement after five years as Summerville Union High School District superintendent.
Griffith, 63, a resident of Twain Harte, said it has been an honor to conclude his 32-year career in education in Tuolumne County, and cited the academic and personal development of students as the greatest accomplishment of his tenure.
“I've been at a lot of schools, both as a WASC visitation and taking classes and also employed. This school is a hybrid school. The fact that you have a 100-year-old local clientele and you have Connections Academy that does great things for the students,” he said.
“Those two combined on one campus, the kids have a lot of opportunities as a small school. It's as close to a private school in a public setting that I've seen.”
Summerville Union High School District includes Summerville High School and Connections Visual and Performing Arts Academy on a shared campus in Tuolumne and enrolls more than 1,000 students.
Griffith touted the experiences of Connections Academy students and how they “develop from ninth graders to 12th graders.”
“To see them within two or three years,” he said, “the kind of theater productions, music and vocal and the dance programs, it’s impressive. They are not average. The kids become very talented and go all over the community.”
Throughout his career, Griffith has seen multitudes of students grow from wide-eyed ninth graders, to mature high school graduates.
But before entering the education field in his 30s, Griffith worked in private industry as a youth counselor and in agriculture before attending night school to gain his teaching credential and masters degree.
Griffith has a bachelor's degree from Fresno State and a master's degree from California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks.
For 17 years, Griffith worked in Fresno County in a variety of high schools and capacities.
He began as an instructional aide for special education and later taught at county high schools including Sanger High School and Clovis High School.
At Sierra High School, which he described as “very similar demographics to this area” he also worked as a track, football and girls basketball coach before becoming an assistant principal.
Griffith then served seven years as principal at Central High School in Fresno County, which included two campuses, 4,000 students and 60 teachers, before pursuing the superintendent position for the Summerville district.
“You have to match your skills and abilities and geographic preferences to where you're going to interview for jobs. When Summerville opened and I interviewed here, from my perspective, it was a great match,” he said. It was an easy adjustment for me in terms of culture and type of school.”
Griffith said one of the high points of his tenure was developing school facilities and updating technologies as a result of an $8.2 million bond.
“We put a lot of money into our infrastructure that brought that all up to speed,” he said, referring to wireless access and an expanded initiative for student iPad use.
Griffith also said the construction and renovation of Thorsted Stadium was a positive achievement, and a planned art building and outdoor student lunch structure planned for the campus.
One of the low points, he said, was an October 2015 school shooting threat that resulted in the arrest of four Summerville High School students, which he said turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
“In one sense you never want that to happen, but on the other, that took our partnership with the sheriff’s department and our parents to the next level. Though it was a challenge and was difficult, it increased trust with the adults that worked at our school,” he said. “That was a tough deal, but we actually pulled together and, in the end, it was actually a bonding experience.”
Griffith emphasized that his departure from the district is not a resignation, and would amount to his retirement from public education.
The day after his last official day at the school, on June 30, Griffith said he will embark on a trip to the Africa Theological Seminary in Kenya, Africa, to teach a course in counseling to English-speaking practicing pastors from the country.
Griffith said he will continue with some teaching opportunities through the Stanislaus State University administration program and has been in contact with Fresno Pacific University for additional courses.
In his retirement, Griffith said he plans to spend more time with his more than 20 family members including his wife, Lois, their four children and spouses, and 11 grandchildren.
The Summerville Union High School District will be responsible for finding a replacement for Griffith.
Griffith said trustees are reviewing options to hire a search firm or conduct a search themselves, and at the next board meeting will “look at some options and make a determination on both timing and process.”