WCR PHOTO | CHRIS MILLER
Ken Griffith has a heart for the students at Red Deer's Maryview School.
Ken Griffith says students keep changing, and schools need to change to keep up with them.
"Students learn differently today than they did even 10 years ago," said Griffith, principal of Red Deer's Maryview School and a recipient of the Alberta Teachers' Association 2013-14 Distinguished Leadership Award.
"It's important that we're keeping up on current research and making all of our decisions upon accurate information and data that tell us how children work," he said.
Griffith has three main goals: 1) make Christ known to children, 2) provide a safe and caring environment for students and staff, and 3) ensure that children are receiving the highest possible level of education.
But if you ask the students at Maryview, Griffith is a great principal because he cares for others.
"One time my friends and I were playing in the park, and I fell. He came and helped me, and brought me to the office because I was hurt. He helped me with my sore leg," said Calder Rondeau, a Grade 4 student.
"He lets kids write down jokes and we put them in a joke box," said Hailey Heintz, a Grade 5 student. "Every day he picks out the best joke, unless he forgets, and says who it's from. Even if the joke is not that funny, he always laughs to make the kid feel good."
Evan Roberts-Gouchey, another Maryview School student, misbehaved once and was kept inside for recess. But Griffith showed some mercy and that meant a lot to Evan.
"He thought that I needed some fresh air, so he let me outside for the last five minutes of recess. I thought that was pretty nice of him," he said.
He's not surprised that his principal won such an extraordinary award.
"He lets us do fun stuff around here, and he works as hard as he can. His heart is to make this school the best school in Red Deer," Evan said.
As for Griffith, he says he became an educator because of his passion to see children learn, not to win awards for himself.
At the start of the school year, he challenged students and staff to make a positive difference by sharing their God-given talents.
"Whether it's the gift of humour and writing jokes, or their compassion or their music talents, I want them to share their talents with us," he said. "If everybody contributes a little bit, we end up having an amazing school."
An educator for 28 years, Griffith has been principal at Maryview for the last six. He has taught everything from kindergarten to Grade 10, mostly in Red Deer and Innisfail.
He tries to support his teachers and encourage them to learn and grow. Whatever they need, he wants to make that happen. Selfless, Griffith credits his fellow teachers for his own personal success.
"It's been a privilege to teach with quality teachers I've come across in every building," said Griffith.
"I've had the opportunity to observe excellent teaching in every school that I've been to, so I can definitely speak on the fact that there's a high quality of education happening in central Alberta."
During his first year as vice-principal, his principal told him that a true leader is a servant-leader.
"I always try to put everybody first. I am here to serve others – the students and the staff. That has always been my focus. I'm just one cog in the wheel that makes things happen," he said.
Michelle Khatib, a teacher at Maryview School, nominated Griffith for the ATA award.
Khatib said her primary reason was that he has great vision for technology integration. Alberta Education has a curriculum redesign set for 2016, and the technology component is paramount. Griffith was instrumental in bringing Chrome books, iPads, and technology coaching assistance to the school.
"Without leadership in a school, you don't move forward," she said. "You can have all the expertise you want in a building, but if you don't have the leadership to support the vision, you won't go anywhere."
Khatib said Griffith has a good rapport with the students, parents and staff. He loves to chat, and is always open to new initiatives. Thanks to his leadership, many teachers at the school have advanced in their teaching careers.
"Ken is a very caring leader, and the type of person who accepts people for who they are despite their quirks. He takes people from where they are, and leads them to where they need to be," she said.
His Catholic faith is important to Griffith, a member of St. Mary's Parish in Red Deer. At school events and celebrations, he incorporates prayer, and emphasizes the importance of prayer.
During a recent social justice project at the school, Griffith told the students that giving up their time was the most valuable gift they could give.
A group of students worked on sending books to children in Belize. Another group helped out at the food bank. A Grade 3 class made Valentine's Day hearts with inspiring messages such as "God loves you." The hearts were distributed to people's mailboxes throughout Red Deer.
"What sparked the service projects was that he wanted to teach the children that it's not always about giving money. It's about the greatest gift we can give – and that's ourselves," said Khatib.