The Change Agent

Dr. Walt Griffin
Superintendent of Seminole County, Florida

The Objective

Prioritizing what matters to enhance the education experience.

Show Notes

Guest Dr. Walt Griffin, Superintendent of Seminole County Public Schools, shares how his district’s focus on building relationships, changing the culture, and taking good care of both staff and students has led to improved student outcomes and the designation as one of the 100 healthiest places to work.

Host Bio: Dr. Chris Balow is the Chief Academic Officer at SchoolMint.  Dr. Balow has a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology and served for 33 years as an educator in various roles with focuses on literacy, mental health, and the behavioral and emotional growth of students. He has worked the last 6 years in the educational technology field to promote student success on a larger scale.

Episode 22
Title: District Spotlight: Seminole County Public Schools
Subtitle: Prioritizing what matters to enhance the education experience.

Voice Over: 

ChangeAgents in K-12 motivating transformation in education is presented by Schoolmint. Featuring in-depth conversations with top educational leaders, we are committed to the advancement of education through research exchange, idea sharing and enlightening discussions. Are you prepared to be a change agent?

Dr. Chris Balow: 

Welcome to today's podcast on ChangeAgents in K-12 . I am very excited today to have an old friend of mine, Dr. Walt Griffin, superintendent of Seminole County, Florida schools. Dr. Griffin, welcome to the podcast.

Dr. Walt Griffin: 

Thank you . It's my pleasure to be here this afternoon.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

All right, well, let me tell you a little bit about Dr. Griffin. He has spent 40 years in education and 37 of those years have been in Seminole County and nine years of which he has been the superintendent, but he has a long background. He started out as a math teacher. He was a middle and high school principal. And over the last nine years as superintendent, Dr. Griffin has really implemented some pretty historic changes in, in a really large district. And we're going to talk about many of those changes that that Dr. Griffin and his team has implemented, but one of the impressive outcomes, and we'll talk about more of these is that all of their schools are now C or better and no more DRF schools in the district, which is really a major accomplishment. So Dr. Griffin, again, welcome to ChangeAgents in K-12 .

Dr. Walt Griffin: 

Thank you.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

All right , well, let's start off Dr. Griffin. Um, why don't you tell us a few of the characteristics of your district?

Dr. Walt Griffin: 

Sure. We are , um , located North of Orlando we are Seminole County, little over 67,000 students , uh , about 8,000 contracted employees. Uh, 51% of our students are free and reduced lunch. Um, and we are, you know, a real , um, working suburban Orlando , um, community, Seminole County. Um, we have about , we have 60 schools that doesn't include our alternative sites and so on. Um, but we are a, a large, very dense district. Um, our schools are rather close to each other when our schools are large. Um, I'm a former high school principal of a 3000 student high school and a 2000 student middle school.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

Wow. That's a big middle .

Dr. Walt Griffin: 

That's a big middle. Um , I've always dealt with large schools and large , um , situations.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

Wow. So a district that large over 65,000 students in that large number of employees, I mean, that's like running a big city. And how do you stay connected in that environment?

Dr. Walt Griffin: 

Um , I manage my calendar and , um , I have to hit four to six schools every single week. Um, I really have get into schools and interact with , with the administrators , um, primarily thanking the teachers , um, get getting some feedback from them , um, seeing the students engaged , um, but it's boots on the ground. You know, I , um, a bad week is a week where I spend a lot of time in my office. I really need to be out there seeing what's going on , um, and doing the best that I can to support everybody. I really believe that all of us were public servants and just figuring out , um, whatever is out there that needs to get worked on . Um, it's best to see it with my own eyes. Um, as well as the successes, it's fun to go out and see the things that we've implemented and we're working on and , um , see everybody engaged in those things, but it's about connecting. It's all about relationships.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

So it sounds like when you're out there talking with the educators in the schools, it gives you this first level analysis of maybe some problems they're running into, and then maybe you can actually enact a change rather rapidly to affect improvement.

Dr. Walt Griffin: 

Absolutely. You know , um, I think a classic example right now, what we're going through with COVID, you know, our , um, our teachers are, are working differently and harder than ever. Um, you know, when I've heard about concerns, teachers having teaching remotely or teaching in a blended situation. So getting in those classrooms and really seeing what it looks like asking them, them showing me what they are doing really helps me understand. And I'm very lucky. Um, th the frequent school visits that I do , um, at least one board member comes with me, so they get to see what I get to see. And then , then we have discussions , um , at the board prior to COVID almost all the board members came with me, they're always invited, and it just helps us. We're making purchases, we're making decisions , uh , being able to see what's really going on in the schools.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

That's fantastic. Um, equity, I know, has really been at the forefront of your career. And what has driven you on this mission and what experiences have you had to really get you to this place?

Dr. Walt Griffin: 

Yeah, as a , um, young administrator , um, in the late nineties, I was moved , um, from what was at the time of upper SES school , um, to , um, a school that had a, has a higher, free and reduced lunch number. Then the rest of the district, it was the middle school and the United States justice department was involved with our district at the time. Um, so I learned , um , the hard way. Um, I walked through the school that I was assigned to as an assistant principal and was told that my job was to bring a magnet program to this struggling middle school , um, that nobody wanted their kids to attend and to make it , um, a school that would be , um, have a program and be attractive to everybody to come of , to make it into a magnet program. And I had so much support from the district and a great team and a great community. We all rolled up our sleeves and work together. Um, and I learned early on just because a student lives in a certain zip code, it does not define what they can learn and what you're capable of doing. And we created from what was Lakeview middle school millennium, middle school. It's a fine art , um , communication magnet school with the pre IB prep program in it. And , um, it, it still has , it still is a thriving, thriving middle school. Um, the course of a couple of years, we're able to bring the school up to an, a letter grade by the state. Um , population increased from 800 to 2000 because people wanted their children at, at this school. Um, and then, and , and, and I saw firsthand providing opportunities with support with the right people, students could be successful. Um, and then I was honored after my work at this middle school, I was sent to the feeder high school, a 3000 student school that had similar problems to the original project that I took on and , and found the same , um , with great teachers and great community and great team was never just what I did by myself. I always had a great, great group of people. Um, both of these schools are still thriving, Seminole high school now , um, has maintained an A or B grade for a decade , um , that I've been gone. And it's, it's just about changing the culture , um, and providing opportunities, providing that support and believing, really believing , um , that all students, when given the opportunity will take advantage of it and have teachers who, who really believe that they are capable of doing anything that they want to do.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

Wow. That's fantastic. You said so many important gems of wisdom there, Walt , um, I've talked to so many educational leaders as part of this podcast. And one of the common threads I hear is the good leaders don't take credit for all of it. They talk about the importance of team and that working together and creating that culture and leadership and a culture of change. You seem to exemplify that.

Dr. Walt Griffin: 

Yeah, well, it's, I, I've been blessed with having great people around me and willing to work with me on projects. And , um, all of a sudden , anything that , um , as a success in Seminole County is a way we've really worked together on things.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

That's fantastic. One of the things you shared with me is that education week has talked about Seminole County schools in terms of your work with gifted education and equity. Tell us about that.

Dr. Walt Griffin: 

You know, when I first became superintendent, you look for, you know, although I was in this district a very long time , um, my, my job before becoming superintendent, I was the executive director of the high school. So I was involved primarily with all the , all the things that a high school brings in . I believe me, that gives you busy. Um, so I looked at certain data points when I first became superintendent. And one of the data points I wanted to see were just gifted enrollment at every single school in the district. And looking at those numbers , um , the schools with the lowest number of free and reduced lunch students had the highest number of gifted and the schools with the highest number of free and reduced had the lowest number of gifted students. And I'm talking a huge discrepancy, single digits at some school , three gifted kids, eight gifted kids compared to 150 at a , at another school in a different zip code. So , um, we got to work right away and we, you know, the, the mindset growth mindset was that we have to advocate for all children. Some, some children don't know, some families are not aware of gifted education. We're not even aware that that, that, that their children have gifts. So we put together , um, a great, great team , um, that started at our most fragile schools that had these really low populations and really worked with the staff on gifted indicators and , um, identifying students for screening. We eventually started screening all the second graders in these schools, and the statistics are staggering. We had like a 1600% increase in some schools have students who qualified for gifted because the mindset was we had to advocate for all these students. So I'm very, very proud. Um , our gifted enrollment continues, continues to show a diversity. It continues to be a focus point at our schools, our district , um , a few States and one County Seminole County were selected for the Javits grant. And the Javits grant specifically helped us on , um , Hispanic students get getting them engaged in gifted education and training and provided so many pathways and opportunities for our district , um , because of our work in gifted. But again, if you , if people don't know about programs that they don't know how to identify students, if they don't believe in students , um, or if they're believe only a certain type of student is gifted, it's all about education. Um , and believing .

Dr. Chris Balow: 

Yeah, that's so true. And, you know, you talk about , um, you know, the gaps. I think a lot of families have an information gap. I mean, they , they don't know what special innovative programs might be available. They just don't know where to access this information. And that, that gap, I think, plays into it as well. Wouldn't you say?

Dr. Walt Griffin: 

Absolutely. You know, and you take, you know, many of our parents are single parents working really, really hard trying to get food on the table that they're just not, they don't have the time to invest all the programs that , that are there. So that's been a joy for all of us is to really advocate for all students. And especially for students in our schools with higher free and reduced lunch , especially a title one school .

Dr. Chris Balow: 

Yeah, absolutely. And you know, you're a data guy. I know that from conversations I've had with you over the last few years, and , um, did you notice any disparities in discipline, you know, things like suspensions and referrals as well.

Dr. Walt Griffin: 

That there is, and there still is that that's an area that, that we continue to work on. Um, but it's, you know, again, it's, it's a culture shift. Um, I think if there's something we learned , um, as we're going through this COVID and remote learning, you know, maybe we don't have to do as a school suspensions the way we've done them. Um, you know, maybe we can keep students connected remotely. You know, I , I know as a principal, but when a student had to be suspended, they had to be off campus for a couple of days, whatever reason they were really disconnected during that time. You know, maybe now we can accomplish both, you know, have the students , um, off campus getting some special services if they need it, but , but keep them connected academically. So I think that , um, discipline disparity has a lot of work to do in this district , um, because the numbers still are not where they need to be. And it's it's, and it's about providing opportunities other than just suspension.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

Right. Right. Well, and , and it's a national , uh , struggle as well. And I know districts are really working to address that, but it's , it's not a quick change that's for sure. One of the things , um, that we talked about prior to the interview was your district has been highlighted as one of the healthiest places to work. And I know leadership is a big part of that, and you personally are a big part of that Walt. Tell us about that.

Dr. Walt Griffin: 

You know, we are , um , once again, in the top 100 in the nation and tops and central Florida, wow. Very, very important to us. And, you know, if you take good care of your employees , um, it reaps a lot of benefits. So we've done a lot of , um, investing in wellness programs, exercise programs, nutrition programs , um, doing a lot of things to get people healthier , um, preventative type things. Uh, we even have, every year we have a Walt walk, the wall walk is a 5k. Um , but it's more than just, we all walk the 5k together, walk or run wherever people feel like doing their. They bring their families out just for employees. And we also have a big health fair there, every employee , um, gets a blood draw every year where they get to really understand and analyze their own numbers, whether it's cholesterol or enzymes or whatever. Um , we have a great, great hospital community , um, that works with us just about everybody I know has a Fitbit or an Apple or something. Um, but it's about movement. And I've tried to model that , um, I've spoken many times to all the employees about my struggle with high cholesterol. Well , whenever , um, I, you know, we publicly talk about, you know, the , the, the important , um, the importance of getting your annual physical , um, to getting those, those major exams when it's time to get them a colonoscopy, we've spoken about that openly. Um , but it's about people being informed that it's okay to take care of yourself and us providing a benefits package that , that does we even , um, the last thing I'll say there , um, if people meet five health goals each year, we put $750 in your health savings account. Um, and then of course they can use that towards their deductible or we're saving for retirement or whatever.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

That's fantastic. And, you know, tell us about not only the physical health, but what kinds of things do you do in your district to engage your teachers and to make them feel like they're part of the team part of the decision-making process, because we know people want to have a voice.

Dr. Walt Griffin: 

Well, there's two pieces first, I'll start with , um, as far as the wellness piece , we have a wellness champion in every school, usually a teacher, but as far as voices , um, I do , um, teacher forums and I do student forums throughout the year. And I strongly started doing these when I was a young principal, just sitting people down or even just being available all day in the conference room for teachers to come in or employees, whatever. Um, but it's , um , I just really try to figure out , um, what their challenges are, what their perception of the things that we're working on. I remember when I was a teacher , um, I was obedient, but I wasn't anything we had to do all that district has another dumb idea. I never thought about requirements , whatever, it's just, there's not. So it's about , um , trying to get people together to really engage in conversation. And the teacher forums , um, have been great. Some have been brutal, but it's been great in terms of trying to figure out what they really are struggling with, you know, and I, and I'll tell you, cause I learned a lot from those that relate to this health, not only the physical health nutritionist on, but also mental health, right. And, you know, teaching people how to organize your calendars , um, making principals aware of , of scheduling , um, giving people a break once in a while , you know, just taking good care of them really important. I know , um, you know, the, the employees that I directly oversee are in the County office with me, and you can ask any , I always say family first, if they have, you know, something to get to something to do, we'll try to cover and work with that person and do what they need to do. I know , um, I, have two kids, they grow up, they grow up too fast and you can't miss their life. Cause if you miss too many things, it adds to your stress, which then creates bad mental health issues and so on. So it's about really not talking the talk, but walking the walk and providing opportunities for people understanding when you have employees of a sick parent or a sick child. And , um, and I see that in Seminole County all the time, people rallying around and supporting each other. Um, and it's, it's not, it's not always easy. Um, but I I've , I've seen our fantastic employees really rally around and support other employees during times of need.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

Sure. Well, that's just fantastic advice for superintendents listening. And I surmise, I've heard this from lots of people and experts that our teachers are struggling right now with mental health , um, because of , uh COVID for , um, for many reasons. And th uh , there will be , uh, additional challenges for us when teachers return to the classroom.

Dr. Walt Griffin: 

Absolutely. You know, we have about 60, well after January, we have about 63, 64% of our students back face to face. Um, it's working well now. Um, but it is different and challenging work for our teachers and they need more support than ever. And their work is different. And , um, you know, as we're trying to everything that we can, and I'm just really, I speak to the principals a lot and I said, please, you know, use common sense and compassion, engage them in the scheduling and as, as many things as you possibly can. Um, because it's a choice .

Dr. Chris Balow: 

Yeah, yeah, for sure. Uh , one of the things I talked to many superintendents about is teacher retention. It's a problem across the country. How how's that playing out in Seminole County, Florida?

Dr. Walt Griffin: 

Um, it's a problem here also, we , um , there was a time , um, my generation, you signed up for 30 years now. We're lucky if people stay with us for five to seven years, it was a different generation, different way of thinking. Um , we've come to accept that. And , um, you know, we do have many who stay, who do make a full career, but if we can only have them for five or six years, we appreciate that. And we were also seeing some teachers leave, do something different and then come back, or going to go to a different County and then come back. But , um , having , um, two older kids , um, the mindset's a little bit different than ours. And , um , I see that with our teachers that they work real hard, what they're doing right now, but they aren't afraid to venture out, try something else and maybe come back.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

Okay. Um, so in your district, do you have a large , uh, number or percentage of teachers that leave every year ?

Dr. Walt Griffin: 

Yeah. Every, every year we hire between, I'd say between 350 and 450 teachers , um , which to me is too many, but we , um, I think we're a rather district to work and we do get, we still are getting quite a few applications for positions. Um, but yeah, we do. We get a lot from all the other , other districts in Florida, but we, especially when the weather is real bad, we got a lot from the Northeast folks want to come down, but , um, we have a fantastic school board and a pretty good reputation of a decent place to work. Um , it's hard work, everybody knows that, but we , um, we always have a nice group of teachers too.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

Well, that's good. I know some friends of mine who are district leaders and many positions go unfilled, unfortunately, but they're not in beautiful, warm climates, like that's right. One of the other things we talked about , um, kind of switching gears here is , um , you've been an outspoken critic of high stakes testing and not per se of testing, but how it is can be misused. Do you want to talk about that a little bit?

Dr. Walt Griffin: 

Yeah. I want to start off by saying that I'm all about accountability. I think we need to really understand how much students learn each year. Um, w w where were the gaps are in their learning, and really we need to accelerate and remediate or whatever. Um, really, I was turned really not thrilled with , um, taking one test and it being a sole determination in any one thing, whether that's a student's retention, whether , um, it's , uh , it's the school grades. Um, I , I think I saw it as too much stress on, on our system, and I can be a critic we're at a district. We have a slew of ACE schools, but we're a high-performing district. Just got another letter, our teachers and students do very well, but I see too much stress on the system because of the overuse of one test and specifically what my recommendation was. And this goes back, I think to 2014 or 15, my , my recommendation was, Hey, can we, can we cut back on the, on the Florida test? And that that's a test made for us and maybe look at a few national exams and just use those , um, nationally norm tests for elementary, maybe the PSAT for middle , um, and, and like up to 10th grade, and then minute , maybe the sat and enough is enough, you know, and then do what the data, what you need to do with the data. But I felt like when I looked at our testing calendar, we were just constantly testing and, you know, I get enough data on my bigger job is, is calling the data to figure out what we need to utilize. Now, all that being said , um , whatever the rules are we follow, but I don't. Um, I get up , I get concerned. I remember the day that really just pushed me over the edge. I had been hearing about all the testing and so on. I was in a third grade and a few days before the , um, the Florida at the time, they , um , I think it was the FSA or the F cat and a , um , the third grader was in tears in tears. And I thought she was ill. And I just went up to her and said, are you okay? Do I need to take you down to the clinic? And , um, she looked at me and she started crying and she was worried about her test. And she said to me, I'm afraid my teacher's going to get fired if I don't do well. Her telling me that she had that , that's what she was worried about, you know, and I thought it was just too much on one snapshot to make one decision , um , about, about anyone's performance. So it's more about , um , let's try, angulate the data, let's look at what kids know, and then let's teach them. And I think sometimes you can spend so much time testing and worrying about testing that it interrupts some of the teaching.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

Yeah. And I , I couldn't agree more Walt, as you know, I'm a psychologist and assessment expert and, you know, there's so many threats to the reliability and validity of a single test score , uh , that we have to take that in a con . And , and I'll tell you a personal example. My, my daughter, who's now grown, expecting a child. She has a master's degree from a big 10 university when she was in high school. And she always got great grades. She said, dad, I don't care about that state test. I'm, I'm just not going to put forth big effort on it , uh , because it doesn't affect my grade. And I said, but Mary, that's my life. I'm an assessment director in a district. So do your best reflects on your school and your teacher? Um, so even our really high-performing kids may not put forth best efforts . So some of these broad judgments we make about schools and districts let alone children , um, spurious for sure.

Dr. Walt Griffin: 

You know, and I, I think you can get the same outcome out of less testing. Uh , you can focus on the lower core tile with the less testing. It doesn't have to be just, you know , freeze, everything, take this test. And as you said, there are so many factors, external factors that influence the results .

Dr. Chris Balow: 

Absolutely. And it's really about growth when you look at , uh, at risk students and that's who I worked with primarily in my career, they may not reach some mythical , uh, achievement, proficiency level at any given point in time, but are they growing? Are they improving on a track to , uh, to close that gap? And I think many more States have looked at growth models, which, which is a better way to think about it.

Dr. Walt Griffin: 

Hey , yo , um , you see on my name tag , uh , right here, it's one year's growth in one year's time. And that that's been our mantra, you know, is that, Hey, that , that's what we want. Um, a student, a minimum of one year's growth and minimum , you know, and, you know, some students need 1.2, you know, whatever, but that, that's what we need to be focused on is , is growth and learning.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

Yeah, absolutely. Well, let's gears again. Um, Walt, what kinds of things do you engage or what do you do to engage community members to promote your schools?

Dr. Walt Griffin: 

Yeah, there's, you know , um, I try to be out there quite a bit. Our board , um, is very well connected to the community. So , um, anytime the board members asked me to attend something or speak at something or be involved with something , um, I have taken their guidance and it has worked out very well for the district because they're all connected in different ways. Um, every, I think every organization, rotary chamber it's covered by our board members and team members. Um, so we just try to be out there. Um, but I think , um, a best practice that I have seen is I really encourage , um, our district leaders, myself, our principals to invite, invite to community, to your schools, let them see the great things going on. It's one thing to read an article to , to, to get a snapshot, see a couple pictures. But when you walk into these schools and you see that this student engagement, the teachers that are doing phenomenal work, you can't help but leave motivated. And I think , um, our support base has just grown and grown and grown from the business community to the parental community, to elected officials that they , they, because they've been in our schools. Um, and I think that's a really, really important part of what I ask our principals to do is to engage that community. So they see the schools. Um, and then I try to be, as I run a very, is a very flat organization. Um, and I try to be available to whoever needs , whoever wants to learn about the schools or see your school or your program and so on. And then I think what else is important in our high schools, we have programs, emphasis, or magnet programs and every single high school, but they're not what we think is best. It's what the business community tells us as best with these programs. You know, so we have a , we have a variety of programs that lead to work , um, for students who are interested in that, we've actually trademarked E pathways stands for educational pathways. And the whole premise behind that is not everybody needs a master's degree to get a great job. Let's expose kids to a variety of pathways and let them make that decision. So E pathways has, has led to thousands and thousands of students getting industry certifications. Um, it's led to great apprenticeships and internship programs for our students, great connections with the business community. So I think we connect most by providing a product that our community and our businesses need.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

Yeah, that's fantastic. You say the word product, and I've done a lot of research recently through my company around that whole notion of, you know, it's almost that , that you have to market your schools because you have to tell people all the great things you have to offer. And so with these, these special programs are intriguing to me. So E pathways, that sounds fantastic. How do , how do kids get into these programs? How do they learn about it? Is there some, you know, criteria for students to be eligible?

Dr. Walt Griffin: 

There's not everything we do in Seminole County is self-selecting , that's an equity and equity points , the kids interested, and they want to do it. They'll do it. Um , it's really just educating the students and as young of age, as possible about the programs that are available , um, allowing we are , we're a choice district . So students can attend just about any school in the district. If there's a program there that they like and their space available and so on , um , we provide transportation to all of our magnet programs , um, and other equity issue provide that transportation. So it's about education and just letting people know what's out there and letting students explore, get different options, allowed them to make changes. And , um , if they have something they're interested in,

Dr. Chris Balow: 

Yeah. Do you have limited enrollment in some of these programs or ?

Dr. Walt Griffin: 

We do. Um , yes, but we , um, where possible if , uh , if a program is popular, we expand it, you know, so it's nice. Yeah. It's, I think it's, it's, it's a healthy way to do it because demand drives the programs then. So if we have certain programs that are really, really popular , um, we just offer more sections of it and less of something that isn't as popular. So it's , it's, it's , it's, it's very demand driven.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

Sure. Along that line, how does customer service play in today's educational landscape?

Dr. Walt Griffin: 

You know , that's, you know, we're all about customer service. Um, you know, I'm Walter Griffin , I'm in very close to Disney world, so I've done , uh, I've done Walt on Walt training , uh , where I bring in the Disney philosophy , um , into our schools. And you can walk just about anywhere and you'll see you see Disney quotes and, and things like that . Yeah. But it's all about , um, us all taking good care of each other and us taking a good chair care of our clients. Um, and you know, Disney does so many things, right. But you know, Disney and the Ritz, I think are tops in customer service. So we try to learn from them all the time. And it's, it's really about relationships. You know, it's , it's about understanding the people that you work with. Um, it's flat organizations, it's, it's people having a voice PR is providing opportunities for your employees and , and a great product for, for your clients, your students. Uh , so we've done a lot of, a lot of work in that area and I'll tell you it , um, it's , it's been a joy to say my assistant actually trains all the receptionists at the schools in customer service, because they're the front line. Most parents don't call saying things are going really well. They have no, they have a concern. And it's , it's I know by the time someone gets to me, who's really, really upset. They really haven't found anybody who will listen to them. And I've learned to just zip up and really listen to what their concerns are and then brainstorm solutions. And it's not always what they want to hear. That's not what it's about, but it's about being respectful and listening , um, trying to find common ground , um , that fits within our policy. And quite frankly, there are times where I brought policy changes to the board, because I'll say, Hey, our practice is kind of antiquated. Let's, I'm sure they think about this, but customer service is huge. And our , um, our teachers and our, our principals and our, our non-instructional staff do a great job. Our bus drivers have had customer service.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

Fantastic. Um, wow , great advice for, for people to , uh, to learn from Walt. So in your district, two students come from out of the district to , to enroll or, or is that not allowed in Florida?

Dr. Walt Griffin: 

In Florida? It is on a space available basis. So , um , our district is rather populated in our, in our schools pre COVID. Um, we're a world overpopulated now. Now of course we have some space with so many kids at home, but where are we have space available in our schools in Florida is called controlled open enrollment. Um , we do offer those seats to students outside of Seminole County.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

Okay. So , um, in that process, does your district engage in any marketing to kind of promote the value proposition of families or, and to families that would move into the County, build a home, purchase a home, et cetera?

Dr. Walt Griffin: 

Yeah, we do a lot of that at the early end. I know that many of the larger businesses before they even moved to Seminole County , um, um, my , my team and I were engaged with , with some of them just really being available for school tours. Um, I know I've personally, I haven't have gone out to many of the businesses , um , and just done a little Q and a dog and pony show about the district, but primarily answering the questions and so on and inviting them out to see the schools, but it's about making those connections early on. And then, you know, people won't want to transfer to where a company is, where they have good schools. So I know that , um, I know that we are, I'm an economic driver for Seminole County. Everybody says that , um , businesses want to come here because families want to send their kids to our school . Um, and that's why there's not a whole lot of space available for students outside of our County, because we have enough people moving into Seminole County and many, many, many people tell me they moved here to be close to the schools long before I was superintendent. It's been a good district. I just haven't wrecked it too much.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

You're a very humble man Walt. Well, our final question. Um, you've been a , an educational leader for nearly, you know, for 40 years, roughly what leadership advice would you give to aspiring school district leaders

Dr. Walt Griffin: 

Enjoy the ride. To , um , to really listen to the people that you've worked with. And I have , I've had to learn to be a listener , um, and , and to never, ever forget those people , um, who are out there doing that work day to day. Um, it seems like yesterday I was a custodian at Valencia college when I was on a work study program. Um, and I remember being treated especially well , um, by one of the , um, college administrators and always remembering that. And whenever I visit a school , I make a point , um , to visit our , our dining halls , um, our , we call them our restaurants to thank those folks to thank our custodians, take good care of everybody and know that you , you make the big decisions and big decisions. Aren't going to please everybody. But at the end of the day, I just try to do what's right for our students and our employees and sleep pretty well most nights.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

Awesome. So if I could encapsulate that relationships are so important and when you have great relationships, people will, will allow you to make these tough decisions.

Dr. Walt Griffin: 

Yeah. And , and even more important. Um, when you, when you don't make a good decision and you have to change chorus or whatever you say, you're sorry, and they forgive you. Um, I see a lot of leaders, they just stamped their, you know, they put their feet in the ground and after they get more information, they're hesitant to change their decision. Don't be afraid to make the right decision. Even if you have to change course be good because you got some better information.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

Fantastic advice, Walt. Well, our time is up. So we have to play our game called this or that. Very simple. I say two things. And you just tell us which one you prefer. And if you like, you can give us a rationale, but that's not required. Are you a dog or a cat person?

Dr. Walt Griffin: 

Dog. I have two dogs.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

You have two dogs. Okay. Do you prefer a phone call or a text?

Dr. Walt Griffin: 

Phone call.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

Phone call. Are you an iOS or an Android person?

Dr. Walt Griffin: 

iOS.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

iOS. All right . Do you prefer big gatherings or a small gathering? Like a big party versus small gathering?

Dr. Walt Griffin: 

A big party.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

Big Party. Okay. Um, do you prefer baseball or football?

Dr. Walt Griffin: 

Football.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

Football.

Dr. Walt Griffin: 

Go Gators.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

Go Gators. Okay. Very good. Well, they've got quite the quarterback this year. All right . Well, my team, because of COVID, they've only played three games. Wisconsin badgers. A ll r ight. Do you prefer jogging or hiking?

Dr. Walt Griffin: 

Hiking.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

Hiking. Um, do you prefer a tablet or a computer tablet?

Dr. Walt Griffin: 

Tablet.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

All right . Car or truck?

Dr. Walt Griffin: 

Car.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

Okay. How about TV or a book?

Dr. Walt Griffin: 

TV.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

Ocean, or mountains?

Dr. Walt Griffin: 

Mountains.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

Mountains. Okay. Sounds good. A horror movie or a comedy movie?

Dr. Walt Griffin: 

Comedy.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

Comedy. Hot dog, or hamburger?

Dr. Walt Griffin: 

Hamburger.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

Hamburger, or taco.

Dr. Walt Griffin: 

Hamburger.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

Hamburger. Sounds good.

Dr. Walt Griffin: 

You're getting me hungry.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

Yeah, definitely super sandwich? As long as we're on food. Super or sandwich?

Dr. Walt Griffin: 

Sandwich.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

Sandwich. Okay. And our final question is toilet paper over or under?

Dr. Walt Griffin: 

Oh, over.

Dr. Chris Balow: 

You're an over person. Okay . You had to think about it. Well, Dr. Walt Griffin, superintendent of Seminole County, Florida. I want to thank you for just sharing some amazing insights and experiences , um , that you've had over 40 years. Um, I know our listeners are really going to glean a lot from this. And thank you so much.

Dr. Walt Griffin: 

Oh Chris, it's always a pleasure to talk with you.

Voice Over: 

Thank you for listening to the ChangeAgents in K-12 podcast, brought to you by SchoolMint. Find us on all major podcast platforms and make sure to subscribe, so you never miss a show. Have a story to share? We want to hear it. Record a three to five minute audio pitch detailing your experience in working to become a change agent and why educators need to hear from you. Send your audio files to podcast@schoolmint.com . Join the conversation and help us advance towards the bright years ahead. See you next time.

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Season 1

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