Seventeen-year-old Katie Endres is sure to see Potomac Falls High School principal Wayne Griffith at her cross country meets and in the hallways.
"He's always involved, and you see him everywhere. He always asks me how I'm doing with running and with school," Katie said.
Next year, that will change. Katie will graduate, and Griffith will retire after 36 years with the public schools. "It's going to be weird without him," Katie said. "It's sad to see him leave, but I'm glad he was here for my four years."
Griffith, 57, plans to retire in December and work on an interim basis for the remainder of the 2003-04 school year. "I want to retire when I still have time in being productive," he said. He plans to travel, spend time with his nine grandchildren, play golf and relax. He also may provide consulting services for the public schools, work with principals opening new schools, fill in for leaves of absence and help recruit new staff.
A PRINCIPAL for the past 26 years, Griffith has been with Potomac Falls since it opened in fall 1996. During that time, he made sure to attend Potomac Falls activities and make himself visible in the hallways and during lunch breaks. "Unfortunately, as the school gets larger, it's more difficult to develop individual relationships with students as a principal," he said, adding that what he misses about teaching is developing those relationships on a day-to-day basis and seeing the process of students learning.
"He keeps tabs on us and praises us when we do well," said Potomac Falls senior William Powars, 18. "It makes us feel even though he is head of the school that he cares about each of us. I'm going to miss him."
Griffith, who grew up in Alexandria, knew he wanted to be a teacher when he was in college at Virginia Tech, where he earned both his bachelor's and master's degrees.
While in school, he participated in the school’s cadet program with the goal of becoming a war pilot. Between his junior and senior years, he discovered he was partially colorblind and was offered a chance to work in the intelligence field requiring an additional year of school. The other option was to take an honorable discharge and go into teaching. Also, at about that time, his roommate, a helicopter weapons repairman, was killed in Vietnam. Griffith made a life decision. "I felt I could make a bigger difference working in education," he said.
In 1968, Griffith graduated with a double major in mathematics and French. He played golf on the college team and was a member of the college's New Virginians show choir.
Griffith started teaching at Broad Run High School in the fall of that year, where he also coached basketball and golf. In 1976, the year he received his master's degree in secondary school administration, he was appointed assistant principal of Loudoun Valley High School in Purcellville. A year later, the principal at Douglass School, an alternative high school in Leesburg, left and Griffith was appointed to take his place.
"I was able to affect more people as a principal," Griffith said. "My philosophy is to try to let teachers teach and be themselves and give them the freedom to display their talents."
IN 1977, Griffith became principal of Broad Run High School where he remained until 1996 when he took his current position at Potomac Falls, the first high school to open in 21 years since Park View opened in 1976. Since then, there have been three more school openings including Stone Bridge in 2000, Heritage in 2002 and Dominion this year.
"I like the way Mr. Griffith always cared about the kids," said Virginia Minshew, principal at Farmwell Station Middle School in Ashburn and assistant principal at Broad Run High School for nine years while Griffith served as principal. "He was never too busy to work with a kid or sit in on a conference about a student or have a kind word about a job well done."
Minshew found Griffith to be caring about students and teachers both. "I loved working with Wayne. He was a wonderful teacher. There’s a number of us who were Wayne’s assistants who are now principals, and I think that’s a credit to him," she said.
At its opening, Potomac Falls had 758 students, compared to 1,430 students this year. The building has a 1,385-student capacity. That capacity is accommodated with an eight-period block, which the school initiated in 2001 after opening on a seven-period block, Griffith said.
Griffith served as principal over four decades from the 1970s to 2000, his "claim to fame," he said. He is known for singing at student assemblies and pep rallies, everything from Broadway to rock. He wants to show students that he, too, is active in music and sports, to encourage them to get involved in extra-curricular activities. The more they put themselves into those activities, the more they will put themselves into their schoolwork and the school as a whole, he believes. "That's a big part of building a new school, activities that involve all students. I have a firm belief there is something for everyone," he said.
"He's very spirited. I think he's proud of our school and of us," said Samantha Smith, a 16-year-old junior at the school.