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Walbridge prepares for retirement, Griffin ready to ascend

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MALONE - Ice Storm ‘98, capital projects and technological advancements.

Wayne Walbridge, superintendent of the Malone Central School District, has weathered much throughout his combined 13 years in the position.

Mr. Walbridge is set to officially retire from the district at the end of June. However, Jerry Griffin, the district’s current director of information and technology, has been preparing for the last couple of years to take the reigns and both seem confident the transition will be a smooth one.

Mr. Walbridge recalled the many changes the district has seen since he took the superintendent’s seat in 1998 and the various events that have shaped his time there.

He noted just before he officially took on his new career the outgoing superintendent handed him a tall stack of papers and said if Mr. Walbridge went through them he would be prepared to be superintendent. Mr. Walbridge recalled sitting for hours looking the paperwork over on Christmas Eve.

He said he assumed the superintendent’s role on Jan. 2, 1998 and one of the first decisions he made was to cancel school because of Ice Storm ‘98.

“They were coming at me before I got there,” Mr. Walbridge said of the decision to close schools.

Mr. Walbridge recalled gathering a group of district officials together to take a bus ride to Constable to look at the damage the ice storm caused, during which officials agreed that roads were too treacherous to transport students to school.

Beyond extreme weather events, Mr. Walbridge also took on rapidly changing technology and making sure the school district kept up with the times. During Mr. Walbridge’s time as superintendent, Malone Central took on $70 million worth of capital projects.

Mr. Walbridge said the projects helped with “transitioning the buildings in the school district for the 21st century. As technology has evolved, we’ve done these capital projects,” he said.

Transitioning all of the district’s elementary schools from having kindergarten through fifth grade to having Davis Elementary School be pre-kindergarten through second grade and Flanders and St. Joseph’s elementary schools having grades three through five was another change Mr. Walbridge took on. This past year, he also saw the transitioning back to the way things were before.

“They decided to go for a pre-K through [second grade] early childhood intervention approach,” he said, noting that an ad hoc committee was formed to research the idea and recommended this approach. “We probably did the right thing at that point in time.”

Mr. Walbridge retired for the first time in 2005. However, after a few years, the superintendent’s position was open once again in 2008. Mr. Walbridge took the seat again on a one-year contract, but school officials soon asked him for a three-year extension.

When he returned, Mr. Walbridge said one of the main things to deal with was reconfiguration, changing the district back to having all three elementary schools have grades pre-kindergarten through five.

“That was a goal when I came back to the district,” he said.

This took effect this past school year, and according to Mr. Walbridge, was not opposed as much as the first change was.

He mentioned some of the highlights of his career.

“There are a lot of things that have occurred that I’m proud of,” he said. “One of things that has come out very well ... [is we] worked with staff to do an annual musical.”

Mr. Walbridge also mentioned the establishment of the district’s sports hall of fame in 2000 and the academic hall of fame in 2004 or 2005.

Mr. Walbridge said much of his time has been devoted to managing personnel, noting that the district has around 500 employees. Sometimes multiple teachers or staff members retire each school year, and Mr. Walbridge said it’s been part of his job to help with the hiring process.

When capital projects were underway, Mr. Walbridge said one of his duties was to meet with various district officials about progress on a regular basis.

Preparation for the district’s board of education meetings every second and fourth Tuesdays of the month is something else a superintendent does, according to Mr. Walbridge, who added that he’s written up extensive notes on various issues and topics of discussion.

However, the main focus of all of this is the students and the staff working with them. Mr. Walbridge said he really enjoyed visiting the different school buildings so he could see how things were going and be around the students.

Of the district’s upcoming transition in leadership, Mr. Walbridge said he’s confident that Mr. Griffin has what it takes to be superintendent, and in working in the district office for the past few years has the tools to take on his new job.

Mr. Griffin, a Franklin Academy High School graduate, said that he wanted to be a high school social studies teacher and decided to move to North Carolina after college with his wife, who is also an FA graduate.

“I was hired as a math teacher,” Mr. Griffin said, noting that he did that for a few years until he was approached by the principal of that school who recognized his leadership qualities.

Not long afterward, he became assistant principal and then principal of a middle school.

Mr. Griffin and his wife moved back to the north country after he found out Don Merrick was retiring from being FA principal in 2007. Griffin was hired as Merrick’s replacement and soon after took on a second role as assistant superintendent.

“I feel like Wayne set me up to be ready,” Mr. Griffin said of his time spent working alongside Mr.Walbridge. “Wayne has put me in positions and challenged me which made me grow.”

Mr. Griffin recalled a quote that Mr. Walbridge uses when there’s been tough or challenging times with his work, which is: “There’s always good that comes out of something bad in your life.”

Mr. Griffin added Mr. Walbridge taught him to always be prepared and to “do his homework.”

When he becomes superintendent, Mr. Griffin said he hopes to continue helping to move the district forward as new technology develops, noting that there are now two teachers that will use iPads as part of their curriculums next fall and there’s also a “bring your own device” policy that allows students to bring mobile devices to school with them if a teacher wants to use them in the classroom.

“We’ve opened the door for those things to happen,” Mr. Griffin said.

There is also a wireless Internet network at each building.

“I see us continuing to improve our technology infrastructure,” Mr. Griffin said, adding that safety for staff and students is also a priority.

Mr, Walbridge’s term concludes on June 30, but since that’s over a weekend, his last day in the superintendent’s office is set for June 28.

“Malone’s always going to be near an dear to my heart,” Mr. Walbridge said, adding that he’s looking forward to spending more time with his family.

Mr. Griffin’s term as superintendent begins Monday, July 1 and is effective through 2016.

“Absolutely I feel prepared,” Mr. Griffin said when asked if he’s ready for his new position. “I’m excited about the opportunity.”

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