Dillon Valley Elementary now has a wall named for Debbie Griffith.
Griffith retired this month after 35 years with the Summit School District, and the school honored her by naming the Action Wall she created after her.
“She was always posting pictures, ideas, letters that students had written when they had taken action,” said Gayle Westerberg, an education consultant and former principal of the school. “It’s very visible, and it’s exciting — a very positive, energetic edition to the school.”
Griffith championed the International Baccalaureate program for elementary schools in Summit, Westerberg said, and one of the core components of the program is that students take what they learn and move to action.
The wall exemplifies Griffith, Westerberg said. “She’s been a real change agent. It’s a perfect match.”
Griffith, 60, worked at Dillon Valley Elementary, Silverthorne Elementary and Breckenridge Elementary. She taught almost every level of elementary school, but spent most of her teaching years with first-graders.
Later she became a reading specialist, and for the last 10 years, she worked as the Dillon Valley Elementary coordinator of the International Baccalaureate program.
“This school district has given me my life,” she said, adding that it allowed her to develop as an educator and try new things. “I’m so grateful to the Summit County School District for those opportunities.”
Griffith was raised in New England and graduated from the University of Vermont with a degree in education. After school, she became a Peace Corps volunteer, working at a teacher training center for a couple years in Malaysia.
Her experiences there taught her about the importance of intercultural understanding, she said, as did a year in England as part of a teacher exchange in 2001 with her husband and two children.
“They may think differently than us, and they may also be right,” became an idea that resonated with her and that she found at the heart of the IB program.
“It’s everything I believe in,” she said. “IB pulled together bits and pieces of my life.”
She said she loves that the program is inquiry-based, conceptual, concentrates on language and promotes a global perspective.
Westerberg said Griffith brought the IB program to Dillon Valley, the first elementary school in Summit to adopt it, and she planned the school’s first evaluation by program officials in 2007.
‘We were on pins and needles,” said Westerberg, who was then the principal. “We were excited, we were confident, but it was new to us.”
The moment was a critical point for the school as it was one of few in the country whose leaders were bringing together IB and the dual language initiative.
After the officials left the building, Griffith and Westerberg started jumping up and down screaming.
“It was just such a relief,” Westerberg said. “We knew it had gone well.”
Westerberg worked with Griffith for about 30 years, she said, and Griffith was always caring with students and perceptive with teachers.
“She would just appear in the classrooms where she was most needed,” Westerberg said.
Griffith said she loves to encourage new teachers, make them feel good about the skills they already have and then help them refine those skills.
“I still remember the pain,” she said. “As a young person, I didn’t have the skills to deal with things.”
She described being humbled and frustrated in her first few years. She had high expectations for herself, she said, but sometimes didn’t feel knowledgeable or comfortable. “I was supposed to know everything, and I didn’t know anything.”
Griffith said she was grateful for generous support from those around her when she started. Later she loved serving as a mentor for young teachers and learning from them.
“I’m not the sage on the hill,” she said. “It’s a two-way.”
Her experiences abroad also helped her connect with the foreign teachers at Dillon Valley.
“She was always bringing them in under her wing and caring for them not just educationally but personally,” Westerberg said. Griffith showed interest in their families and how they were acclimating to Summit.
“I have a real love for them because that’s a brave thing that they do,” she said.
Westerberg said Griffith’s retirement was “a difficult decision for her because she’s so connected to the children and to the staff.”
“She’s going to be greatly, greatly missed,” said Dillon Valley Elementary principal Cathy Beck. “She is a wealth of knowledge. We were so lucky to have someone with her level of expertise.”
Now Griffith will focus more on the IB training she has already been doing at workshops and conferences around the country.
She wants to spend more time outdoors and with her family, she said, but for now she doesn’t want to define her next steps in favor of letting them evolve until she’s sure of what she must do.
“I trust that it’s going to be awesome,” she said.