Booming laughter rises up the Dining Hall ramp, cascades over the open wall, and infiltrates the words of soothing reassurance being offered to parents brand new to Shore. Of course it is Larry Griffin! For twenty-five years — a full third of Shore’s history — it has been easy to know when Larry is out and about on campus. He is as serious about the fun of life and learning as he is about education’s best practices. Larry’s quarter century at Shore’s helm is characterized by this very trio of forces, defined as much by his energy and enthusiasm as it is by his pedagogy. Intellectually, he likes to think of Shore as a traditional school at the forefront of elementary education. He also knows schools don’t arrive or remain at the head of the class without growth, evolution, and the capacity to reflect upon themselves with perspective — and a sense of humor!
In 1987, Larry inherited a school that was thriving in the manner of many independent schools, delivering an excellent standard of education within a highly regarded traditional style. New heads are always coached to do more observing than changing in year one. In Shore’s roots, high expectations, and winning teams, there was plenty for Larry to admire. His approach to life, however, clearly informed his style of leadership, propelling him to seek improvement, fresh ideas, and growth. Insatiable action and vision quickly replaced observation, and by the end of Larry’s first fall, Shore was off on the race of change.
Twenty-five years hence, we can attest to the fact that Larry rarely pauses. In the early years, he quickly engaged faculty in the process of professional evaluation, not just around what we are doing now, but where we would be focused next. He fought for what has become a trademark of Shore, its significant funding for professional development. Rather than administer from the top down, he orchestrated deliberate avenues for faculty leadership. Teachers guided accreditation teams and influenced Shore’s decision to become a two rather than three division school. Division heads educated teachers about learning styles, and teachers led their peers on issues of diversity. Trustees, administrators, and faculty colluded to form and reform mission statements. Sometimes change was big and deliberate: voting was unanimous on the decision that Shore’s science facilities must be built. The resulting Brian R. Walsh Science Center and Library Resource Center was and remains an extraordinary setting for teaching. Sometimes evolution grew slowly and from within. Faculty proposed to Larry that the science department’s collaboration with Readiness and Kindergarten teachers could become fully integrated science and art learning for R-2. Their integrated study spawned Shore’s initiation of Coherent Curriculum teaching at every grade, and today’s SAIL curriculum is routinely studied and emulated by other schools. Larry likes nothing better than when a great idea emerges from his faculty.
Sometimes no one really brings change; instead, it sometimes finds you. Larry’s style has been to research and consider. As our world has grown more diverse and the student body has responded with enrollment, so too came Larry’s need to seek diverse faculty and deliberately engage all teachers in multicultural training and conversations. Incorporating technology in administration, teaching, and learning is a wave that has grown only higher with no crest in sight. Larry has found the funding and the foresight to keep our students and teachers at the cutting edge. Parenting styles, the desire for schools to become hubs of community, and the ease of technology colluded to usher in strong and deliberate expectations for communication. Robust athletics remain a trademark of Shore. For their physical health, team play, and sportsmanship, sports are still a priority for the students and surely for Larry as a coach. But as individual pursuits have proliferated, students can now balance their afternoon choices with far greater variation over the course of a year. And then there’s the Shore dress code. Larry is a conservative dresser at heart. Even in the face of relaxing corporate standards of dress, giving up student coats and ties was hard. Settling on a school style that represents an egalitarian approach, with an air of purpose and without distraction, however, was easy.
In fact, anything that benefits the students is an easy consideration for Larry. It is, after all, his mantra: regardless of how it may serve the adults or the school, is it good for children? A veritable litany of changes under Larry’s tenure testifies to the pursuit of this philosophy. Upper School students have time for support and enrichment with faculty not only through the regularity of the “Eighth Hour” period but also through the thriving opportunity for Independent Study. Kindergarten and now Readiness, too, stretch their curriculum over a full day rather than half. There’s time for the personal growth of free play and social time, more art and more movement, and, above all, no rush. Seventh and eighth graders see peers in new ways through Project Adventure. Fifth grade whaling and sailing curriculum is brought to life on board the ship at Mystic Seaport, and seventh graders learn the art of field science in the ocean lagoon of Camp Briarwood. Where Lower School students have always benefited from the consistency, safety, and responsive classroom model of the homeroom, Upper Schoolers find refuge, identity, and reinforcement within their advisor groups and the Advisory Curriculum. With persistence and insistence, Larry has pushed for the learning to be as personal as it has been academic, to be as hands on and creative as it is formal and preparatory. Balance remains important; accessibility for students with different passions and talents is key.
And then there’s that laugh. Larry loves the fun of children, of people, of life. Interviewing Readiness children about what it is they think he does at Shore delights him as much as cooking up pranks to foil ninth graders who look to fool their fearless leader at Mountain School. Larry devises tactics to surprise the student body with Head’s Holiday, and he pedals the oval in Chinese dress delivering the Kindergarten’s international bears. Creating his own Wall-E costume for the Halloween parade kept him up all night, and exemplifying to the ninth graders how not to impress secondary school interviewers makes us groan. Those who know Larry know that he brought his passion for baseball to Shore, but nothing is more fabulously silly than watching him lead the conga line of Lower Schoolers through the dining tables on opening day with “Sweet Caroline” blaring and the game up on the big screen.
That big screen in the big Dining Hall whose space allows Shore students to gather over meals and with their teachers and classmates, sometimes chatting about school but often not, makes Larry proud. Beyond its resources as a facility, the Dining Hall raises the personal quality of Shore students’ days outside of the classroom. The role of the Community Code does, too. Especially as a vehicle for praising what children do well, the Code’s power as a framework for remarking upon the good enjoins everyone to Larry’s optimistic view of human nature. He cares deeply about what students can learn in their relationships with others, especially about themselves. Eighth and ninth grade camping trips and the remarkable ninth grade week at Mountain School are exemplars of this affective goal. The trips play to all of Larry’s sense of fun and adventure. Moreover, they are indelibly etched in Shore students’ relationships to both classmates and the school.
In these twenty-five years, Larry has taught us to look forward, remain optimistic, and always consider the best for children. We share his pride in our campus and programs. We construct our teaching more broadly and more creatively. Children participate with their hearts as much as with their minds. Along the way, Shore has learned to embrace the energy of change, and we cannot help but laugh with the joy.
Thank you Mr. Griffin!