The R.A. Long students and staff know Lacey Griffiths for her bright smile, persistent optimism and ability to remember them all by name — three of the qualities that contributed to her winning the title of 2019 Washington State Assistant Principal of the Year.
“When we talk about the culture of the school, it starts with relationships, every single time. Lacey has been able to foster those relationships with staff, kids and paraeducators,” said Principal Rich Reeves, who has worked with Griffiths for the last 18 years. “Lacey knows nearly every student in our school by name...and that tells a kid, ‘I know you and I see you.’ ”
The award, given by the state principals association, honors Griffiths for her outstanding work as an administrator at R.A. Long, where she has been assistant principal for the last seven years. During that time, Griffiths and Reeves have led the school in starting a high school orientation program, introducing schoolwide instructional strategies and creating a school culture that pushes students to find success.
“Once you know the students ... you can read their body language and be able to know them as people, not as test scores, not as a graduation rate, not as any number, but as people and humans,” Griffiths said. “Rich always says, ‘The relationship comes first, and the achievement will follow.’ ”
Reeves said Griffith’s leadership in these efforts have played a huge role in rising graduation rates, which rose to 96.3 percent from 67.7 percent in just five years.
Griffiths’ coworkers said she excels at connecting with students and encouraging her staff to do the same. She personally greets as many of R.A. Long’s 850 students she can at the beginning of the day, and she checks on them again during lunchtime.
“Ms. Griffiths has a positive impact on the school. She makes it clear that every individual matters to her,” said Nick Sarysz, a senior. “We all feel, individually, that she knows us by name and talks to us every day.”
Sarysz said Griffiths’ big, genuine smile makes it hard to be upset in the hallways at school. He also commended how she “praises the positive” by highlighting the achievements of her students.
“A lot of times you think administrators are here to keep people in line, but she’s very aware and engaged with what’s going on,” Sarysz said. “She will tell you, ‘Good job on your game the other day,” or ‘I saw your grades, great job.’ ”
Tami Retterath, the school registrar, said Griffiths makes the school feel like a big family.
“Kids want to be here because of that family piece,” said Retterath, whose two sons have attended R.A Long. “It’s huge as a parent to see our kids feel safe and know they are nurtured and loved.”
Kari Cochran, a teaching aide who has worked with Griffiths for seven years, said the assistant principal cares for her staff, too.
“We get texts from her when we’re sick,” Cochran said. “She has an open door policy and always makes time to talk to us.”
When a selection team visited R.A. Long earlier this month, students, staff and and administrators were unanimous in praising Griffiths.
“What I heard from the team that came in was the consistent themes. It wasn’t that one group said one thing and another group said another thing, every group said the same thing,” Reeves said. “That’s how authentic those relationships are.”
Griffiths learned she had won the award on Dec. 4, and cheers erupted all over the school when Reeves spread the news.
As the state winner, Griffiths will join the running for National Assistant Principal of the Year. That award will be announced by the National Association of Secondary School Principals in April.