By Trent Moore
The Cullman Times
Dr. Doreen Griffeth had never been to Cullman before the city schools’ superintendent position opened following Dr. Jan Harris’ retirement, but it didn’t take her long to realize the city was a place she wanted to call home.
It was a long road from Marietta, Ga., to Cullman, but the former assistant superintendent in Cobb County has both her daughter and the internet to thank for her new gig.
“I’d been in Cobb County for 24 years, but my daughter lives in Birmingham and had seen the job opening in Cullman. She said ‘Mom, you should try for this job.’ That’s how I became acquainted with Cullman,” Griffeth said. “When I became a finalist for the position was the first time I came to Cullman. I actually came up before the interview to check out where the schools were and see the community. Right then I knew it was a great place. I’d heard of Cullman, but never been here before then.”
Griffeth has been at the helm of Cullman City Schools for several months now, and said the biggest adjustment was leaving a massive system with more than 25 schools for a mid-size metro system like Cullman.
“I came from such a large system that it was very appealing to have one feeder pattern to really focus on and have your high school be the place you’re preparing students to attend and be successful,” she said. “I felt like I could really make a difference, be in those schools and really enjoy being in the schools. In my old position, it got to where I was problem solving all the time, and wasn’t able to get in the schools as much as I’d have liked.”
When making decisions that affect the system as a whole, Griffeth said she tries to tap back into her decades of classroom experience to consider the impact everything will have on the student-teacher level.
“I try to always have a teacher’s heart, and we are only as good as our teachers are in that classroom. I recognize the hard job they do, and always remember when we have to ask them to do something, what that was like when asked of me. The more we put on them, the less time they can spend preparing for our kids,” she said. “I’m so appreciative of the job our teachers do., and it was very interesting when applying for the job. I did my tour of each of the schools, and met with each principal. Each one individually talked about the strength of their teachers, and felt that was a big part of Cullman City’s success. Those are people who take real pride in their community.”
Griffeth said she’s spent her first eight months trying to learn as much as she can about Cullman County, and she plugs in to different aspects of the community. She said she’s found a church, the local Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and has made an effort to engage with civic organizations and visit with local officials at several levels.
“I’ve gotten right into church, so that’s been an easy transition, and the Chamber’s Leadership Cullman has gotten me to see a good bit of the area,” she said. “I’ve gotten to really jump in and see a lot of Cullman, and that has been great.”
Though Griffeth has gotten to spend some time getting her feet wet, her first eight months have also seen some challenges, such as the Cullman vs. Walker post-football game brawl. Griffeth said working through situations like that have shown her the character of this community.
“We’ve been through some tough things, and it still keeps showing me the resiliency of this community. You’re always going to have challenges, but we pick right back up, we keep our sight on what’s best for the kids and go right back after it,” she said. “The resiliency of this community has really been an eye-opener. As we go through hard things, this community comes to gather and pulls together.”
Griffeth is married, has four children and 14 grandchildren. She loves sports, which she said has been a good fit in Cullman, and is still transitioning from her old home in Georgia. What she misses most? Her piano.
“That’s kind of my therapy, my stress reliever,” she laughed.
Trent Moore can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com, or by telephone at 734-2131, ext. 134.