AUBURN — Auburn Middle School Principal Bob Griffin said he’s focused on taking the school from good to great.

“That’s our work ahead,” said Griffin, who was named the top administrator six months ago. 

The middle school years are a tough age, he said. “You look at what’s going on developmentally for kids. They’re forming their independence, breaking away from parents but they need their parents more than ever,” he said. “I’m not sure anyone looks back and says, ‘my middle school years were the best years of my life.’”

Still, there’s no other age he’d rather teach, coach, mentor and manage. From an educational point of view, Griffin called middle school the most important years.

“All kids come into middle school excited about learning. In the two years we have them, we can foster that and light fires, send them to high school excited about learning, or the opposite can happen. They begin to disengage.”

There’s not a big bullying problem with this age, he said, but there is “more of a kindness problem. Middle school students in particular can be unkind and not realize it.”

What makes the difference is relationships, some adult connecting with every student, teaching not only academics but what behavior is appropriate and what is not.

A big initiative in Auburn schools this year is positive behavior intervention and support. Simply put, it’s about finding ways to recognize students making good choices, and identifying those who need behavioral support.

It’s individually targeted, Griffin said, a different approach to showing up for detention and sitting silently for 45 minutes.

“We know the detentions, the suspensions, do not tend to be effective when it comes to changing behavior,” Griffin said. That said, there are times when drugs or student safety is involved that make suspensions necessary, he said.

Griffin, 38, grew up in upstate New York. When he was a middle school student he found academics hard.

“I struggled with reading. With math. I needed extra help,” Griffin said.

He didn’t look forward to classes.

He made it because he had people who believed in him, his middle school “champions.” Teachers, guidance counselors and coaches who, despite his C’s and D’s, told him: “‘You can go to college.’”

There was a bus driver named Jack, who knew his name, smiled at him, talked to him every day asking about his brothers or his games. “That can go so far,” Griffin said.

Because of that, high school was easier, as was college.

Every adult who works in the school, teachers, educational technicians, custodians, secretaries and kitchen workers “are equally important,” he said. “Anyone can make great connections with kids.”

He didn’t always see himself in education. In college he started as an education major, then “I watched “Silence of the Lambs.” He was fascinated. He changed his major to forensic psychology and went to graduate school to become a criminal profiler or psychologist.

Along the way he worked at a police department in Pennsylvania as a 911 dispatcher. He liked the work, admired the officers, but found the environment stressful. “It was never a good day,” he said.

Watching police deal with people in crisis “day after day,” working nights, holidays, “I have such an admiration for folks who do that.”

He went to the University of New England and University of Southern Maine to get his teachers certificate.

After graduation he was a teacher, assistant principal or principal in Biddeford, Falmouth, Wells, Westbrook and most recently Sacopee Valley Middle School in Hiram.

When the job at the Auburn Middle School opened up last spring, Griffin remembered Auburn being called by a college professor as a district doing great things.

His wife’s family lives nearby in Jay. Something felt right about Auburn, he said. “So I applied.”

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Auburn Middle School principal Robert (Bob) Griffin in the hallway of the school. (Sun Journal photo by Russ Dillingham)

Auburn Middle School principal Robert (Bob) Griffin. (Sun Journal photo by Russ Dillingham)

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