10 years in the life of C.C. Griffin Middle

What does it mean to spend 10 years of your life walking into the same school, year after year?

Your comfortable chair shows signs of wear. Your familiar desk has drawers too stuffed to open. Your filing cabinets, which started out empty, now burst with fat folders and assorted clutter. Your bookshelf is too crowded for even one more thin volume.

But your workplace feels like a second home, a warm and welcoming place that embraces you and supports you like a caring hug from an old friend.

You walk down the long halls and hear not only the voices of current students gathered in clumps by their lockers, but also the echoes of past students standing at those same spots, sharing the age-old important stuff of middle school dramas and dreams.

With fresh enthusiasm you cheer once again on the bleachers in the gym alongside watchful parents of excited players, all entertaining visions of playing in high school and beyond.

You smile as you hum along at the seventh-grade band concert to the simple notes of "Good King Wenceslaus," made familiar by a decade of exuberant beginner band students.

You walk into the cafeteria and note the hundreds of students far more interested in socializing than eating. You recognize the pain of the solitary student soulfully studying the contents of his tray. Some things never change.

You greet every staff member with good cheer. We are all in this serious business of educating children together. But there is a special place in your heart for those who have been with you since the very birth of C.C. Griffin Middle. You've watched the school grow into a healthy, feisty 10-year-old together, from the beginning....

C.C. Griffin Middle School was named for a noted Cabarrus County educator. Staff members on the original leadership team met monthly for nearly a year with Dr. Marion Bish, who had left J.N. Fries Middle to lead C.C. Griffin Middle as its first principal.

As the building slowly rose in a field in the western Cabarrus County countryside, the team painstakingly decided endless numbers of questions about furniture, paint colors, technology and supplies. Those initial employees recall coming over to the bare-bones building, full of sawdust and tarps, stepping carefully as they toured.

Willie Cruse, the phenomenal man who would head the custodial staff, was proudly leading us through the building, alongside Dr. Bish. We beamed in anticipation as they called out, "This will be the Media Center," "Right there is the Guidance Office," "These halls will house sixth-grade classrooms."

Opening Day was hot and clear. Red, white and blue balloons festooned the lobby and gym. Members of C.C. Griffin's family - including identical twin relatives wearing matching dresses with red corsages - were honored in the ceremony. Speeches were made, pictures were snapped.

Then it all began.

We opened with 1,050 students and saw those numbers rise quickly to reach 1,500 for several years in a row, making C.C. Griffin one of the largest middle schools in the state. Mobile classrooms units, which we were supposed to call "learning cottages," popped up like mushrooms on nearly every bit of level space available.

Finally, relief came with the opening of nearby Hickory Ridge Middle School in fall 2010. C.C. Griffin Middle, was reduced to half its size, which made hallway logistics and bus traffic much more manageable.

But there was a great interpersonal cost to this development. Many longtime staff members experienced the pain of separation from their colleagues, just as students mourned the loss of friends who had been forced to change schools with the redrawing of attendance lines.

We moved on, as a school must. In time, we learned that our transition difficulty would not be worst event of that year.

The day Willie Cruse died - Feb. 17, 2011 - was a community low. Our staff reeled from the shock of his sudden death and mourned deeply the loss of a man who never failed to bring sunshine into our lives with his thousand-watt smile and his jocular nature.

His funeral drew not only our school family and his own relatives and friends, but also hundreds of school staff members from across the Cabarrus County Schools system.

(An important part of the school's 10-year anniversary celebration will be the 6 p.m. dedication of a plaque in memory of Mr. Cruse. It will be placed in a gazebo in the main courtyard, where his spirit of sunshine can prevail for years to come.)

At the beginning of the 2011-12 school year, J.N. Fries Middle closed as a regular school and became a magnet program. That meant most former J.N. Fries students were redistributed to other middle schools; C.C. Griffin received around 300 students. Suddenly we shot up to nearly 1,000 pupils again, close to the number we had opened with.

Throughout the years, C.C. Griffin Middle has been blessed with capable, caring leadership. After a few years at the helm, Dr. Bish was snatched away to the county office to fill an important position involving federal programs. The staff was disappointed with her leaving but relieved when Dr. Jim Williams, the assistant principal of instruction, moved into her spot.

After a couple of years, Dr. Williams moved to another school, and Kristy Bullock - who had served her principal internship at C.C. Griffin during its opening year - became principal, where she remains. All three have maintained high standards of leadership, helping to keep our school focused on delivering security, support and success to all students.

Here is a special "shout-out" to the C.C. Griffin employees who, like me, are still plugging away in the same locale 10 years later: Deena Bost, Chris Cline, Julie Coble, Priscilla Foster, Donna Kindley, Edie Jo Lane, David Murray, Linda Murray, Barbara Nachman, Mary Odom, Carol Pierce, Jessica Rogers, Pat Scott, Gina Smith, Sheryl Troutman, Allison Walker, Sheila Weant and Kathy Zimmerman.

So what's so cool about being at the same place for 10 years?

You know a lot about your longtime colleagues. You know who prefers State over Carolina, who can help you with your computer without being condescending, who throws the best off-campus parties.

You remember going to staff showers for babies who are now elementary-school age. You know who has buried a parent, because you showed up at the funeral.

But the strongest bond you have experienced is that you have together nurtured 1,000 or so students through their middle school years - no day in the park even for well-adjusted, well-supported students.

Although the specifics of the curriculum may have changed throughout the decade, the need to feel listened to and cared for has not. We have many lessons yet to be taught, stories to be told and comforting support to be rendered, perhaps for another 10 years or longer.

As you turn out the light at the end of the day, you look fondly at your familiar surroundings and head for the door. Then you bid your school goodnight until the next day, when work begins anew.