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  • Melody Cai

The New Era: Dr. Griffiths Shares His Life Story and Thoughts on One Direction

A new beginning has arrived. Toting a Union Jack mug and wearing a navy suit, Dr. Griffiths is a beloved institution at Stevenson. Maybe you’ve seen him cheering at a soccer (football!) game. Maybe you’ve seen him at an orchestra concert. Or walking into the dining hall, tea in hand. Yet, how much do we know about the man who may start an assembly by sharing a piece of advice, an experiment on birds, or his experience as a student? From his educational background to navigating life at Stevenson, here's an inside look at the world of Dr. Dan Griffiths, owner of the endearing accent we love to imitate.

Dr. Griffiths during his first time in Carmel (1984)

Could you talk about your experiences from England to Stevenson?

I came to the States in 1998 as a visiting fellow at UC Davis. I was teaching animal behavior and supervising students. I then returned to the UK and taught at a little boarding school in Ireland for four years. Coached rugby, soccer, and cricket. All the usual British sports.

Then my wife matched to a [hospital] residency in Portland, and I worked in London while getting my visa and everything sorted out. Moved to Portland in 2007 and spent ten years at a school there, where I started as a one-year maternity hire for the science department. Next year, I was the head of the Science Division. About four years later, I was the division head.

How did you end up with the opportunity to be head of school here?

In 2013, it was my 40th birthday and my dad’s 70th birthday. My wife bought us a golf trip to play at Pebble Beach, and I saw Stevenson School. Saw the upper division head and thought that he looked close to retirement. I kept an eye on that, and then four years later, a recruiting firm asked if I heard of Stevenson.

What was the biggest culture shock you’ve experienced coming to California?

There’s a sort of serious and a less serious answer. The serious one is when I moved here in 2017, a lot of equity and inclusion groups were ramping up, which isn’t a focus in England. It’s not really a thing there. I saw it as something to learn, almost like an academic subject because I didn’t have a personal connection to the depth of feeling in this country and its history. So I realized I had to understand culturally where I was, the emotional component, the historical component, just listening to everything. Before saying anything, just listening and be respectful.

Less formally, I miss pubs. American bars are nothing like pubs. Playing soccer over here was weird. You grow up in a different way, and the culture around the sport is different. In England, all of the teams you play, there’s a changing room where you meet beforehand, and there’s a pub after where you meet with the other team. Here, you change on the sidelines, then jump in your car and go home afterward.

Could you compare your high school experience to what you see now?

I graduated in 1991, and it was very different being in the UK... I loved it, I had a great time, but it was very Lord of The Flies. It was an all-boys boarding school. I feel so sorry for current high school students doing the college process because all we had to do was [get] good grades and stay out of trouble. There was no pressure to do internships and extracurricular activities, so I spent my time doing my school work, hanging out with my friends, and playing sports.

What do you foresee to be your greatest challenge in your new position?

We have a lot of work to do on the equity front to ensure it is truly embedded and a part of school culture. I want it not to be an initiative but a regular part of working at Stevenson. We’re not there yet, there's a lot of systemic change we need to do from the admission and hiring front. There are some big projects about financial aid funding. I have to shift my mindset from being the Upper Division head to overseeing a larger overview of the school. That means spending much more time at the Carmel Campus and getting to know the teachers there.

How do you plan on integrating student voices in the future?

The really simple answer is to ask. When we hire someone, we have a demo lesson and a student panel, and we ask students to give feedback directly on each candidate, which plays into our decisions. Last year, I visited with all the affinity groups just to hear about their experiences, so I understand the student voices, and I can bring that up with the CFO, Admissions, Ms. Bates, or Mr. Koshi.

You may have noticed in your classes a lot of feedback being asked and setting those feedback loops. We are constantly giving you feedback, so it’s only fair that you get to give feedback so we can work together. It’s really easy for me to say that I have an open-door policy, but I understand that it’s intimidating for a student to come and say, ‘I have a question’ or ‘I have a problem.’ I try to be visible. I go to games. I go to concerts. I congratulate folks in the choir. Let them know that I’m paying attention and their experience is really important to me.

What’s one piece of advice you wish you could give yourself twenty years ago?

If you work hard and make yourself useful, good things will happen. If you’re lucky enough to do be able to follow what you’re really interested in and what you’re passionate about, then you rarely have boring days.

What do you miss the most from England? Why?

My family. My mom, dad, and siblings still live in the UK, and home doesn’t change when you go back. Everytime I drive back, there’s a little sign that says welcome to Cornwall, and I get that feeling of relaxation. Cornish pasties. It’s the food of the gods.

What are your goals for your new role?

The bigger goal is always to leave a place better than you found it. We have a decent financial aid budget, so I want us to get to the point where there are no “different” tiers of participation based on your ability to pay for the extra things. To truly feel like you belong here if you can remove the noise, other worries, you’re free to immerse yourself in your studies, extracurriculars, and friends. And that’s what I wish for every other kid: to quiet any other noise for you to be yourself.

Do any of your British values come through in your role here?

I don’t want to be too stereotypical, but I’m pretty stoic. I don’t get too low or high about things. For me, the best reward is to be left alone. Now, showing appreciation for people’s effort and being overt in that, which is genuine, I struggle to do it. It makes me feel incredibly awkward when people do that on my behalf.

Who is your favorite One Direction member?

One Direction? Is that Harry Styles and Zayn Malik and that lot? I couldn’t possibly pick because they’re all great.

What are your thoughts on the Royal Family?

Absolute apathy. It’s turned into a soap opera.

Gordan Ramsey or Mary Berry?

Mary Berry. I love The Great British Bake Off, and my daughter makes a killer Victorian Sponge.

Afternoon tea or brunch?

Afternoon tea. Every day at 4 p.m., I walk home and make a cup of tea. That’s the British way. Brunch is just lazy breakfast.

Digestives or Jaffa Cakes?

That’s an almost impossible question. If they’re the caramel digestives, that might edge it out. We get them delivered from a British corner shop or a place in Seaside.

What is your favorite American snack?

You can’t resist Pringles.


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