New Griswold principal enjoys middle school's special energy

By Janice Steinhagen - Staff Writer
Griswold - posted Mon., Aug. 19, 2013
Michele Raynor took the reins of Griswold Middle School July 1. Photo by Janice
Michele Raynor took the reins of Griswold Middle School July 1. Photo by Janice Steinhagen.

Many adults view their children’s middle school years as a time of upheaval, struggle and conflict. But Michele Raynor regards the middle school glass as more than half-full. “It’s a time of tremendous turbulence for these kids, but I love to be able to get them through this,” she said. “They’re malleable – their potential for change is so great. To help them navigate this wonderful time of adolescence is a privilege.”

Raynor moved into the principal’s office at Griswold Middle School on July 1. She replaces interim principal Paul Berkel, who had in turn filled in for a year following the departure of former principal Thanh Nguyen, who left for a position in Manchester. The Branford resident comes to GMS from Walsh Intermediate School in her hometown, where she served as vice-principal for 1,100 fifth- through eighth-graders.

“Tween-age” students can be boisterous, but “there’s an energy they have that’s unlike any other age,” Raynor said. “And the people who work with them have an energy, too.” She said it’s important that, along with meeting the new state standards set by the Common Core curriculum, “middle school is about the whole child. There has to be a balance between the Common Core standards in reading and writing and allowing kids to explore their interests and really figure out who they truly are, what lights their fire.”

She said she was heartened by the fact that in Griswold, “the music and art programs are still intact and flourishing, with opportunities for kids to tap into that and take advantage of it.” Just after her first day of work, she attended the middle school summer music program’s concluding concert, and came away “so supercharged from that. I saw the kids, how excited and truly talented they are,” she said.

Raynor came from a family of educators. “My mom was a teacher and my grandmother was a teacher,” she said. “Initially I was not interested in teaching, but what do you know as a college freshman or sophomore?” She earned her bachelor of science degree in biology at Southern Connecticut State University and briefly did lab work at Yale before souring on the animal work involved.

Her first foray into the classroom was a long-term substitute position at Notre Dame High School in West Haven, where she taught biology for four years. She earned her teaching credential as a member of the first-ever Alternative Route to Certification (ARC) class, where she and her classmates did an intensive two-month teacher training program. Raynor has since earned her master’s degree at Wesleyan University, and returned to SCSU for her six-year degree in educational leadership. She spent 10 years teaching biology at Branford High School and serving as science department chair before taking the vice-principal position at Walsh.

Following the 2012 graduations of her two daughters, one from high school and one from college, Raynor said she felt ready to look past her hometown for her next career step. The 45-minute commute from Branford to Griswold gives her a twice-daily respite from work that she said is refreshing. “My track record is, once I find a place to land, I stay,” she said. “I’m really excited about all the different possibilities here.”

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