05/14/13 8:00am
05/14/2013 8:00 AM

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | George Grigg of Mattituck is retiring this year from his job as the superintendent of Little Flower School.

When Little Flower Union Free School District Superintendent George Grigg first thought about pursuing a career in education, he was a Mattituck High School student who couldn’t afford basketball sneakers.

His coach, Robert Muir, took him under his wing and taught him how a little encouragement can go a long way.

“We weren’t a wealthy family,” said Mr. Grigg, 62, who grew up in Mattituck as the eldest of eight. “When basketball season came and I couldn’t afford basketball sneakers, mysteriously, in my gym locker, there was a pair sneakers for me to play.”

It was that generosity, coupled with his coach arranging for him to visit colleges upstate, that showed Mr. Grigg how educators can make a difference in students’ lives.

He’s worked to help children achieve their goals ever since.

“Each one, reach one,” Mr. Grigg said. “I’ll never forget Coach for doing that for me.”

For the past 16 years, Mr. Grigg has worked at Little Flower Children and Family Services of New York, a not-for-profit special act school in Wading River that serves at-risk and disabled students. The Special Act public school system was created by the state Legislature to ensure that special education students receive access to free public education.

The superintendent said that, after discussing it with his family, he plans to retire at the end of this school year. Mr. Grigg’s wife, Regina, also a teacher, is retired from the Longwood School District. The couple has three adult children, Bryan and twins Jared and Justin.

We interviewed Mr. Grigg recently in the office he’ll soon leave.

Q: What has been the most challenging part of your job?

A: Funding. The whole funding methodology of going through three governors and asking that there be a change in funding for special acts schools — it just hasn’t happened. We haven’t had a cost of living increase in four years. We’re not allowed to carry a fund balance. With the cost of energy, retirement and insurances going up, less is available for the students. We’ve asked Senator Flanagan and Senator LaValle for help and they’ve been helpful.

The problem is with the [state Division of Budget]. They couldn’t think of better ways to close schools like this one than what they’re doing now. They’d rather see us close, I believe. They have not been there to help us at all. When I started here, there were 15 of us. At one point, it was has high as 23. Right now we’re down to 10. With all of the regulations and all of the mandates, we came very close to closing. Thankfully, Little Flower Agency and Suffolk County National Bank have been very helpful.

Q: Why did you decide to retire?

A: Education is going through so many changes. The testing. The unfunded mandates. Before it takes a toll on my health, I decided it’s time to get out. My wife retired four years ago. She told me she got tired of waking up in the morning, saying goodbye and not talking to anybody else until I got home. She got bored sitting at home and she’s working as a part-time substitute teacher at Eastern Suffolk BOCES in Westhampton. She’ll stop when I retire.

Q: Which achievements are you most proud of?

A: Watching kids who come here who haven’t had success in other schools districts and watching them bloom. Watching kids that never thought they’d graduate from their home school, who come here and complete the program successfully and graduate. I also have the opportunity to watch new teachers come in and see how energetic they are and the vast amount of knowledge these new young teachers have. They work hard starting day one when they come in. We also set up the Little Flower Educational Foundation, which allows us to take kids on field trips and help PBIS. [Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, a system aimed at improving student behavior.]

Q: What will you miss most about your job?

A: Interaction with the kids. I still have a lot of school social worker in me. Kids still knock on the door to come in and see me. That’s what I’m going to miss. I like to stay connected to the kids. I enjoy going down to the gymnasium, shooting hoops with the kids. Or I’ll walk into the cafeteria sometimes and I’ll sit and chat with our day students and students that live here residentially and find out how their day is going. I’m going to miss interaction with staff. I’ve got a very good team of teachers, staff and administrators here.

Q: What are your retirement plans?

A: We also own a home in Yorktown, Va., so we’ll be going back and forth between there and Long Island. I want to do some traveling. I want to go to the Grand Canyon, take a look down there and yell. I want to hear my echo.

jennifer@timesreview.com