Education unites 2 brothers who work in Capital, Griffin schools

Their mom, Marsha, is in her 30th year of teaching first grade in the Olympia School District.

“Every year, we would go spend time in her classroom,” said Chris Woods, 39, principal of Capital High School on Olympia’s west side.

“I think when you see somebody do a job that they love, it’s easy to follow in their footsteps,” added Greg Woods, 41, principal-superintendent of the Griffin School District in unincorporated Thurston County.

While the brothers have always been fairly close, their professional lives became strongly intertwined in 2010, when Chris Woods took the helm at Capital. The 1,332-student school serves the northwest corner of Thurston County, and about 20 percent of its students are from the neighboring K-8 Griffin district.

“They have an impact on the entire west side of Olympia,” said Ernie Rascon, principal of Hansen Elementary School in Olympia. “It’s very powerful.”

The Woods brothers grew up in Olympia, attending McLane Elementary, Jefferson Middle and Capital High schools. Chris Woods also attended L.P. Brown Elementary School.

Both excelled in sports, and as teenagers they spent their summers working as camp counselors at Perpetual Motion recreation center in Olympia.

“They were always helping other kids,” said Mark Grindstaff,  who owned Perpetual Motion and also was their PE teacher and football, track and wrestling coach at Jefferson Middle School. “At camp, they’d be like the Pied Piper for the kids to follow. Everybody wanted to go with those guys.”

Grindstaff said he wasn’t surprised that the Woods brothers went into education. In addition to having a mom as a teacher, their father, Lance, is a psychologist who works with adolescents. Grindstaff said he would have been more surprised if they had chosen careers that didn’t involve kids.

“I don’t think the fruit fell far from the tree,” he said. “The Woods family just has a zest for life, and they love to share it with kids.”

Like most brothers who are two years apart, there was quite a bit of competition in the Woods household, Marsha Woods said. She too assumed they would both go into education, although her youngest son’s route to get there was a bit bumpy.

 “Gregory was always the one who took school very seriously and listened,” said Marsha Woods. “And Christopher was there for the socialization. I got many phone calls from teachers, particularly in middle school and high school (about him).”

After college, the Woods brothers returned to South Sound to begin their careers. John Hitchman, now principal at Marshall Middle School in Olympia, hired both of them early on when he was principal at Griffin.     

“I would describe them as absolutely child-centered, and really connected well with kids,” he said. “I think they both have incredible integrity, and they are just doing great things for kids.”

Greg Woods taught middle school at Griffin for 10 years, and served as principal for five. Last fall, he was promoted to principal-superintendent of the 650-student district. It wasn’t the career he had planned.

“I think the Griffin community kind of chose Greg,” Chris Woods said. “He was resistant to administration; he loved teaching and coaching.”

Griffin PTO vice president Anne Larsen described Greg Woods as “the best of the best.”

“Greg puts everything he has to the students and parents out here at Griffin,” she said. “He’s at the door every morning greeting every student, out on the fields during recess playing kickball and football, in the lunchroom and then again at the doors when the final bell rings.”

Meantime, Chris Woods set sights on school administration, and worked at getting a wide range of educational experiences. He began with a long-term substitute-teaching job at Griffin, then went on to teach third grade at Hansen Elementary, first grade at McKenny Elementary and seventh grade social studies and language arts at Washington Middle School. He served as assistant principal at Reeves Middle School for two years and principal at Pioneer Elementary School for six before moving to Capital.

“Chris is driven,” Greg Woods said. “Since I am his brother, I might even substitute ‘driven’ with ‘stubborn.’ But he has a work ethic that drives him towards success. When he sets his mind to do something or accomplish something, there is not much that can get in the way.”

Capital High English teacher David Johnston, who also is president of the Olympia Education Association, described Chris Woods as personable, straight and tactful.

“He gets his point across, but always in a way that makes it feel like something you want to do,” Johnston said. “He’s fair. He’s been able to create an environment where everyone feel like they play an important role – kids, staff, teachers and parents. … I love working for Chris, and I love working with Chris.”

Both brothers ended up marrying teachers, and their free time is consumed with their children’s community sports and other activities.

Their running joke is that the only difference between Mr. Woods at Griffin and Mr. Woods at Capital is that one has hair. But there are some major personality differences, too.

“We are probably more different than we are similar,” Chris Woods said.

For example, Chris Woods enjoys working in an urban school setting; he advanced his career by changing jobs in the Olympia School District. Greg Woods prefers the atmosphere of the small community school, and he’s worked at Griffin his entire career.

They’re both funny, but they have different types of humor, Marsha Woods said. They’re also very different socially.   

“If there’s a large crowd, Chris is going to be in the center of that crowd,” Marsha Woods said. “Greg is going to be standing on the outside, taking it all in before he makes a decision whether to jump in or not.”

Chris Woods said he knew he wanted to work with kids since third grade, when he had a chance to help special-education students.

But that calling came much later for Greg Woods, who first earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology at Washington State University in Pullman.  

“It was almost like I was fighting the urge to go down this path of teaching,” he said. “You can only fight it for so long.”

The brothers get to work together quite often, especially on facility issues at Capital High, because Griffin School District pays a portion for construction projects at the school. Both participated in the recent meeting between the Olympia and Griffin school boards, and work together to make sure the transition goes smoothly for Griffin students who are entering Capital.  

At Capital’s graduation ceremony, the brothers get to hand out diplomas together.

Greg Woods said they’ve probably spent more time talking shop the past two years his brother has been at Capital than all other years combined.

Of course, as is the case with most brothers, there’s also banter. There are practical jokes, too.

Before last year’s Capital graduation ceremony, Chris Woods spread the word to not clap for his brother during the introductions of the school board members and other officials.

Greg Woods shook his head, recalling how only a couple of guys, and possibly their mom, cheered, when his name was announced. Other than that, Saint Martin’s University Marcus Pavilion was filled with awkward quiet.  

“I remember sitting there going, ‘Man, what did I do?’” Greg Woods said. “To be honest, I expected something because that’s how we are.”

So not long after, during Griffin’s eighth-grade promotion ceremony, Greg Woods introduced students to their new principal with some childhood stories on how he wasn’t a model student, and a few silly photos.

“They know when it’s time to be humorous and have a good time, and they know when it’s time to be serious and compassionate,” Marsha Woods said. “From a mother’s perspective, they’re pretty amazing young men.”  

Lisa Pemberton: 360-754-5433

Twitter: @Lisa_Pemberton

Leave a Reply