Kansas native Dr. Gordon Riffel said coming to Effingham County is like a return to his roots.
“I grew up in a town of about 3,500, very rural,” said the new coordinator for exceptional children in the Effingham County School System. “My dad was a hospital administrator, and when we came here we went by the Effingham Hospital — it reminded me so much of the one my dad was in charge of. It just fit. It seemed like it was going back to a slower paced way of life and that appeals to me.”
He began his career in education as a school psychologist. He has been deputy superintendent, director of special ed. and Illinois state deputy superintendent for special ed. He then moved to Gwinnett County as executive director of special education/psychological services.
While in metro Atlanta, he began an education consulting business. The business did not go the way he expected it to, so he decided to return to the education system.
He said he likes Georgia.
“I’ve really seen a difference between the Atlanta area and down here and much prefer down here because people seem to have a high set of values, and they’re extremely friendly,” he said. “Every place you go, they’re friendly. In Atlanta, like any big city, you have a tendency to lose some of that.”
He said he also appreciates not having the same amount of traffic as there was in Atlanta.
“(I) interviewed in a variety of places and interviewed down here,” he said. “I was very impressed with the quality of school district that you have in Effingham, and that’s what really attracted me to this area. I’m a person who’s extremely interested in quality and continuous improvement. That seems to be your hallmark down here.”
He said he plans to spend the first year getting the “lay of the land.”
“You have to come in and get to know the people,” Riffel said. “You have to get to know the culture of the people.
Every organization has its own culture, and I have to get to know that culture.”
He said he does not plan to make sweeping changes. He said in about a year he may begin making adjustments.
“Right off the bat, my philosophy is to help people improve, keep the programs moving in the right direction,” he said. “They have had good reviews from the state when the state comes down and does a compliance review. What they’re doing—keep doing it and doing it well.”
Riffel said he began his career in education because of a coach.
“I was complaining one time about all the kids who got to play basketball seemed to be the kids who had fathers attend the practices, and mine didn’t,” he said. “I was complaining about that, and coach said, ‘Gordon, if you don’t like education get in and change it.’
“So I got into education. I got into special education, which is really the pinnacle of change, and I’ve been doing it ever since,” Riffel said. “Hopefully, I’ve made some inroads to change education.”
He said he’s been in education, and he’s been on the fringes of education.
“I think what keeps drawing me back is that I really like the interaction with the children, I enjoy interaction with the professional staff and the parents,” Riffel said.