As anyone who has worked in the middle grades can attest, this age is one of the most crucial in a child’s development. Not only must these educators help students develop their academic skills, they must also consider the students’ emotional development as well.
One middle grades leader who successfully leads the education of the whole child is Erik Burmeister, principal of Union Middle School in Union School District. For his efforts, he has been named ACSA’s 2012 Middle Grades Principal of the Year.
Burmeister said he is proud to have been part of the process to create an environment in which middle grades students thrive. He said it is impossible to spend any time on campus without getting the overwhelming sense that something very powerful, positive and meaningful is happening.
“Students are not just learning and growing academically, but they are becoming better people, too,” Burmeister said. “We are developing assets in our children that they take with them to high school, college and beyond. When you are a leader of a middle school where nearly every child has a positive experience, people seem to take notice. For many people, middle school was one of the hardest times of their lives. That’s not so for students who attended Union Middle School in the last several years.”
Burmeister said while he is humbled to have received the Administrator of the Year Award, he can’t take credit for all the good things happening at Union Middle School. In fact, it takes the entire school team to create a positive learning environment.
“More than just recognizing me and my work as a leader, I hope the recognition also reflects on the hard work and dedication of those with whom I have the pleasure of working – the educators, parents and students,” he said. “It is because of their support, willingness, creativity and endless encouragement that I am remotely successful at my job. I hope those around me are feeling some of the recognition with this award as well.”
Burmeister, who has since taken a position as principal at Hillview Middle School in Menlo Park, said he looks forward to the challenge of a new school, but the decision to transition has been bittersweet.
“In my seven years at Union, I have become a part of this community and am so proud of what we have accomplished together. However, when the opportunity presented itself to lead another highly capable group of educators in a very supportive community, my entrepreneurial and visionary spirit took hold,” he said.
Burmeister hopes to implement some of the change agents used at Union Middle School, such as Response to Intervention, professional learning communities and a focus on closing the achievement gap. At Union, he instituted one of the first secondary models of RtI, enabling special education students to have access to a guaranteed viable curriculum taught by a highly qualified teacher. After the first year, student test scores soared. As a result, the school’s API jumped 97 points to 912.
He also implemented classes such as Thrive and U-Turn to provide positive guidance for students with behavior issues. As a result, discipline incidents decreased, survey results showed 99 percent of parents said their children feel safe at school, and Union Middle School was recognized as Project Cornerstone Caring Middle School of the Year.
Burmeister said there was little doubt he would enter the field of education. He began as a teacher in Ohio, later moving to the Campbell UHSD, where he served as activities director, dean of students and vice principal. In 2005, he took a job as assistant principal at Union Middle School before becoming principal in 2007.
“What I like most about my job is that each day I help people lead better lives. What could be more worthwhile and rewarding? Not to mention … middle school kids crack me up. People who don’t get to work with 11 to 14 year olds every day can’t appreciate how fun it is.”
Burmeister said he hopes to have the same impact on students as his own educators had on him, and he truly believes there is no profession as meaningful – and fun – as education.
“I benefited from the dedication of so many educators while growing up,” he said. “Their encouragement inspired me. If there were a field that I could have more impact in people’s lives and positively affect the direction of my community and country, I would probably do it. But there simply isn’t one. Education is the most important work there is to do and I am honored to get to be a part of doing it.”
Burmeister is an active ACSA member who said the organization has been crucial in helping him throughout his career and has played an instrumental role in his development as an educational leader.
“One of my first ACSA events was a panel discussion with different superintendents about the role of professional networking in your educational career,” he said. “I remember not knowing anyone in the room and wondering if there was a place for a young administrator in ACSA. I raised my hand and commented to the panel that I wanted to be a part of an organization that met my needs as a young administrator and asked how ACSA would do that.
“I didn’t know who he was at the time, but a very prominent superintendent and former ACSA president responded passionately, ‘It’s not just what ACSA can do for you but what you can do for ACSA.’ He challenged us to get involved in making the organization become what we needed it to be; he implored us to get involved. So I did.
“That superintendent was Don Iglesias (retired San Jose Unified) and since that day I became a vice president of Member Services in my region, the state chair for the Member Services Committee, and am currently the Region 8 president. Through my time I have learned so much and been empowered to strengthen my voice within ACSA and in support of public education in California. I would not be where I am today were it not for the lessons I have learned and the people I have learned from in ACSA.”
Burmeister will be honored with all of ACSA’s Administrators of the Year during the 2012 Leadership Summit, Nov. 8-10 in San Diego. To register, visit ACSA Online at www.acsa.org/leadershipsummit.
Access photos of award recipients at www.flickr.com/photos/acsaevents.