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Feature story: Envisioning a 'frontier of possibility'

On a newly built campus, in a spacious new auditorium, at the start of a school year, a dynamic new principal took the microphone.

It was September 2012, and parents of Hillview Middle School students had gathered for Back to School Night to hear what Principal Erik Burmeister envisioned for his first year at the school's helm. After reviewing four of his top goals for the nine months ahead, he came to his final goal, which, he said, was at the heart of why he "eagerly accepted the opportunity" to lead the school:

"This year, we will begin to answer the question, 'What will an excellent 21st century middle school education look like in 10 years?' And instead of waiting 10 years to do it, we're going to start it now, here, at Hillview ... ."

The goal was based in part on confidence in the level of support and achievement of staff, parents, and students of the "now." But looking to the future and to the ever-accelerating pace of change in the world, Mr. Burmeister urged parents to consider: "There is a frontier of possibility that awaits our community."

Although change cannot be instantly assessed as successful -- or not -- the innovations put in place at the school during the last year and that are at the ready to launch in August make it clear that empty words are not part of Mr. Burmeister's lexicon.

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In January, he introduced an "acceleration" program to support kids who were performing below grade level in reading and math. Participation was voluntary; 30 students were supported in the reading program, and 30 in math, with a few of the students enrolled in both, according to Vice Principal Willy Haug.

Mr. Haug said the program has had "astonishing results." In the math program, for example, "on average, students ... have made one year of academic growth in six months," he said in an email.

Beginning early in the school year the new principal gathered together a team of staff and parents to review and improve the school's master schedule to accommodate a new approach to teaching and learning. The group was called the Design Team, and used concepts developed by Stanford University's Design School, called "design thinking."

Applying design thinking concepts -- a process beginning with empathy and moving through the brainstorming of possibilities, to the design and testing of prototypes, to the naming of a solution -- the team came up with a master schedule that significantly changes the flow of school days at Hillview beginning in August.

With the new schedule, there will be three days of 45-minute "direct instruction" periods, focusing on "foundational knowledge and skills," Mr. Burmeister explained in an interview. The other two days will be broken into 90-minute segments, with the focus on "extended learning ... where students engage in the application of knowledge and skills."

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Design thinking will be a key component in the longer classes, with students focused on collaborative, project-based, creative projects that include design and debate, Mr. Burmeister said.

"Design thinking is simply a great way to solve problems, whether it is a third world health care conundrum or a Menlo Park school schedule," parent Anne Ballinger Morrissey said in an email last spring, when the new schedule was being announced. Ms. Morrissey was part of the Design Team that crafted the new schedule, and said it was "the direct result of input from all stakeholders -- administration, faculty, parents and, most importantly, students.

"It will certainly present change, but the overall school will simply be better. Our kids need to have skills to utilize what they learn in the core curriculum in order to succeed in their futures and the challenges presented by a rapidly changing world. The framework of design thinking will equip these kids for solving problems that we cannot predict today."

Teacher Michael Kaelin, who was also on the Design Team, did some pioneering work with design thinking at Hillview last term, applying the concepts in a flex class of seventh-graders. He's eager to "integrate the excellent feedback given by the students" as he plans classes for the new school year, he said.

Under the new master schedule, he said in an email, extended learning days "will allow students the opportunity to develop their prototypes (in hands-on projects) in a way that seems much more authentic. As a teacher, straight-up pen/paper or even laptop testing is fine, but it isn't always authentic. A new schedule provides opportunities to build more authentic real world assessments to determine what students have learned."

Designing change

Menlo Park City School District Superintendent Maurice Ghysels, a district leadership team and a handful of teachers attended a "boot camp" with the Stanford Design School last summer, and a partnership between the district and "d school" began soon after. It is now "growing and deepening," Mr. Ghysels said.

When Mr. Burmeister took his new position later that summer and attended a workshop that included design-thinking discussions, he saw the potential of using the concepts to redesign Hillview, said Allison Liner, the district's chief learning officer.

Mr. Burmeister said design thinking is a teaching and learning tool that helps kids develop the "soft skills" needed for the world they will live in as adults -- skills such as creativity, innovation, and adaptation.

"We must prepare kids for their future, not prepare them for our past," he said. No one can see what their future will look like because of the rapid change brought about by technology, so "education needs to learn to adapt, and prepare students to be more adaptive."

Mr. Burmeister is calling the "redesigned" school Hillview 3.0. This school year, all eighth-graders were given iPads managed by the school, and next year -- by January, he hopes -- all Hillview students will have them. With iPads, students "can access information instantly. ... It then frees the child to move to the next level of the task," he said.

Students are not able to download apps, and part of their training will be in "effectively evaluating what is a reliable source of information and what is unreliable. ... It's our duty as a school to help teach them to be responsible users" of technological tools, he said.

Mr. Burmeister came to Hillview from a post as principal of Union Middle School in San Jose. He had recently been named California Middle Grades Principal of the Year.

"Can-do spirit"

In his first year at Hillview, Mr. Burmeister "has just exceeded expectation beyond measure," Superintendent Ghysels said last week. "He has an ethos -- a sense of energy and a can-do spirit."

Example: "He's established strong relationships with his teachers, and has developed a lot of teacher leaders there," Mr. Ghysels said. He's also nurtured a strong team dynamic with the school's vice principal; "Erik and Willy -- one plus one equals four," Mr. Ghysels said.

An unexpected strength, he said, is Mr. Burmeister's "passion and expertise in parent education." The principal has organized parent education events, and plans many more next year; he does so "in a research-based, humorous and delightful way, where parents walk away hungry for more."

Parent Anne Morrissey said there's "tremendous support for Erik Burmeister throughout the district." A mother of two kids in the district, with one in private school, Ms. Morrissey sees Hillview as a "fantastic school" that's only getting better. "Hillview will be in a class of its own in the next few years, and people from all over the country will be asking Erik, 'How did you make this happen in a public school?'"

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Feature story: Envisioning a 'frontier of possibility'

by / Almanac

Uploaded: Mon, Jun 17, 2013, 11:27 pm
Updated: Tue, Jun 18, 2013, 11:24 pm

On a newly built campus, in a spacious new auditorium, at the start of a school year, a dynamic new principal took the microphone.

It was September 2012, and parents of Hillview Middle School students had gathered for Back to School Night to hear what Principal Erik Burmeister envisioned for his first year at the school's helm. After reviewing four of his top goals for the nine months ahead, he came to his final goal, which, he said, was at the heart of why he "eagerly accepted the opportunity" to lead the school:

"This year, we will begin to answer the question, 'What will an excellent 21st century middle school education look like in 10 years?' And instead of waiting 10 years to do it, we're going to start it now, here, at Hillview ... ."

The goal was based in part on confidence in the level of support and achievement of staff, parents, and students of the "now." But looking to the future and to the ever-accelerating pace of change in the world, Mr. Burmeister urged parents to consider: "There is a frontier of possibility that awaits our community."

Although change cannot be instantly assessed as successful -- or not -- the innovations put in place at the school during the last year and that are at the ready to launch in August make it clear that empty words are not part of Mr. Burmeister's lexicon.

In January, he introduced an "acceleration" program to support kids who were performing below grade level in reading and math. Participation was voluntary; 30 students were supported in the reading program, and 30 in math, with a few of the students enrolled in both, according to Vice Principal Willy Haug.

Mr. Haug said the program has had "astonishing results." In the math program, for example, "on average, students ... have made one year of academic growth in six months," he said in an email.

Beginning early in the school year the new principal gathered together a team of staff and parents to review and improve the school's master schedule to accommodate a new approach to teaching and learning. The group was called the Design Team, and used concepts developed by Stanford University's Design School, called "design thinking."

Applying design thinking concepts -- a process beginning with empathy and moving through the brainstorming of possibilities, to the design and testing of prototypes, to the naming of a solution -- the team came up with a master schedule that significantly changes the flow of school days at Hillview beginning in August.

With the new schedule, there will be three days of 45-minute "direct instruction" periods, focusing on "foundational knowledge and skills," Mr. Burmeister explained in an interview. The other two days will be broken into 90-minute segments, with the focus on "extended learning ... where students engage in the application of knowledge and skills."

Design thinking will be a key component in the longer classes, with students focused on collaborative, project-based, creative projects that include design and debate, Mr. Burmeister said.

"Design thinking is simply a great way to solve problems, whether it is a third world health care conundrum or a Menlo Park school schedule," parent Anne Ballinger Morrissey said in an email last spring, when the new schedule was being announced. Ms. Morrissey was part of the Design Team that crafted the new schedule, and said it was "the direct result of input from all stakeholders -- administration, faculty, parents and, most importantly, students.

"It will certainly present change, but the overall school will simply be better. Our kids need to have skills to utilize what they learn in the core curriculum in order to succeed in their futures and the challenges presented by a rapidly changing world. The framework of design thinking will equip these kids for solving problems that we cannot predict today."

Teacher Michael Kaelin, who was also on the Design Team, did some pioneering work with design thinking at Hillview last term, applying the concepts in a flex class of seventh-graders. He's eager to "integrate the excellent feedback given by the students" as he plans classes for the new school year, he said.

Under the new master schedule, he said in an email, extended learning days "will allow students the opportunity to develop their prototypes (in hands-on projects) in a way that seems much more authentic. As a teacher, straight-up pen/paper or even laptop testing is fine, but it isn't always authentic. A new schedule provides opportunities to build more authentic real world assessments to determine what students have learned."

Designing change

Menlo Park City School District Superintendent Maurice Ghysels, a district leadership team and a handful of teachers attended a "boot camp" with the Stanford Design School last summer, and a partnership between the district and "d school" began soon after. It is now "growing and deepening," Mr. Ghysels said.

When Mr. Burmeister took his new position later that summer and attended a workshop that included design-thinking discussions, he saw the potential of using the concepts to redesign Hillview, said Allison Liner, the district's chief learning officer.

Mr. Burmeister said design thinking is a teaching and learning tool that helps kids develop the "soft skills" needed for the world they will live in as adults -- skills such as creativity, innovation, and adaptation.

"We must prepare kids for their future, not prepare them for our past," he said. No one can see what their future will look like because of the rapid change brought about by technology, so "education needs to learn to adapt, and prepare students to be more adaptive."

Mr. Burmeister is calling the "redesigned" school Hillview 3.0. This school year, all eighth-graders were given iPads managed by the school, and next year -- by January, he hopes -- all Hillview students will have them. With iPads, students "can access information instantly. ... It then frees the child to move to the next level of the task," he said.

Students are not able to download apps, and part of their training will be in "effectively evaluating what is a reliable source of information and what is unreliable. ... It's our duty as a school to help teach them to be responsible users" of technological tools, he said.

Mr. Burmeister came to Hillview from a post as principal of Union Middle School in San Jose. He had recently been named California Middle Grades Principal of the Year.

"Can-do spirit"

In his first year at Hillview, Mr. Burmeister "has just exceeded expectation beyond measure," Superintendent Ghysels said last week. "He has an ethos -- a sense of energy and a can-do spirit."

Example: "He's established strong relationships with his teachers, and has developed a lot of teacher leaders there," Mr. Ghysels said. He's also nurtured a strong team dynamic with the school's vice principal; "Erik and Willy -- one plus one equals four," Mr. Ghysels said.

An unexpected strength, he said, is Mr. Burmeister's "passion and expertise in parent education." The principal has organized parent education events, and plans many more next year; he does so "in a research-based, humorous and delightful way, where parents walk away hungry for more."

Parent Anne Morrissey said there's "tremendous support for Erik Burmeister throughout the district." A mother of two kids in the district, with one in private school, Ms. Morrissey sees Hillview as a "fantastic school" that's only getting better. "Hillview will be in a class of its own in the next few years, and people from all over the country will be asking Erik, 'How did you make this happen in a public school?'"

Comments

MP Parent
Menlo Park: other
on Jun 18, 2013 at 6:22 am
MP Parent, Menlo Park: other
on Jun 18, 2013 at 6:22 am

Where did this guy Ghysels come from? All he does is spout canned leadership jargon.


Grateful
Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jun 18, 2013 at 8:43 am
Grateful, Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jun 18, 2013 at 8:43 am

Thank you Menlo Park City School District for the great work happening at Hillview!


mp parent
Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jun 18, 2013 at 5:54 pm
mp parent, Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jun 18, 2013 at 5:54 pm

Why not make him Superintendent and get rid of Ghysels! The district would be much better off!!


MPCSD teacher
another community
on Jun 18, 2013 at 7:08 pm
MPCSD teacher, another community
on Jun 18, 2013 at 7:08 pm

MP-Parent:

I can't tell you how many MPCSD employees would agree with you!


school supporter
Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jun 18, 2013 at 7:57 pm
school supporter, Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jun 18, 2013 at 7:57 pm

Thank you Principal Burmeister, Hillview Staff, Superintendent Ghysels, School Board and everyone else involved for the initiative you are taking!


Mr B
Atherton: West of Alameda
on Jun 18, 2013 at 9:59 pm
Mr B, Atherton: West of Alameda
on Jun 18, 2013 at 9:59 pm

He is amazing. Hillview is lucky to have him.


Stop the Attacks
Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Jun 19, 2013 at 1:01 pm
Stop the Attacks, Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Jun 19, 2013 at 1:01 pm

How did a story about design thinking at Hillview become another attack on the superintendent? Do people really think he's evil for hiring outstanding people Erik Burmeister and supporting staff development and new initiatives?

If you attack a person who is making MEASURABLE improvements, then there's something else at play. Perhaps it's the fact that Ghysels has taken very definite steps to clear out the deadwood.

There were and are still a number of employees in the school district who just go through the motions, have a "been there/done that" attitude, or are threatened by or incapable of keeping up with the progressive changes. No job comes with a lifetime guarantee other than teaching. That has to change if we want the best education for our children.


long time resident
Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jun 19, 2013 at 7:48 pm
long time resident, Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jun 19, 2013 at 7:48 pm

Thank you MPCSD leadership and staff. And thank you to our supportive community. I am very happy with the progress being made in our District. Keep it up!


Mp employee
another community
on Jun 19, 2013 at 8:00 pm
Mp employee, another community
on Jun 19, 2013 at 8:00 pm

Stop the Attacks:

You are missing the complete picture. If you think there is progress being made, you should spend one day inside the walls of the district. Then you would understand what is really happening. The only deadwood in the district is Ghysels. He makes more efforts at curtailing innovation than supporting it. He's too busy going out to lunch every day to actually be bothered with making improvements in the district.

What this article so clearly illustrates is that a strong leader can bring positive change. Erik Burmeister didn't clean house. He brought the best out in each and every person on our staff. The only thing Ghysels knows how to do is fire people. He'll soon run out of people to fire then everyone outside the district will realize his inadequacy when he no longer has anyone left to blame but himself for his lack of leadership ability.


G
Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jun 20, 2013 at 8:31 am
G, Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jun 20, 2013 at 8:31 am

Thank you MPCSD for doing the hard work to get great people in key leadership positions!


thank you
Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Jun 20, 2013 at 10:44 am
thank you, Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Jun 20, 2013 at 10:44 am

I think the District does have the complete picture, and that is precisely why so many good things are happening. How much time should the District spend trying to turn around poor performers, especially in key leadership positions? I'm glad that our District has shown the courage to make some tough decisions.


SteveC
Registered user
Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jun 20, 2013 at 2:41 pm
SteveC, Menlo Park: Downtown
Registered user
on Jun 20, 2013 at 2:41 pm

he people with the attacks are the same ones who have not attended any meetings of the school board but love to complain about everything.


district parent
Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jun 20, 2013 at 5:09 pm
district parent, Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jun 20, 2013 at 5:09 pm

Some changes were better than others. Other "key leadership" positions have not been filled to the caliber that has happened at Hillview.


Actually a parent
Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Jun 21, 2013 at 12:41 am
Actually a parent, Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Jun 21, 2013 at 12:41 am

All the parents I know are are very pleased with the changes that have been made. Keep up the good work!


district parent
Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jun 21, 2013 at 10:52 am
district parent, Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jun 21, 2013 at 10:52 am

To "Actually a parent": We are all entitled to our own opinions and we each have different experiences with principals depending on the schools where our children attend. So from my perspective, I would say that I am not very pleased with all of the changes that have been made.


Setting the record straight
Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
on Jul 22, 2013 at 9:03 am
Setting the record straight, Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
on Jul 22, 2013 at 9:03 am

The article is an accurate report of the good work that Mr. Burmeister is doing and has planned for Hillview. A quote in the article about Principal Burmeister refers to a comment made by Allison Liner. For accuracy, the question here is why is she referred to in the article as "Chief Learning Officer?" Shouldn't she correctly be referred to as the District's "former Chief Learning Officer?" It is my understanding that she recently abruptly resigned and has been employed elsewhere in an effort to protect her reputation from being destroyed any further than it has been due to her working with superintendent Ghysels. It should be noted that Mr. Burmeister is making progress at Hillview due to his ability and leadership skills -- it has nothing to do with Ghysels at all.


Setting the record straight
Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
on Jul 22, 2013 at 9:14 am
Setting the record straight, Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
on Jul 22, 2013 at 9:14 am

Opps...At the time the article about Mr. Burmeister was printed, Ms Liner was still employed by the Menlo Park School District. She has, however, recently resigned and found employment elsewhere in an effort to protect her reputation from any further damage as a result of having been selected by and of working with superintendent Ghysels.


Name hidden
Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle

on Jun 4, 2017 at 6:17 pm
Name hidden, Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle

on Jun 4, 2017 at 6:17 pm

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?


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