Fresh from his stint as principal of Union Middle School in San Jose, Mr. Burmeister was settling into his Menlo Park office during the last few weeks with plenty of background noise — not from energetic kids returning from summer vacation (that doesn't happen until Sept. 4), but from hammers, saws and drills as the massive campus construction project nears completion.
Mr. Burmeister arrives at Hillview at an opportune moment as the school district strives to define and implement "21st century learning" — a buzz phrase heard throughout the state's education community. The transformed middle school is equipped with many features that increase opportunities to use high-tech tools to teach kids.
But Mr. Burmeister emphasizes that "21st century teaching isn't about technology; it's about how we get kids to think." With technology helping learners find information more efficiently, education's focus should be "moving a kid's learning from just knowledge, to creativity and collaboration. (21st century learning) is about the ability to take what we learn from teachers and the Internet ... and then do something with it."
Mr. Burmeister, who was named California Middle Grades Principal of the Year for 2012, has been credited for raising Union school's API score by 102 points during his five years as principal there. And, according to Superintendent Maurice Ghysels, he almost completely closed the achievement gap between white and Asian students and their Hispanic peers. Also, by the end of Mr. Burmeister's tenure, virtually no student at the school was achieving at a below-basic level, and more advanced students were achieving at higher levels than in the past.
Asked about his success in this area at Union school, Mr. Burmeister said: "Every public school's goal needs to be that ethnicity, disability, socioeconomic status (and language spoken at home) should not define academic success. ... We need to be asking where it is that we're not meeting the needs of our students in the way we need to be.
"Hillview is a very high-achieving school, but with pockets of kids not achieving, we need to ask why.
"The issue is, are we going to be a society that allows those four things to define whether kids achieve? They shouldn't matter. ... Kids need to have the same access and opportunity for success."
Regarding his first year at Hillview, Mr. Burmeister said, "I feel like I've really been given the green light" in determining how to lead the school.
Hillview will continue to use the academy model launched two years ago by Mr. Burmeister's predecessor, Mike Melton — in which each student is assigned to an academy taught by a team of teachers, each focusing on his or her specific teaching specialty.
"The academy is absolutely a strength of the (educational program)," Mr. Burmeister said. "In time we may look at how we can provide more flexibility ... but it is a core part of our program."