Getting the Community Involved in the Future
The only way change happens is if the community supports it
Interview with Dr. Jeff Burke, Superintendent of Splendora Independent School District, joined by Asst. Superintendent of Leadership & Culture, Rick Kershner
by Dr. Rod Berger
After over two decades as a teacher and school administrator, Dr. Jeff Burke is now finishing his first year as superintendent of Splendora Independent School District north of Houston. He’s seen a lot of changes and adjustments to the role of superintendent over his lifetime. Even though he grew up closer to school administration than most kids, he still acknowledges that the superintendent of 30 or 40 years ago was a mysterious figure “over there.” It seemed like almost a mythic presence of the community with their name and picture always in the paper.
Now, community engagement is the order of the day. “I’ve seen that the advent of social media requires us (the school district and superintendent) to be more fluid and more proactive with our community,” he says. “For a long time, I think we’ve been great at disseminating information, but we’ve not done a great job of asking for feedback and acting on that feedback.”
Dr. Burke has worked to improve and strengthen community engagement throughout his administrative tenures in the Georgetown ISD, the Alvin ISD, and in the Anderson-Shiro CISD. He and the Splendora ISD are members of TPAC, the Texas Performance Assessment Consortium, a group of 44 Texas school districts working to build on the success of community-based accountability systems already in use in districts across the state of Texas by developing next-generation measures and assessments.
“With TPAC, there are forty-four districts out of over a thousand in Texas that are actually doing this,” says Burke. “And, yes, we do represent a large portion of Texas, but there are so many out there that don’t have any idea about what we’re doing.”
Dr. Burke says the solution is the conversations he’s having with parents, staff, and the community. “I think it’s really important that this is a conversation, an ongoing conversation, where we’re asking the community, ‘What is it that you value?’ and then putting some action to what they say. How we hold ourselves accountable internally? We preach about intentionality and making sure that we’re focusing on what’s really important.”
When asked about the district’s ability to sustain the TPAC philosophy and processes into the future and permanently change the culture in the classroom, Dr. Burke says, “It’s about narrowing your focus and being very intentional about the processes to highlight it. It’s about putting your energy and focus on the things that matter and stop doing the things that don’t move the needle. I think it’s an all-encompassing focus because, with the things that we’re doing, we’re focusing solely on culture. Then everything should fall from that and not the other way.”
In explaining to the community that it’s an ever-evolving process, Burke says, “I think you have to tell that story and you have to tell it over and over and over. You have to tell it in a variety of context both internally and externally. But the hardest part for us is making our people tell their story. It’s one of the most frustrating things about our jobs. We want people to post stuff on Twitter. We want you to share what’s going on.”
Rick Kershner, Asst. Superintendent of Leadership & Culture points out that the Splendora Independent School District is about to hit a population explosion. They have new communities coming in, new developments, new subdivisions being built, and people with different perspectives moving in. They are opening a new elementary school, and have plans for more campuses. As a blossoming bedroom community for Houston, Splendora and the surrounding area is primed for development.
Dr. Burke says, “I think we have a really good opportunity. We’re a small district of 4,000 students. We only have two main campuses. We have an east and a west campus. We’re the biggest employer in Splendora. We’re the focal point of the community, if you will because we’re the school district. We have a unique opportunity that might be more challenging for some of the bigger districts. We can have those conversations.”
About Dr. Jeff Burke
Dr. Jeff Burke serves as the Superintendent of Schools in Splendora Independent School District in Splendora, TX. Previously, Dr. Burke was the assistant superintendent of academics in Georgetown ISD in Georgetown, TX for two years, was the Executive Director of Professional Learning and Student Engagement in Alvin ISD, and was the High School Principal in Anderson-Shiro CISD in 2010.
Having served for 21 years in public education as a teacher and administrator, he is focused on designing meaningful student experiences at a systemic level.
Dr. Burke received his doctorate in educational leadership from Texas A&M University in 2015. His wife, Kim, is also an educator and together they have one child, their daughter Tylee.
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