BUSD Superintendent Matt Hill sat down recently with myBurbank to talk about his first six months at the helm of Burbank public schools and goals for the future of Burbank Unified. (Part 2 of a two-part interview, see Part 1 here.)
Hill talked about the learning curve as he took the reins of the district’s top position, along with his initial impressions of Burbank Unified and the Burbank community.
“I quickly learned Burbank is definitely a strong community. Everyone says, it’s not a city, it’s a town. And, it definitely is a town and I love that,” Hill continued. “If we have challenges or successes, I can quickly get out to the school site and be part of that.”
“I love that we have engaged parents, community members, teachers, students. A lot of people play multiple roles in the district – they’re former students, current teachers, they have kids in the schools,” he added. “I think that’s a major asset that we have that most districts don’t have.”
“So that’s one thing I want to continue to build upon. I spent a lot of my first six months truly listening and learning and reflecting on what I hear and sharing what I hear. I’ve been trying to create more opportunities for us to share what is great and where we have opportunities to grow. That’s going to be probably a signature aspect of my leadership.”
“I’m not going to do what I did for just the first ninety days, first hundred days,” Hill went on to say. “That’s what I want to do throughout and that’s the culture of BUSD: us sharing what we’re seeing and experiencing in our schools and continually improving upon that.”
Hill focused on opportunities and goals for Burbank Unified in the coming months. Currently, BUSD sees 96% of its students graduate from high school within four years.
“I started this summer reaching out to the seniors that did not graduate. I truly do believe we can get to one hundred percent,” said Hill. “I know I’ve got criticism for saying that – they think it’s unrealistic.”
“I am happy to say that of the students that did not graduate, we are in contact with all but one. So there’s one student that’s missing one class and we’re still trying to connect with that child,” he explained. “And the others may need a couple more years in our adult school to get the credits they need. But we’re working with them.”
“By modeling that with the senior class, I’m hoping to change the expectation,” Hill also said. “If you enroll in Burbank Unified, you will get a diploma. It may take you longer. You may take different routes. But we’re not going to give up on any child.”
As Hill aims for every student to receive a high school diploma, he points to the additional funding the district has received, which has provided additional counselors and intervention specialists.
“We can start much earlier in a child’s career… it’s not the seniors that we are trying to catch,” he continued. “It’s the eighth grader who’s thinking about dropping out, it’s the junior who’s having challenges in his or her life. We’re going to be able to connect with each of those students.”
“My number one goal is to get to that one hundred percent graduation rate and build the systems in place to do that.”
Hill himself continues his pursuit of higher education, as he works towards a doctorate in Educational Leadership for Social Justice at Loyola Marymount University, which he expects to complete in 2018.
“I am a strong believer in lifelong learning and I was really impressed with LMU’s focus on social justice.”
“I’d like to reiterate, a high school diploma now is really just the starting line and we need to do a better job of expanding and deepening our career pathways,” Hill also emphasized. “Whether a student wants to go to a community college or a four year college or directly into the workforce, we need to make sure we’re providing more of those pathways.”
“That’s a lot of the focus I’ve been working with my secondary team. We have two pathways now – digital media and digital manufacturing. We want to partner with the city and the local businesses or look at what are other pathways that we need to embed into our schools as well as our adult school.”
“The rest of the work really starts from early education all the way through graduation,” Hill said, mentioning a recent school climate survey the district just completed. The survey has provided data from parents, students, teachers and members of the community on successes in the schools, as well as aspects in need of improvement.
BUSD is beginning the budgeting process, the Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP), which enters full work mode in the spring of 2016.
“We want to hear about where those opportunities are to strengthen the work,” he added. “We have working groups right now focused on mental health. We have a working group focused on our Gifted and Talented (GATE) students, with math and science.”
“There’s a lot that we’re working on in smaller groups to get feedback and we’re going to bring that all together. Unfortunately California doesn’t have enough funding to do everything I want to do, so we have to make some prioritization.”
“I really am excited and energized by the relationship I have with the school board, with our unions, with our teachers, with our principals,” Hill said. “I really feel that Burbank Unified is positioned to achieve amazing things. We’ve always been a strong school district. And I just see so much more potential. By working together we’re going to get there.”