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BUSD Superintendent Speaks About First Months On The Job, Future Goals (Part 2)

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.”

(Photo by © Ross A. Benson)

(Photo by © Ross A. Benson)

“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.”

(Photo by © Ross A. Benson)

(Photo by © Ross A. Benson)

“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.”

(Photo by © Ross A. Benson)

(Photo by © Ross A. Benson)

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.”

(Photo by © Ross A. Benson)

(Photo by © Ross A. Benson)

“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.”

(Photo by © Ross A. Benson)

(Photo by © Ross A. Benson)


BUSD Superintendent Speaks About First Months On The Job, Future Goals

BUSD Superintendent Matt Hill sat down recently with myBurbank to talk about his first six months at the helm of Burbank public schools.

Burbank Unified School District Superintendent Matt Hill has been a very visible head of the school district since stepping into the post on July 1 of this year. As BUSD Superintendent, Hill has connected with the many schools, personnel and elements of the school district with energy and enthusiasm.

He’s learned about food safety and lunch procedures in a middle school cafeteria, talked about his love of the arts at the Burbank Arts For All Foundation community meeting and tasted some of the treats prepared by students at the Community Day School.

For the first few months as superintendent, Hill emphasized a listening and learning approach, getting to know the people and groups that make up and partner with Burbank Unified.

New Burbank Superintendent Matt Hill. ( Photo by Ross A. Benson)

New Burbank Superintendent Matt Hill. ( Photo by Ross A. Benson)

Early on, he reached out to the Burbank Teachers Association (BTA), which had expressed concern about the process during which Hill was selected as a candidate and hired.

“In hindsight, I would say the majority of the concerns were with process,” said Hill. “I’m definitely a nontraditional candidate and for the teachers’ union to hear about that a week before the official announcement… they didn’t have enough time to really get to know me and process through that.”

“As soon as I joined, July first, we sat down together and talked about our views and concerns and wishes for the district, and, we were very similar in our views,” added Hill. “My approach is listen first, share different perspectives, look at options. I’m very direct with my thinking and open minded to other people’s perspectives.”

“We worked through some challenges right through the summer. Some we agreed on, some we didn’t, but we both walked away with a high level of respect for each other.”

“From that moment we’ve continued that on and I really enjoyed working with our union leadership, classified teachers, certificated… it’s the approach I take with everyone,” he also said. “It’s an amazing district and it’s my job to help make it run smoother.”

Superintendent Matt Hill at the opening of the Community Day School new kitchen.(Photo by ©Ross A. Benson)

Superintendent Matt Hill at the opening of the Community Day School new kitchen.(Photo by ©Ross A. Benson)

“While it is still early to assess, Superintendent Hill, along with the new school board, has been working well with BTA by sharing more information and reaching out to us for input,” said BTA President Lori Adams. “We have settled some old conflicts and are working on some new ones.”

“Mr. Hill is very approachable and can see the struggles that teachers endure as we transition to new state standards, curriculum and assessments, changes in facilities and new technology.  It is nice that new money is coming into the district so we are able to replenish and improve upon the cuts that were made in the last decade.”

“My only remaining concern is Mr. Hill’s past association with the Broad Foundation and Eli Broad’s new plan to change 50% of LAUSD’s public schools to charter schools,” added Adams. “It is my hope that in the unfortunate event that we lose some key court cases, he will stay true to his word that he is not interested in bringing charter schools to Burbank. Keeping Burbank’s schools public and transparent will allow us to continue to use taxpayer dollars to provide an excellent education for all students.”

“All of Burbank Unified School District’s schools have been recognized as California Distinguished schools,” Hill said in response to Adams’ concern. “My role as superintendent is to continue to support our excellent schools so that there is no need for parents or teachers to want to form a charter school.”

Superintendent Matt Hill talks with BUSD elementary school kids on the first day of school, August 17, 2015.  (Photo by © Ross A. Benson)

Superintendent Matt Hill talks with BUSD elementary school kids on the first day of school, August 17, 2015. (Photo by © Ross A. Benson)

School safety has become a much-discussed issue in Burbank in recent months. Thefts at two elementary schools rattled parents and the community, although the alleged perpetrator has been arrested and charged by police. Another incident, in which an individual jumped over a school fence and was detained by school personnel until police arrived, also has raised community concerns.

“I would say our partnership with the Burbank Police Department has been very helpful,” Hill said. “They’ve always worked with the district for training. When we have incidents like this, I can pick up the phone and call. That’s one thing that I love about Burbank is that I can talk to the Chief of Police right away or his team.”

School safety is “not a one time thing that you do. It’s ongoing. We have had some reminders that we have to be very diligent about it.”

“Coming in as the new superintendent, I wanted to do an audit of where we are,” he explained. “Every year we do school safety plans. We do the Great Shakeout. We do lockdown drills.”

“We have procedures in place, we have training in place, but being brand new, I wanted fresh eyes to give me a third party objective look at everything. So that was something I recommended to the board that we put aside some of the one time funds we received from the state to do the audit.”

“We have to be overly diligent about approaching and welcoming,” said Hill. “I don’t want to be profiling or it to be a fear tactic when individuals come to our campuses, but we need to say hello and make sure people are properly identified when they’re on our campuses.”

Superintendent Matt Hill meets parents on the first day of school, August 17, 2015. (Photo by © Ross A. Benson)

Superintendent Matt Hill meets parents on the first day of school, August 17, 2015. (Photo by © Ross A. Benson)

“So in the short term, our schools are having conversations. Right now is the time when we update our school safety plans. So they’re taking the recent events in consideration as well as the annual process to look at how you strengthen safety on campuses. We’re looking at additional needs we may need to provide to schools and combine that with the findings of this school safety audit.”

The BUSD Board of Education approved the hiring of Nicole Miller & Associates to perform a district-wide school safety audit in November. Work began shortly after the approval and continues into January. Results from the audit should be available by February.

“After I receive the report, I will prioritize the recommendations with the firm and begin to recommend some improvements to the Board,” commented Hill. “We have set aside $100,000 in one time funds to begin some implementation this year.”

The cost for implementing safety improvement may be higher than the $100,000 already set aside by the Board.

“The firm has recommended not publishing the findings, since they highlight potential weaknesses in our safety protocols,” Hill went on to say. “I feel we have good safety procedures and protocols in place here at BUSD, but we can never be satisfied. We need to constantly review and upgrade our safety practices in order to ensure our students and employees are safe.”

More of the interview with BUSD Superintendent Matt Hill will be published in Part 2.