Monomoy principal honored by state association – news – – hyannis, ma gas you up

As Monomoy Regional High School’s first-ever principal, Burkhead had been handed the keys to the flagship school for a district that was only a few years old and still experiencing birth pangs. Town officials balked at an unexpectedly high regional budget, the school system was hemorrhaging students to other schools, had relatively low standardized test scores and the lowest graduation rate on the Cape.

Four years after it opened its doors, the high school graduation rate has increased from 80.8 percent in 2015 to 92.4 percent in 2017. Standardized test scores on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System remained higher than the state average for the percentage achieving proficiency in English Language Arts and steadily climbed from below the state average to above it in both math and science — all as the number of students failing classes dropped by 58 percent. The number of students taking Advanced Placement classes nearly doubled, as did the number of AP examinations given to students.

“I firmly believe that a good school culture is a strong foundation for any great school,” Burkhead said. He envisioned school as a home-away-from-home where teachers and administrators treat students as they would their own children, and give and receive respect.

Those are pretty tenderhearted words for someone who still looks like he could shed the suit and tie and smash full force into a line of tacklers. A star running back at Springfield College, Burkhead was the team’s rushing leader for the 1990 season with 1,112 yards, 6.1 yards per carry and 13 touchdowns. He has both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education from Springfield and a certificate of Advanced Graduate Studies from Bridgewater State University, where he teaches graduate-level courses.

“I think some may see Bill as a guy who’s got that athletic background and the build of a former football player and coach, but if you get to know Bill, you get to know how important family is on a personal level and he does a good job of translating that onto the professional level,” said Monomoy Superintendent Scott Carpenter.

“What Bill deserves a special shoutout for was his efforts to create a culture within the school that was welcoming, a foundation on which to build,” said Monomoy history teacher Richard Houston, who was named the 2012 Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History Massachusetts History Teacher of the Year and a 2013 Educator of Distinction by the National Society of High School Scholars.

His first year on the job, it seemed Burkhead needed more of his scrum skills and less compassion as he faced the trials of breaking in a new school. Fifty additional unregistered students showed up unexpectedly that first day without class assignments and hundreds of other student schedules were incomplete. The region itself faced concerns by selectmen and taxpayers about budgets running higher than predicted in the runup to regionalization and continued worries about the expense and the need for a new school.

“Coming in there were already a host of challenges, but one of the biggest was that huge budget cut. There were teachers laid off in every major department,” Houston said. Teachers from both Chatham and Harwich had been working for years on developing a schedule of expanded class offerings to take advantage of the opportunities presented by a new school and a new student body. That dream dissolved quickly as an entire block of classes was cut.

The arts department met with the four finalists for principal, two of whom shrank from the school taking on a controversial musical. Richard was pleasantly surprised that Burkhead was a theater buff who took his family to shows in New York. He praised them for putting on that musical and providing a great opportunity for the students.

Burkhead called the school "innovative" in solving its problems and in constructing new programs: an internship program connecting students with professionals in the community, a global studies program in which students tailor their curriculum, and travel abroad to focus on an international issue and receive an additional diploma.

“It was a big risk going from the traditional three lunch periods, like a factory where everyone is shipped on a bell, and everyone shipped back,” Burkhead said. It was wasted time, and taking a minute from other classes carved out an hour in which students could choose how they wanted to use their time.

“Now kids have over 60 options at lunch,” he said. While some worried that some students might make bad choices of what to do with their time, Burkhead felt it was more important to serve the 95 percent would make the right ones. Participation in academic offerings during the lunch hour went from 5,657 sessions from March 2017 to May 2017 to nearly 11,000 from September 2017 to January 2018.

“I’ve been in schools where the MCAS is the focal point and they took away recess and added a double math period and it destroyed the school culture because kids are kids and they need some freedom of opportunity,” he said. “That’s why kids are staying here. It’s a college atmosphere where they are respected and trusted to make decisions.”