While the dust has not completely settled on the rebuilt Hillview Middle School in Menlo Park — the field is set to open in March — the buildings were complete when new principal Erik Burmeister arrived last fall.
Erik had gotten to know some of the members of the Hillview community when he was working at Union Middle School in San Jose. They visited, not to recruit him, but to see some of the innovative work he was doing. By the time the Association of California School Administrators (ACSA) named him the 2012 California Middle School Principal of the Year, the district and the parents knew they had the right man to lead a “new” school.
“The Hillview School community has changed dramatically in the past 10 years,” he said during a recent campus visit. “In the not too distance past, it had a student population of about 500. It will soon be over 900.
“There was also the change in the physical plan as well as the experience of having a short term principal. Now it’s time to figure out who we are and where we are going over the next 20 years, while at the same time paying homage to the past and the school’s history.”
Upon arrival, Erik quickly observed that the current 8th grade class’ tenure at the school had always been under somewhat chaotic conditions. “We felt it was important to create community around some norms, things like how we treat each other,” he said. “It was a great opportunity for me to take an immediate leadership role.”
Three “key reminders” came of the conversations and discussion groups that every 8th grader took part in: Be kind. Stand up. Trust you gut.
In addition to the work with 8th graders, Erik led two parent workshops on “raising teens.” “What a lot of people don’t realize is that the brain is changing in an adolescent as rapidly as it was changing in infancy,” said Erik.
While Erik has been an administrator at both the secondary and middle school levels, he is particularly passionate about middle school education. “I feel I have a real opportunity to impact the direction of the lives of these kids,” he said. “Plus, there are a lot of people who excel at elementary and high school, but fewer who love and enjoy middle school.
“It’s in my blood. I get them, understand them. I appreciate the fact that we are making a meaningful impact on their lives. That’s what draws me to middle school education.”
Photo by Irene Searles