Editor’s note: Erik Burmeister will become Superintendent of the Menlo Park City School District on July 1. For the past year, he’s been the district’s assistant superintendent, and before that, was principal at Hillview Middle School from 2012 to 2015. While there, the school was awarded a 2015 Gold Ribbon School award. We talked to him about his views on education and what children, teachers and parents/residents can expect under his tenure.
InMenlo: What called you to the field of education?
Erik: I grew up in three different states, attending public schools in Georgia, Indiana and California. I had a real appreciation for those schools that made me feel welcomed, supported, and challenged. These schools really made a difference to me at times when it was important. By age 15, I knew I wanted to be an educator. Few careers can make an impact on society the way education can.
InMenlo: What can the district’s school children expect/find different when you are superintendent?
Erik: What they will realize is that I believe that students are our primary end user. As a design thinker, I hope students will experience their needs being put front and center. And that their voice and viewpoint will be heard as much as anyone in the community.
InMenlo: What can the district’s teachers expect/find different when you are superintendent?
Erik: I think that they will find I appreciate efficiency. I want them to be able to say after a few years of me being in the position that decisions are made as quickly as necessary, so teachers can focus on teaching and learning. I believe strongly that the more time we save teachers in the day-to-day operation of running a school, the more time they will focus on what’s happening in the classroom. We’re probably going to meet less and do more – and have a lot fun doing it!
InMenlo: What can the district’s parents and residents, especially those who live by schools, expect/find different when you are superintendent?
Erik: I’m very committed to engaging the broader community, not just parents, in terms of where they see schools adding value. I believe it’s really important that both understand our strategic direction and our finances. Beyond coverage in the press, I want to make myself available at places like the farmers market and events at the library to talk about how we are partnering and where improvement can be made.
I hope by the end of my first year, one takeaway will be “we saw him a lot. He was willing and open to hear our feedback. He partnered with us about the future – facilities , growth, finances, even instructional.”
InMenlo: What is one of the biggest lessons you’ve learned over the period of your career?
Erik: I became a parent myself and spent time as administrator in three different districts. I’m always encouraged by the depth of interest that parents and the community have in their public schools. It’s made me realize the importance of regular direct communication with all stakeholders.
When I went to school, parents trusted whatever happened. But what I appreciate is that our parents and community are really engaged at a deep level – what students are learning and how they are learning it.
InMenlo: You recently moved to Menlo Park. How important is it for adminstartors ad teachers to live in the district?
Erik: I don’t think it’s essential that they live in the community. That said, the closer they are, the better. It’s a lot easier for me to go to a school play in the evening if I live nearby. Logistically it makes it so much easier. I think that’s true in schools or the tech industry.
Photo by Gina Hart showing Erik with Encinal first graders from Maestra Johnson’s class with their buddies from Maestra Collier’s 3rd grade class making flowers and learning about Dia De Los Muertos