Prosper Independent School District parents and students went to the high school cafeteria the evening of April 24 to get to know John Burdett, the man succeeding Gregory Wright as the high school’s principal. Burdett was busy answering questions and meeting families before and after the meet and greet, with a line queuing up in front of him during each of those times.
“I’m feeling fantastic,” Burdett said after the event. “I love it when you’re in a room and the kids are asking questions. That’s what we want in the classroom — self-directed learning, student-generated questions — that’s what that is and these kids have a buy in to their education. … Our students are driving what we do.”
It was an idea that seemed to be the theme of the evening, as Burdett pointed to the district’s graduate profile multiple times. The profile, shaped like a tree and found at http://prosper-isd.net/Domain/827, grows branches stemming off to show what students should embody as a result of their curriculum. When asked during the Meet and Greet if he would instate new traditions or remove some of the previous traditions, Burdett said that’s something he’d look to the students to answer.
“With anything we do, the behavior of students tells us what we need,” he said.
He pointed to an example from his previous experience as a principal, when it was suggested that the school should host a dance for Valentine’s Day.
“I knew the kids and I knew that wasn’t going to happen,” he told the audience with a laugh.
He said as he expected, a scarce number of students signed up for the dance, which was ultimately cancelled. He said it was because the suggestion didn’t stem from a conversation with the students — a mistake he has no intention of making.
“That’s why I talk to the students here, because they’ll tell me what they need, once they get to know me,” he said. “As we grow, we will preserve the traditions that we have, and I want to hear from the kids, what do the students want to do? What do they feel? We can do everything, but we shouldn’t do it (everything) because that tree (the graduate profile) gets really full of branches, and then we don’t have a focus, and it doesn’t help build the community.”
A student at the event asked about the popular pep rallies and whether those would continue. Burdett responded by saying that pep rallies would continue, but some of them may change. They might be adjusted to include more of the community, or they might not be held in the morning, but in the evening as a bonfire.
“What’s going to determine that will be the students,” he said.
One parent asked Burdett about the student enrollment, and how it would impact learning. Prosper High School is expected to add 500 additional students in the next school year, bringing its enrollment to about 3,000.
“With that, we’re adding more staff,” Burdett said. “So we’re not keeping the same number of staff, where class sizes are now going to 40 or 50 or 60. We’ve hired more staff. So class sizes will remain the same.”
He said what will change is the location these classes will be held to make space for the additional students. He said rooms such as the library can be adapted to a flexible learning space, where a class can be held if needed. Small areas not used much before could also be adapted to classrooms, such as offices, with the use of computer carts to allow access to learning at any time in any location.
“So if we need to have a class in the arena, we’ll have class in the arena,” Burdett said. “Or the gym. We’re going to have to be creative with what we do.”
Following the talk, PHS parent Meridith Hirthler said she felt confident. Her daughter Lauren will be joining the freshmen class in the fall.
“I’m hoping he continues the Black-Out Pep Rallies, those were a lot of fun,” Lauren said, adding that she liked the idea of more teachers coming into the school to help reduce class sizes.
Lauren’s sister Jessica is graduating this spring from the high school, and said what made Gregory Wright a great principal was his high energy and his involvement with students — something she said she hopes Burdett will continue.
Mason McCarter is a senior with a sister coming into the school in the fall, and said Burdett had some good ideas he shared.
“I think it’s going to be interesting to see the changes,” he said. “When he talked about the arena being a new classroom and the library, it was like, ‘Wow, I would have never considered that.’”
Burdett said the meeting functioned as just one component of building relationships with the families in the district.
“Anything we do doesn’t start unless we have a quality relationship and a strong bond between the principal and the parent, the principal and kid, the teacher and the kid, that’s the start of everything,” Burdett said. “So we have to make sure we’re engaged in that and that we’re intentional. That’s what I do, that why I stand in the hall and say, ‘Good morning,’ and pull kids aside and engage them and validate their buy-in into the school.”
He said as he talked with families, he was able to experience different perspectives but heard one recurring message — Prosper families value great education.
“No matter if it was a parent or a student, every one of them was, ‘How are you going to make this a great educational experience?’” Burdett said.
He added that while the traditions in place are “fantastic,” the school cannot stop there.
“We can’t plateau, we have to keep growing,” he said. “… Because if we plateau, you don’t plateau for long, the next step is you start regressing. And we’re not going to do that. … Sometimes it means we stop doing some things to free up more time to do quality things, and we get really good at a few things, and then we expand out. What that means, that comes in conversations with teachers, students and then we continue those conversations to determine what that is — what’s going to drive us?”
As the meet and greet closed, Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Holly Ferguson thanked the parents and students for their attendance.
“I hope that you can see his (Burdett’s) vision and some of the things he’ll do, but also the legacy and the traditions that have already been established in this building, that are so very fabulous and so many of our kids want to be a part of, that have become a part of Prosper,” she said. “But also too the academic excellence that he will bring, and that commitment to that academic side is something that will be just a new opportunity to so many of our kids. I call it untapped potential. I think we have so much in this building, and all of our buildings. And it truly takes a leader like Dr. Burdett and many of our other leaders who really rise to that level of excellence.”