JENNIFER FIERRO • PICAYUNE STAFF
SAN ANTONIO — Three years ago, Burnet Consolidated Independent School District was facing a projected $1.5 million deficit and another year without pay raises for employees. Officials wanted to take a closer look at the curriculum to see if the needs of students were being met.
At the time, the board of trustees also had to hire a new superintendent who was unafraid of meeting these challenges and could work well with board members, staff members, teachers, citizens and students.
After Keith McBurnett agreed to become the new superintendent, the board, staff, teachers and citizens went to work by holding forums, meeting with other civic groups and spending time with students to examine where things could be improved.
So when BCISD was awarded the Small School District Excellence in Education Award by H-E-B on May 3 at a dinner, McBurnett, BCISD Board President Andy Feild and eight other staff members couldn’t hide their joy. The win means BCISD received a $50,000 cash award from the grocery chain.
“When they announced BCISD, you heard a very loud cheer,” McBurnett said. “It was a sense of pride for me. I hugged each person. I’m so proud of the outstanding work.”
BCISD and Port Aransas Independent School District were the finalists, which meant six judges specializing in education visited the two school districts to tour facilities and talk to staff members.
“I was pleased when they left after the visit,” McBurnett said. “I think we were all excited about the possibility. The visit was such a positive experience. (Judges) had never seen the deep implementation of the curriculum in a short amount of time.
The award meant a lot to McBurnett because he doesn’t the forget the cost. Falling enrollment forced officials to close Shady Grove Elementary, which meant significant savings to the school district that equaled pay raises and money for other district needs. Still, the closure moved teachers to other BCISD campuses the following year after many of them had formed a Shady Grove family with their co-workers.
“One thing that hasn’t changed is funding is still tight,” McBurnett said. “We’ve moved money, and we’re more efficient.”
And educators added curriculum that prepares students for the next phases of their lives.
Those who know they are not going to college can get licensed work in “blue-collar” professions after graduation. Those who are thinking about going into engineering can participate in the pre-engineering program that includes classes at the high school.
Students are getting an introduction into what it’s like to be a chef thanks to the culinary program. Eighth-graders are learning Algebra I before going to the high school.
The superintendent noted that “no one shows up for the paycheck.” But the experiences that make the profession worthwhile for educators, he said, is when they see “the little lightbulb moment of a kid being successful” when he or she has struggled to learn the material.
“We all worked together, lots of hard work,” McBurnett said. “It’s nice to have that recognition.”
And he still remembers meeting with staff members, numerous city leaders, citizens and civic organizations that all drew the same conclusion.
“They didn’t want a ZIP code to be the determining factor in a kid’s future just because they come from a small rural school,” he said. “I think we’ve done a very good job, I think we’ve met kids’ needs.”
Ultimately, he said, that’s what the H-E-B judges saw when they visited the district several weeks ago. After the announcement at the dinner, McBurnett said two judges commended BCISD on how it is using the available resources to get maximum results, noting few school districts are accomplishing what Burnet is doing.
“They were very impressed with the number of outstanding opportunities we were offering,” the superintendent said. “We’ve made great strides in three years. I’m impressed with the sense of cohesiveness between board members and community members.”
McBurnett said staff members are not sure how they’ll use the cash award, but one thought is developing a teacher grant that will be in existence for the next decade.
The reason BCISD applied for the H-E-B award is because the superintendent received an email in September outlining the criteria of what the food chain was looking for.
“I thought, ‘This is BCISD,’” he said.
So while the application included seven questions, BCISD’s leadership team submitted a 15-page report because H-E-B required specific examples to each question.
In all, H-E-B Chairman and CEO Charles Butt handed out $430,000 in cash awards and grants. H-E-B started the awards in 2002 in cooperation with the Texas Association of School Administrators with the goal of positively supporting public education in the state, according to reports.