By Katie Fallon
As many high school seniors are preparing for a new chapter in their academic life, so too is the principal from Buckhead’s only public high school.
J. Scott Bursmith, who just completed his second year leading North Atlanta High School, experienced his last day of school when classes let out for the summer on May 25. He is now preparing to take the helm of Cobb County’s Allatoona High School, a new north Cobb school slated to open in August, 2008.
Bursmith said the appeal of moving on to a new school included being able to build the school from the ground up.
“The principal will have a year to staff it and plan for it and that was attractive to me,” Bursmith said. “To be able to put my mark and stamp on every teacher in the building is a rare opportunity.”
He said after his first year at North Atlanta, he received calls about other principal positions, but turned them down to remain invested in North Atlanta.
While he has enjoyed his time at North Atlanta, Bursmith said that in general, starting as principal at an existing school can be tough. Prior to coming to North Atlanta, Bursmith spent four years in the Marietta City Schools district.
“At an existing school, you inherit a culture,” Bursmith said. “You have some things you need to change that you really can’t change. You have teachers you have to deal with and try to motivate. There are issues you need to deal with.”
Bursmith joked that if he gets a “bad teacher” at Allatoona High School, he will have nobody to blame but himself.
As Bursmith made his rounds on the last day of school, one thing was noticeably missing from the halls: students. The reason was not because the teenagers decided to skip school and start their summer early, but rather because North Atlanta continues its final exams through the last day of school.
“We put testing on the final two days for a couple reasons,” Bursmith said. “It’s so that we get the most instructional time and [the students] have a real focus and purpose.”
But even on the last day of school, Bursmith still dealt with routine issues such as dress code violations and misbehaving students. He even had an unplanned conference with a parent over their child’s academic performance.
Bursmith also met with John Denine, an assistant principal and academic dean, as he does almost everyday to discuss any problems or issues that have or could arise during the day.
The faculty’s work, however, does not end when the student’s work ends.
“The teachers still have a lot of work to do,” Bursmith said. “They have to grade and turn in their keys.”
North Atlanta held its graduation ceremonies on May 29, with Bursmith attending his last such ceremony for the school
“It was emotional, but I’m always glad to see them graduate,” Bursmith said.
The transition process between Bursmith and new North Atlanta principal Mark MyGrant will begin in June. MyGrant just finished out the school year as principal at Sutton Middle School, which feeds students into North Atlanta High School. Because both men spent the last week closing their respective schools for the summer, they decided to wait until the school year was over to begin the transition. The timing has limited their interaction to district principal meetings, emails and phone calls.
“He is so busy trying to close his school and I’m so busy trying to close my school, that we really haven’t had quality time to sit down,” Bursmith said. “That’s expected.”
The transition at Allatoona will be completed over the next year as the school’s construction continues. Planning meetings have not yet begun and the hiring process is expected to begin in January.
In January, Bursmith said he will have the opportunity to interview volunteer transfer teachers. Some of that faculty could follow Bursmith from North Atlanta, as current assistant principal Shantay Souter did when she came with him from Marietta High School.
“I will miss him,” Souter said. “We’ve been together for six years.”
Likewise, Bursmith said he too will miss his peers at North Atlanta, with whom he attended a farewell barbeque this week. “I made some great friends here and I’ll miss the students,” Bursmith said.
When Bursmith takes the helm at Allatoona, he said there will be some definite differences to his time at North Atlanta, where he said no two days have been alike.
“I will literally be the only employee,” Bursmith said. “It will be the first time I won’t have a student body to deal with. That will be different”
Because the principal will not have a staff or student body for several months, he said he plans to sneak over to North Atlanta to visit with his former students and attend some football games.