5 Questions for David Knittle and Amanda Vasquez, Burbank Middle School

By: Andrew Campanella



Burbank Middle School is a public school serving more than 1,400 students in Houston, TX, many of whom are English-language learners.


Read: HIGHLIGHTING HAPPINESS: Two languages, one mission


Andrew Campanella: What magnet programs and focuses does Burbank Middle School offer?

David Knittle, Principal at Burbank Middle School: The majority of my students are zoned students. We do have a vanguard magnet program which they have to apply to. It focuses on rigorous curriculum and academics. I also have a very famous dual language program, which in itself also has a gifted and talented strand. Students can also apply to our magnet program if they’re gifted and talented and be placed in dual language if they are able to read and write in Spanish.

Andrew: Can you tell me more about the dual-language program at Burbank?  

David: If you look at students that were former English-language learners, you’re looking at over half the campus. The demographic is about 97% Hispanic, 3% African-American. The majority of our population is or at one point was limited English proficient. We have a newcomer program for our newcomer immigrant students, but the goal of [the dual-language program] is to give them academic Spanish and continue to maintain their literacy in Spanish. We do have a lot of kids that can speak Spanish, understand it, but can’t necessarily read and write. Our goal for our dual-language program is to have complete literacy in both languages.

Andrew: Burbank has earned considerable recognition for its academic excellence. What is the key to your school’s academic success?

David: It’s rigorous instruction and we do have a lot of interventions built in during the day to give kids extra time on tasks. Also, we do a lot of work after school and have tutorials on Saturdays. We try to provide them with as much time on task as possible. Also, just having high expectations for your teachers and your students. Part of our accountability piece and our three A’s (“atmosphere, accountability, and achievement”) is that we hold our staff and our students to high expectations.

Andrew: What advice do you give to parents, especially as your students go on to high school?   

David: The advice I give to parents is to find a school where you feel that your child is going to thrive and be successful. You look at what it is that you want for your child, where your child is going to be happy. There’s a lot of different programs out there. Mine happens to be a lot more academic-focused, but there are other schools that have these amazing fine art programs and science and technology and different magnets that students can choose from. A lot of our parents come here because they either want the vanguard program or they want the dual language.

Andrew: How do you celebrate School Choice Week at Burbank?  

Amanda Vasquez, Magnet Coordinator at Burbank Middle School: When we start getting the emails about preparing for National School Choice Week, it’s a daily announcement: “Hey, next week we’re celebrating National School Week.” We have banners all over the school. At lunch time, we pass out the scarves and play music and we just celebrate [students’] hard work. We tell them that you work hard, but at the end of the day, we’re going to celebrate how hard you worked. Our writing teachers specifically take that sheet of paper that says, “Why I love my school” and they turn it into a teaching piece. The National School Choice posters have those great quotes on them and we just leave them up. The kids enjoy it. It’s a fun week.



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