By Andrew Campanella with Savanna Buckner
Burbank Middle School is a powerhouse.
The traditional public school takes academics seriously. Its seven academic distinctions— which include achievements in reading, mathematics, and science— are proof.
“Teachers that come from another school or another campus… they go through a culture shock here,” joked Burbank’s Principal David Knittle. “They’re like, ‘You guys do way too much.’ Because it’s a lot of hard work. You have to do extra.”
What makes Burbank Middle School’s ratings all the more impressive is the high percentage of its students who are learning English even as they ace language exams.
Burbank Middle School has approximately 1,470 students, over 500 of whom are English-language learners. Many students participate in Burbank’s dual-language program, which helps students who can speak and write in Spanish to improve their Spanish skills while rounding out their English literacy.
“Our goal for our dual-language program is to have complete literacy in both languages,” said Knittle, who has served as principal at Burbank since 2016.
Knittle’s background includes ten years as an ESL and Spanish teacher, and he’s passionate about promoting opportunities for cultural awareness at Burbank.
“We’re part of the International Spanish Academies (ISA), an organization based in Spain,” said Knittle. “[Students] take tests from Spain at the end of the year. If they pass and go on to a dual-language high school, they have the opportunity to graduate with a diploma from Spain and from Texas.”
“This year we were the only middle school in Texas to get recognized by the ISA for our program,” Knittle added.
Besides promoting foreign languages, there’s something else Knittle cares passionately about… and that’s high academic standards.
“I feel that our kids deserve this type of education and it doesn’t matter that they’re on the Northside as opposed to being in… some fancy neighborhood in Houston,” Knittle said.
According to Knittle, Burbank’s test scores are a result of high-quality teachers and a whole lot of student effort.
“It’s rigorous instruction and we do have a lot of interventions built in during the day to give kids extra time on tasks,” said Knittle.
Even little things, like keeping the building sparklingly clean, contribute to student success.
“We want to create an atmosphere for our students, an atmosphere of respect and trust, a positive atmosphere,” said Knittle. “Not just emotionally, but physically. I like to keep the building clean and orderly as much as possible.”
Fortunately, student life at Burbank Middle School isn’t all work and no play.
“I want them to be high achieving, but we also have to not bore kids to death with our classes and be so test-focused,” he said. “We try to have many other activities and outlets for kids.”
These include theatre, choir, band, physical education, cooking, art, technology, and international cultural studies. They also offer karate, which Knittle said is especially popular at the school.
It’s just one more indicator of success that Burbank is one of the only middle schools in the Houston Independent School District that’s not only met the Texas Education Agency’s standards but also achieved all seven distinction designations… three years in a row!
“There’s one thing I always tell my kids and it’s something that I’m very passionate about,” said Knittle. “It doesn’t matter what you have, what you don’t have, the color of your skin, what language you speak, where you came from… You can be excellent.”
“That’s what school choice for me means,” said Knittle. “That students have the opportunity, despite their circumstances on the outside, to be excellent once they walk through these doors.”