Harrisburg Schools Leader Works Hard to Raise the Bar

Harrisburg Schools Leader Works Hard to Raise the Bar

Photography by Kelly Ann Shuler

There appears to be little evidence that Sybil Knight-Burney, who has been the Harrisburg School District superintendent for six years, is flagging in her enthusiasm for the job. Quite the contrary. The transplanted Floridian enthuses about the voluminous number of programs under way in the city’s schools to bring positive change to students and staff.

Because of the district’s cultural bases, Knight wants to prepare the teachers to deal with those effects on the students.
“As an educator and superintendent of the Harrisburg School District, I have long held the belief that highly skilled and passionate school leadership is key to academic achievement, educational equity and meaningful school transformation,” explains Knight. “Understanding the critical need for effective instructional leaders, I was inspired to develop The Teacher Leadership Academy (TLA). This unique academy provides dynamic group-learning experiences, resources and support for teacher leaders who are committed to improving the performance of all learners within the systems/schools where they work. The TLA focuses on teachers with a deep desire and professional commitment to enhance their teaching and learning; to engage, inspire and support struggling students; and who want to learn and implement best practices and strategies that improve student achievement. Additional inspiration for The Teacher Leadership Academy was birthed out of my own teaching experiences and opportunities to be a part of an outstanding academy of teachers and the amazing lessons that I learned as a recipient of the prestigious Golden Apple Teacher award from the state of Florida.”

The Administrators Summer Leadership Academy is the second of three programs created by Knight. It is an annual, week-long seminar primarily designed to reflect on the just-completed school term and to establish goals for the next one. The theme for the 2016-17 term was “Growing Greatness, One Leader, One Teacher, One Student at a Time.”

And The Aspiring Urban Leaders Program, a partnership between the district and Shippensburg University, seeks district teachers with vision and an entrepreneurial spirit who are eager to improve the educational climate in Harrisburg.
“This program is established to give teachers a more defined leadership role,” says Knight. “In addition, this provides the district with an opportunity to train and ‘grow our own’ internal candidates who have the experiences we need. It will also serve as an incentive to those who have an interest in advancing their careers in other leadership areas.”

For Knight-Burney, partnerships are an effective means to realize the goals that she has set for the district. Chief among them is the Harrisburg Public Schools Foundation, established in 1998. It provides support for innovative programs in kindergarten through 12th grade to improve reading, writing, math and science skills.

“The Foundation also supports our teachers,” adds Knight, “through its Teacher Mini Grant Programs, Adopt a Classroom and the Outstanding Teacher of the Year Awards.”

Still another successful partnership, Together for Tomorrow, includes Messiah College. It aims to change the relationship between schools and community partners so that all share a responsibility to improve low-performing schools.
And then there is ROAR, which stands for Revitalizing Our Academic Responsibilities.

“Some of our students graduate, and they don’t have a plan,” says Knight. “They have no real idea what they want to do. Some go to college, but they aren’t prepared for the workload in their chosen curriculum. ROAR aims to address that kind of problem.”

ROAR is the district’s college and career academies. There are four of them: (1) Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math; (2) Communications, Arts, Media Technology; (3) Business, Industry, Finance and Information Technology; and (4) Health Care and Human Services. Each is a structured course of study for grades nine through 12, designed to prepare the student for college or work requirements in a particular field or endeavor. Job and career fairs supplement the curriculum.