UNION, NJ – Burnet Middle School’s new interim principal sees relationship building and ensuring the school has a sense of its own identity as his top priorities for this school year.
David Shaw has been in the Union school district since he was a young child. He attended Washington Elementary School, Central Six (as it was known at the time), Kawameeh Middle School and Union High School. “I’m a Union kid,” he said.
Shaw began his career as a coach while working to obtain his bachelor’s degree in History from Fairleigh Dickinson University, where he attended on a baseball scholarship. He became a pitching coach at Kean University as he worked toward his Master’s degree in Education while he taught as a substitute in Union. He obtained another Master’s degree in Teaching and Learning from Nova Southeastern University, and in 1998 took a job teaching history at Union High School.
Shaw took a leave during his tenure at Union High School to join the army. “In a way, I joined the army because I lost a bet to my students,” he said. “They bet they’d earn better than an 85 on a test. They scored 85.7. Next thing I knew, a recruiter was visiting my class. I left for basic training in the summer of 2000.” He attended Advanced Individual Training (AIT) as a counter-intelligence agent as a reservist and came back to Union High in 2001. In December 2003, he was deployed, first to Kuwait and then to Afghanistan. He was stationed with a special operations team as a counter-intelligence agent while in Afghanistan for one year.
While there, Shaw completed a Master’s degree program in Administration from Saint Peter’s University. He came back to Union High School as a teacher for a short time, and then took a job as Dean of Discipline (later known as Assistant Principal, and subsequently referred to as Vice Principal). He remained at Union High School as Vice Principal for seven years before moving to Kawameeh Middle School as Vice Principal, where he spent another seven years, until this summer.
Shaw said as the new interim principal at Burnet Middle School, the theme this year is that of building relationships: between himself and administrators, teachers and students, and the school with the community.
Also new to Burnet Middle School this year as Vice Principals are Gina Calderone (who moved from Jefferson School) and Shawn Paterno (from Union High School). They join seventh grade Vice Principal Sharon Drayton. “We want to work on these relationships and what’s going to work for the school.”
“If we build good relationships, we can get more accomplished,” Shaw added. “We can have a collective commitment. Through this, we can achieve a lot.”
Shaw said he wants students to understand that there are people who care about them. He wants to focus on the whole child. He said, “we can really help these students if we focus on their social, emotional, academic, and physical needs and give them what they need.”
Regarding discipline, Shaw said, “students don’t come to school with an understanding that they want to misbehave, usually it’s an unmet need. We have to find out what these unmet needs are and how we can help those students. Our focus is on the why and how to help them.”
Shaw said middle school students are at a huge developmental stage. He said sixth-graders need to work on improving organizational skills; seventh-graders on social skills; and eighth-graders on getting ready to succeed in high school. Shaw said he would welcome the plan proposed at a recent Board of Education meeting to redistrict school grade levels so that sixth-graders remain in the elementary schools.
“I want to turn Burnet into a model school,” said Shaw. “Why would we accept anything less? When we look at success, when we say all, we mean all. All students should succeed and all should succeed at a high level. If we’re not reaching that, we’re not reaching our goals.”
Shaw said he’s working with supervisors and looking at curriculums. He understands that “some are outdated and need to be more on par with our students today.” He cited the recent change to elective classes, eliminating French and German and adding Financial Literacy and Leadership classes.
Shaw also said he wants to help Burnet Middle School achieve its own identify, apart and separate from Kawameeh. “Part of that process is us trying to bring back our own school spirit. The Burnet mascot is the Colonel and our colors are green and white. It’s important to students to have a sense of belonging.”
Shaw added that Burnet Middle School has about 1,060 students, almost 400 more than Kawameeh. “So, yes, we have more issues, but 95 percent of our students do what’s right and what’s expected of them every day. It’s getting those students who are making mistakes to correct their behavior. Our job is to get them back on track.”
“The relationship between myself and teachers and teachers and students are important to the entire development process,” said Shaw. “Relationships are the key to almost everything we’re doing in this building. Relationships and school identify and building a sense of belonging.”
Shaw said his wife, Joy, is a Language Arts teacher at Kawameeh Middle School. They have three sons, ages 7, 12, and 13.