By Jack Conlon — Correspondent
After the abrupt departure of Mr. Ralph Olsen, SHS was left reeling without a leader—enter Ms. Emily Burke to take the reins and restore normalcy as Interim Principal for the remainder of the 2022-2023 school year. The only catch is—not many students really know who she is.
The shocking news arrived in the hands of SHS students Friday, January 27th—that there was an interim principal selected not even a week after Olsen left. Superintendent Bothello writes in an email: “I am appointing current Secondary Science Coordinator, Ms. Emily Burke to assume the role of Interim Principal,” he said.
Bothello writes high praise for Burke and her abilities. “Ms. Burke is certified as a principal and has important leadership experience as well as ties to the faculty that will make her a strong and sturdy leader for the remainder of the year,” he said.
Burke has been with SHS for seventeen years overall in various leadership roles including SMS Interim Assistant Principal and Secondary Science Coordinator along with her current roles.
Bothello says that Burke has the respect of many faculty and staff. “Ms. Emily Burke has the deep respect of and a strong working relationship with…the entire leadership team, as well as faculty and staff,”
Bothello continues, “This will allow her to lead in an effective and collaborative fashion until a new permanent Principal is chosen,” he said. There’s no doubt that Burke is qualified and loved by staff, but not many students seem to know who she really is.
Burke has a background in environmental science, working as a park naturalist prior to being an educator. “The most fun job there I think I ever had was being a park naturalist—interpreting nature for people…I would help run programs at the parks and hire people and it was just a fun job—but it was only half a year,”
Burke continues, “Over time I got pushed more into the management side of things and the rules enforcement…And I realized what I really loved about the other job was the education aspect, so I decided to become a teacher,”
Burke says that working at SHS is what she loves doing, “My first interview was in Sharon and I got the job—and I haven’t looked back since…I’ve been in Sharon seventeen years. I didn’t love telling people to put their dog on a leash and write them parking tickets, but working with people and working with students is what I loved,” she said.
Before the change, Burke was the environmental science teacher as well as the science curriculum coordinator for grades 6-12. Her days were jam-packed: “I had one class and then the rest of my day was split between the high school and the middle school in terms of working with teachers on curriculum, helping to hire and evaluate teachers, all of those tasks,” she said.
Burke says she is involved in many of the same tasks as before, just on a larger scale. “I still am involved in a lot of the things that I was doing as a coordinator. But now, instead of just focusing on the science department it’s focused on the entire school as a whole,”
She continues, “I was getting pulled in different directions as a coordinator, I’m getting pulled in ten times more directions now, which is fun—it keeps you on our toes. The day zips by,” said Burke.
Burke says she took on this massive role because of her love for her work, “I love being in the schools, I love working with educators and with students. I also love to organize and lead things,”
She elaborates, “And when I say lead, I don’t mean that it has to be my way or else, but a collaborative leadership where people make decisions together and hear each other out…And that, I find, just very fulfilling. There was a need in the school and I saw I could help fill that need and so that’s why I said ‘yes, I will take on the interim principal position,’” said Burke.
Burke describes this collaborative leadership model as one that is group-focused, “We have administrative meetings where it’s the assistant principals and myself meeting along with Mr. Pomer and we have other meetings where we have that crew plus all of the curriculum coordinators,”
She continues, “And we work together to think about what’s coming up and how can we solve some issues that we may be seeing percolating or how can we be more proactive in making decisions and working together,” she said.
Besides collaboration, Burke says that Sharon High School’s uniqueness comes from its many opportunities, “I think that’s what really makes Sharon High unique, is that there’s so many different people and opportunities and clubs. You kinda find your own way here, and that’s the hope—that everybody finds their place,” she said.
Burke says she will be currently focusing on promoting healing in the school. “To improve the school community, I think right now what I’m focused on is making sure everybody’s okay and healing,”
She continues, “It was a shock, I think, the way this all came about and how I came into the position. And making people feel like they feel heard, they feel safe, and they have some stability—and that’s really what, I think, will help: focus more on the healing and the coming-together as a community,” said Burke.
Burke loves Sharon High and has a passion for learning—and she’s not going anywhere once this interim role is over. “I’m only here for a couple months in this role, but I’m not going anywhere. I’m still going to be in this school in some capacity next year,”
She continues, “I’ve been trying to meet with as many student groups as I can, making sure that I’m visible at lunches, making time for students above all else, because that’s why we’re all here,” she said.