Burton School District: A Culture of Trust Impacts Student Success

A superintendent sought an unconventional solution that would work for teachers and students when his schools faced critically low math proficiency.

In a bid to enhance academic performance and college readiness within the Burton School District, Superintendent David Shimer collaborated with Studer Education to formulate a strategic plan. The plan emphasized innovative math teaching methods, leadership development using Always Actions®, adoption of new learning systems, and instilling accountability among staff. Leveraging resources from the local California NSI and drawing on Studer Education’s transformation expertise, the Burton School District has achieved remarkable results. Math scores now surpass the state average, and California college acceptances have risen from 45% in 2015 to an impressive 70% in 2020.


Burton School District faced low math scores, limited college aspirations among students, disengagement in learning, and frustration among staff and teachers due to inadequate family support and community misconceptions. Amidst the challenges of COVID disruptions, school leaders aimed to align efforts while also addressing the loss of families to neighboring schools.

…the improvement process had been driven by intentionality, energy, and creativity, and my staff continues to seek ways to improve and innovate.
-David Shimer, Superintendent


To initiate positive system change, Shimer secured a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and joined the Tulare County Central Valley Networked Improvement Community (CV NIC). This collaborative network of schools and districts used the CV NIC process, involving a structured approach to improve math education through a common aim, testing change ideas, analyzing data, and fostering shared learning. Recognizing the need for committed leadership to drive classroom practice change, Shimer partnered with Studer Education. Leader Coaches from Studer Education were engaged to assist the district in implementing the plan, monitoring progress, providing leadership training, and supporting various continuous improvement initiatives.

Innovative Teaching and Empowering

Burton teachers implemented innovative methods to improve math scores, such as hand signals and Socratic conversations, while students took charge of their learning through goal setting and reflection. Education leaders, with guidance from Studer Education, ensured alignment in math and ELA, fostering a culture of academic excellence with practices like gratitude and rounding.

Developing Scorecards
to Monitor Progress:

To maintain progress, Burton’s leaders set measurable goals and used feedback from students and staff via the Studer Education Survey and Results Rollout process. With their Studer Education Leader Coach, they streamlined a district scorecard, adapting it to individual sites and departments, fostering a culture of accountability and shared responsibility for outcomes.

Sharing Progress and Resources:

Using the scorecard, the team prioritized communication and recognition of progress through various channels. Superintendent Shimer and Studer Education Leader Coach Pat Greco collaborated to align efforts, engaging in leadership huddles, rounding, and classroom visits to foster relationships and acknowledge achievements while gaining insights for further improvement.

Astounding Results and
Student Engagement:

The improvement efforts have yielded widespread positive effects, with feedback indicating a strengthened culture of accountability benefiting students’ awareness of their progress. Through the PDSA cycle, students consistently set goals and reflect on their learning, leading to significant math score improvements at one of Burton’s middle schools, transitioning from one of the lowest performing in the state to surpassing the county average, resulting in increased student engagement and teacher empowerment.

Scaling Up the Improvements:

After reaching individual milestones, Burton School District faced the challenge of extending improvements district-wide. Superintendent Shimer implemented the ‘Math Ignite’ program, a successful professional development initiative that allowed teachers to adopt new practices gleaned from effective classrooms, resulting in transformative shifts in mindset and teaching methods, ultimately leading to improved outcomes.


A superintendent sought an unconventional solution that would work for teachers and students when his schools faced critically low math proficiency.

College Acceptance Rates Increase from 45%-70% over 5 years

Math Scores Burton Middle School’s math scores for California State Requirements began at Standard Not Met and are now Standard Exceeded.

State Testing Improvements From 10-20% to 30-40% of Burton Middle School students tested proficient and advanced for the CAASPP test

Student Enrollment Increase in student enrollment throughout the district

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Teacher or educator reflecting. Students working together on a group project in backgroundMan smiling at a woman in an office; they are deep in conversation. One is giving constructive feedback to another