Aaron Burton

Mark Twain School set to open with administrative recruit at the helm
Posted on 08/23/2020
Aaron Burton

The Poplar Bluff School District will open its first comprehensive alternative school for the 2020/21 academic year in the former Early Childhood Center facility centrally located on North Main Street.

Mark Twain School will consolidate programs already created at the Graduation Center and RISE Transition Center, plus introduce Jobs for America’s Graduates, and provide a nontraditional option beginning with about 100 students, grades 7-12.

“Because I have been personally connected to students who have had the most trouble with the district over the past four years, I’ve been able to develop a sense for what to change to better meet their needs, and what I see and hear is that we have a group of kids who fail to thrive in the traditional system,” said Dr. Scott Dill, R-I superintendent. “While we’ve attempted through isolated programs to address their needs, we’re now in a position where we can unify those programs inextricably interwoven, and pool our collective resources under the same roof.”

External applicant Aaron Burton was hired to lead the new facility by the Board of Education in April after a series of internal transfers were made within the R-I administrative ranks. Burton most recently served for a decade as elementary school principal at Neelyville before which he helped start another smaller alternative school at South Pemiscot in Steele, the town where the educator hails from.

“I’m just excited I can bring something to the table, so to speak, and help do my part creating these successful [pathways],” stated Burton, who earned his master’s degree in education administration from William Woods University in Fulton and his specialist from Southwest Baptist in Bolivar. “I was hired because the board and Dr. Dill believe I’m the right person for the job, and I’m gonna ensure they never regret making that decision.”

Burton initially visited with Dr. Dill at the beginning of the calendar year after having a chance encounter with school board member Roger Hanner, who mentioned that the district had a couple principal openings. Dill described the lunch meeting as “interviewing the interviewer,” considering Burton was not necessarily looking to leave his previous post at the time. Burton later explained that Dill’s “ability to inspire is contagious.”

“In Mr. Burton, we have a proven administrator with a long history of doing what’s best and right for kids, and we’re very fortunate to have him on our team,” said Dill, adding: “Lookout. He’s gonna change lives.”

While the scope of the operation may have been reduced until there is more stability in the budget as the district moves through the current financial crisis, explained Dill, Burton has been building his new team since July, reallocating staff as well as filling multiple newly created positions. Mark Twain School will function as a service hub for the school system, bringing in partners on campus such as FCC Behavioral Health to provide group therapy to students. The classroom space has been established in the 2008 addition on the west end, and the attendance office, which includes the district social workers, has relocated to the oldest portion of the building where the front door is located.

Renovations to establish the nontraditional programming and the construction of a state-of-the-art Early Childhood Center on the Kindergarten campus marks the completion of the second and final phase of the voter-approved buildings plan. After phase one was wrapped up in the fall of 2016, the Long-Range Planning Committee reconvened and took a walking tour of the North Main Street facility and the Graduation Center, then located in the former Loughead Learning Center on West Maud Street.

“Building the programs associated with the campus fills a well-documented void in the comprehensive plan of the school system, and is necessary for a district of our size to meet the diverse needs of our learners,” Dill continued. “We have to be cognizant of the fact that public education is changing daily around us, and the establishment of Mark Twain School is one of the many ways the Poplar Bluff School District is adapting to meet the needs of our community in the 21st century.”

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Cutline: Aaron Burton, incoming principal of the new Mark Twain School, participated in a series of trainings over the summer including Capturing Kids’ Hearts and Jobs for America’s Graduates.

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