Experts In Residence play a vital mentorship role at Simon Youth Academies

Contributed by Kevin Cutrer, Office Administrator, Copley Place

Whenever SYF comes up in conversation, Milt Burnett’s enthusiasm takes over.

Milt is the former superintendent of schools in Peabody, Massachusetts, and currently an Expert in Residence consulting with Simon Youth Academies across the United States. The Expert in Residence (EIR) program was designed as a support mechanism for Academy administrators. Milt and the other EIR’s meet a variety of needs, alternately giving advice and encouragement while helping administrators forge relationships with school boards, advisory councils, Simon management, mall retailers, parents, and students.

“Sometimes,” Milt says, “Academy administrators simply need someone to talk to.”

One of the most important issues EIRs and administrators discuss is maintaining the regular attendance of students who are on the verge of dropping out of school. These students, who may have felt neglected or forgotten in prior educational environments, must be assured that the academy is an inviting place.

“The kids who come to Simon Academies thrive in a small environment,” Milt explains. “They are not lost.”

The small classrooms of Simon Academies (which serve no more than 50 students) make them an ideal place for these students who have fallen behind in more densely packed classrooms.

Milt’s involvement with SYF began while he was still the superintendent of schools in Peabody. Peabody is a small city north of Boston with a population just above 51,000. One year, 74 students dropped out of high school, the highest rate the city had ever seen.

“That’s a lot,” Milt said, “and it’s certainly a lot for a school system like Peabody’s.”

At the time, Milt recalled an SYF presentation he had attended at the invitation of Mark Whiting, general manager of Northshore Mall in Peabody and a member of the Peabody Education Council. Milt admits that his initial reaction to the presentation was skepticism.

“They were talking about building classrooms in the mall,” he said. “I thought to myself, ‘that’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard!’”

Now faced with the growing drop-out problem, Milt began to reconsider SYF. He visited the Simon Youth Academy at Granite Run Mall in Philadelphia, where he had the opportunity to speak with some of the students. One 16-year-old student said that, without the Simon Academy, she would have dropped out of school. Milt was convinced that a Simon Academy was just the thing that Peabody needed. On the flight home, he and Mark Whiting sketched out how they would bring one to their school district.

“As of last year, they have graduated fifty-two students,” Milt said, with a note of pride in his voice. “That’s fifty-two young people who were on the verge of dropping out of high school who now have high school diplomas.”

Since his retirement, Milt has remained active in SYF through his role as an EIR. He regularly attends Simon Youth Foundation’s annual regional conferences. The Academies, Milt says, is a key component of these gatherings. EIRs lead discussion groups on a wide range of topics, sharing experience and ideas for better serving students. Administrators return from these meetings with new ideas to implement in their classrooms, and perhaps more importantly, a feeling of support and community that EIRs like Milt help to reinforce throughout the year.

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