School leaders honored Michael Burke as Superintendent of the Year for Bergen County, recognizing his management of a district that was distressed by flooding while still battling pandemic challenges.
The Bergen County Association of School Administrators (BCASA) surprised Mr. Burke with that award during a luncheon June 10. Members of BCASA are district-level leaders of more than 70 school districts that educate more than 138,000 students.
The award is presented annually to a school administrator who has demonstrated outstanding leadership over a period of time, or one who stepped up to meet a significant challenge. Brian Gatens, president of BCASA’s executive committee, noted Mr. Burke’s simultaneous management of COVID’s hardships and the catastrophe left behind when remnants of Hurricane Ida left one of Cresskill’s school buildings flooded beyond use.
“It was apparent to the Award Committee that Mr. Burke’s ability to rally the necessary support and lead Cresskill through this challenge made him a worthy recipient,” said Gatens, who is superintendent of Emerson Public Schools. “He set a strong example of how to be a true school leader, and he did so with grace and dignity while under extreme pressure.”
Water damage closed Cresskill Middle and High School just days before the 2021-22 school year was expected to mark a triumphant return from the COVID-compromised years before. It temporarily sent students in grades 6 through 12 back to remote learning. While assessing building damage and developing recovery plans, Mr. Burke led the staff and community toward the temporary solution of rented school space and the more permanent solution of a funding vote to restore the building.
“Our close-knit community was all dealing with so many factors, each one equally intimidating and time-consuming,” said Board of Education President Denise Villani. “With a cool head and great confidence, Mr. Burke guided us through a referendum that put light at the end of a tunnel.”
That vote in January passed by a margin of nearly 8 to 1, with more voters showing up to vote “yes” than the total turnout in a referendum four years prior. Since then, Mr. Burke has hosted biweekly video chats to keep the community informed on restoration progress.
“I am humbled by the support shown by my BCASA colleagues, and also by the support given to me by the people of Cresskill,” Burke said. “The past 9 months have been exceedingly difficult, but throughout that challenge we kept our focus on what the students of Cresskill deserve. We are so looking forward to the re-opening of our schools this fall.”
Mr. Burke has been superintendent of Cresskill Public Schools since 2014