Principal Tybus Burdett poses behind his desk of 33 years, with Franklin Senior High School’s newly earned Louisiana Department of Education letter grade, “B.”
Burdett: Love, discipline and community are keys to success
Story and Photo By Casey Collier
Ty Burdett did not initially set out to be the principal of Franklin Senior High School. But, it’s not just where he ended up, either.
During his tenure, the school has gone from a graduation rate of 61 percent—to 78 percent, and went from an “F” on the Louisiana Department of Education school letter grading scale, in 2006—to a “B,” in 2017.
FSHS was also awarded a Silver ranking in 2017 by U.S. News and World Report, as one of the top schools in the nation for graduating students under challenged socioeconomic conditions.
The algorithm for such progress is simple: Burdett, and his faculty and staff, focus on the students’ potential vs. the students’ perceived potential.
“I grew up here,” said Burdett. “I know the people of this town and I know what they want for their kids. I know where they came from.
“They are entrusting us with their students, with their kids, to educate them to get a better life.
“So, that’s my template: Make you believe you can do better than what you believe you can do.”
Burdett graduated from FSHS in 1979. He tried a year of college, studying business, but says his mind was elsewhere.
“I just didn’t enjoy it,” he said. “I would go to the Intramural Center and hit the ball with the cats that were in education, and they were going into coaching. So, I came home and told my dad, ‘I think I wasted a year, but this (coaching) is what I want to do.’
“I wanted to be a coach is what I really wanted to be. The only way you could be a coach was if you learned to teach a subject. Science was my favorite subject, so I minored in science and did the coaching thing; and I taught chemistry and physics here at Franklin High.
“I just wanted to give back to my community, coaching and teaching the kids because of what the community did for me when I was growing up.”
He began working at FSHS in 1988, and he now works with an Assistant Principal Terry Duchane, who was his classmate, graduating FSHS in 1979 alongside him.
Burdett says of Duchane with a chuckle, as he braids his fingers in front of him, “Yeah, we’re together in this.”
He says of his early accomplishments in education, the one of which he is the proudest, is his co-writing the curriculum for the environmental science courses being taught in the state today.
The team worked out of Iberia Parish in 1991. “I started with Mr. Melancon as our instructor,” Burdett said. “It was me and some other teachers out of Iberia Parish, and we wrote the state curriculum for the environmental science class.
“Of course, that was back when the redfish population was dwindling, and they wanted research on that, so we did that as the curriculum, and environmental science is still a part of the (statewide) curriculum today.”
He credits Steve Gauthier for ushering him toward administration.
“I can see it like it was yesterday,” said Burdett. “Mr. Steve Gauthier was the science department head and he would come into class, and he would observe us, (teachers) and when he became superintendent, he came to me and he said, ‘You need to be in administration. We need administrators.’ That was in 1996.
“Four years later I had my master’s, and as soon as I had my master’s, they put me in administration, in 2001,” he said, with another chuckle.
He started in administration at B. Edward Boudreaux Middle School from 2001 to 2003. Then, he became the principal of Franklin Junior High School from 2003 to 2006, and from there, went to his current position at FSHS.
When asked about his method for improvement at FSHS, and how one goes about instilling hope in students as an educator, he said, “Love them. I love them, and I let them know I love them. I tell them I love them, and I want the best for them… and you see that right there? (He points to a wooden paddle on a plaque) discipline… you have to have discipline. If you don’t have discipline, you can’t do anything in life.”
Burdett says he is fortunate to have taught many of the parents of his students, so the parents know that he has the best interest of their kids at heart.
His ties to his community are one of Burdett’s biggest professed assets in a successful career, and he hopes to draw from that kind of experience in the Franklin community when choosing his successor.
He is retiring next year, and he has said that he would like to do it with FSHS having earned an “A” rating from the Department of Education. But, he emphatically shares with his staff, the responsibility and probability of such a goal, as well as their success, so far. It is important to him.
He said, “We became a “B” school and it’s not Ty Burdett who got us to a “B” school. It’s Franklin High School’s faculty that bought-in to an idea that we could get these kids educated.”
However, he admits to being ready to hand the reins to his successor.
“I’ve got one year left to do it,” he said. “This year, right here. This is the year that counts.
“I’ve put 33 years in. I’m tired. I’m mentally tired. I’m not physically tired. It’s a mental thing.”
Tired, or not, Burdett has an idea of who he would like to see at the helm of FSHS after he leaves.
“I know who I would like to have here,” he said, “but I don’t know if he’s going to come.
“I feel that the person who takes over Franklin High School needs to be a Franklin person. They should know the community.
“If you don’t have that relationship, it’s hard to run a school. You’ve got to have the trust of the parents.”
Burdett says what he will miss the most, is the kids, and he intends to “come back around” for fundraisers, and the like.
To his successor, whoever they may be, Burdett says, “Know your kids. Know them. Know their names. Know who they are. Know where they are from. Just know them. Ask them how they are doing and socialize with them. Let them know you care about them. It means more when you know somebody’s name.
“There are several pitfalls, too. Complacency is a big one. Complacency from anybody—I don’t like. From teachers to students to principals—don’t get complacent. Let’s keep working.”
To his students, Burdett says, “You have to be aware in the classroom. If you are sleeping in the classroom or you are horse-playing in the classroom, then you are not going to be aware, then you’re not going to learn.
“The second thing is self-responsibility. There is an intrinsic factor that makes Ty Burdett want to be the best he can be. So, it’s my responsibility to go to class every day with my books, with my paper, with my pencil, and pay attention and be aware; and then go home and do my homework. It’s nobody else’s responsibility. I’m responsible. When you look in the mirror in the morning, you say, ‘I’m going to do the best I can do’—self-responsibility.”
Before leaving, Burdett wants it emphasized that the success of FSHS is owed to its staff and the community at large.
“It couldn’t be about me if it wasn’t about them.”