High School Assistant Principal Michael Burns earns doctorate degree

Dr. Michael BurnsMinisink Valley High School Assistant Principal Michael Burns has earned a new, well-deserved academic title he plans to use to continue to remind students to never give up, do what they need to do to maximize their academic successes and pursue their dreams.

This past weekend, Mr. Burns became Dr. Burns after receiving his doctorate degree from the University at Albany.

A doctorate degree is the highest level of academic degree in most fields. A doctor of philosophy degree, or Ph.D., emphasizes research. Students in Ph.D. programs spend most of their time conducting research projects and studies.

Dr. Burns’ dissertation (the culmination of his scholarly work) was “Disrupting the School-to-Prison Pipeline:  Implementing Alternative Education Programs to Reduce Student Disciplinary Issues.”

He explored three alternative education programs in the region for students with disciplinary issues and school phobia concerns, including how the programs were started. Additionally, Dr. Burns examined what is needed to run a successful program and performed a general cost benefit analysis of the programs.

A pursuit initially shelved but revitalized

Working on a doctorate degree can take years of time, dedication and grit, especially when doctorate candidates blend a career and family with their academic efforts.

“Thirty years ago, when I graduated from Fredonia State, I was admitted to a program where I would teach English 101 and 102 to the freshmen and start my doctoral studies at the University of Buffalo,” said Dr. Burns. “The state budget was cut that year, and those graduate positions at Fredonia were reduced from five to one, and I lost the appointment.”

But, people sometimes say there’s a reason why the circumstances of life happen as they do.

When Dr. Burns returned to Orange County, he accepted a summer school teaching position at Burke Catholic High School. That led to his first public school teaching job.

“That fall, I met my wife, and between commuting, teaching, coaching three sports, and working on my master’s degree in English, thoughts about doctoral pursuits were shelved,” he said.

Years later, the Burns family moved to the Minisink Valley community and he began teaching English at the high school.

“Our late superintendent Dr. Martha Murray called me into her office one day and talked with me about going back to school for a degree in administration,” said Dr. Burns. “I agreed, and shortly into my studies, I became the Minisink summer school principal and, later, one of the assistant principals at the high school. During my studies at New Paltz for my administrative degree, Dr. Jan Hammond pulled me aside to invite me to join a small cohort of students pursuing a Ph.D. in the new SUNY New Paltz/Albany University collaboration.”

Perseverance and resiliency help during challenging times, and the pursuit of a doctorate degree is no exception, requiring those traits to be at the forefront of the work to be accomplished.

The future ‘nudger’

“The trail was long and winding,” said Dr. Burns. “At times, it was steep and rocky. I thought about quitting 100 times, but there was always that person, a teacher, a charismatic leader, nudging me.”

Dr. Burns plans use his own version of inspirational nudging to help prepare future teachers.

“In a few years, I will retire, and my goal is to use my experience and my degrees to find a professor position in a university somewhere teaching education courses,” Dr. Burns added. “For at least the second half of my career, my goal has been clear to me:  I want to work with the next generation of teachers. I want to be the one doing the nudging.”