After 10 years at Hillcrest Elementary, Burstein accepts job as Bernardston principal

Sarah Burstein, principal and early childhood coordinator at Hillcrest Elementary School in Turners Falls, has been hired as Bernardston Elementary School’s new principal.

Sarah Burstein, principal and early childhood coordinator at Hillcrest Elementary School in Turners Falls, has been hired as Bernardston Elementary School’s new principal. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

By CHRIS LARABEE

Staff Writer

Published: 04-11-2024 2:34 PM

TURNERS FALLS — After a decade serving as Hillcrest Elementary School’s principal and early childhood coordinator, Sarah Burstein is making her way north to serve as Bernardston Elementary School’s new principal for the upcoming school year.

A veteran educator and administrator, Burstein will take over for current Principal Cindy Schultz, who is set to retire at the end of the school year after taking an interim position in 2022, which turned into a permanent appointment for the 2023-2024 school year.

While leaving Hillcrest is certainly “bittersweet,” Burstein, a Northfield resident, is excited for her opportunity in Bernardston.

“It will be really bittersweet because I really learned how to be a principal here. … It will be really hard to say goodbye to folks who really helped me grow into the administrator that I am now,” Burstein said in her office.

Despite this experience, there will be one new wrinkle for her, as Hillcrest only has students through first grade, while Bernardston enrolls students through sixth grade, which was one of the reasons she accepted the job.

“The piece that was really motivating me to start looking was the opportunity to lead a school where children spend a large chunk of their elementary career. Just as we’re getting to know children and families, they’re making this transition to Sheffield [Elementary School] next door,” Burstein said. “I haven’t had the opportunity to guide and impact students across that big developmental span. … That was really appealing to me about Bernardston.”

Burstein was one of two finalists for the position in a search process that saw numerous parents, staff and faculty members participate. Additionally, Bernardston Elementary fourth and fifth graders interviewed both finalists after annotating their resumes and crafting interview questions focused on the student experience.

“Mrs. Burstein is a resident of Northfield and therefore has many social and professional connections in our community,” Pioneer Valley Regional School District Superintendent Patricia Kinsella wrote in a letter to the school community. “Throughout the search process, those who met Mrs. Burstein were impressed with her deep experience in school leadership, her ability to relate with various stakeholders, and her knowledge of teaching and learning.”

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Bernardston Elementary’s newest principal comes to town with decades of teaching and administrative experience under her belt. She spent several years in eastern Massachusetts before taking a job as a tutor at Northfield Mount Hermon School in 2008. From there she joined the Greenfield School Department in 2010, followed by Sunderland Elementary School in the Union 38 School District the next year. Having joined the Gill-Montague Regional School District in 2014, she will mark her 10th year working in the district in June.

Burstein said the opportunities to build relationships with students over their years of elementary school and the instructional leadership aspects of the job, such as teacher observation and guiding professional development, are what bring her back every year. She added schools are an “anchor” for kids and creating that safe environment, where students can pursue their interests and grow, is “professionally satisfying.”

“I find that really fascinating and really energizing. I think any classroom teacher will tell you the best professional development is when they have the opportunity to observe others teach,” Burstein said. “You can be in one first grade classroom and see one first grade teacher teach a reading lesson, and then see the same reading lesson in the next classroom and find little nuggets of brilliance to share among the classrooms. You do get to be the sort of conduit among the classrooms.”

When she settles into her new role this summer and fall, Burstein said one of her top priorities will be to familiarize herself with the upper grades and build relationships with businesses and public safety agencies in the community. She added that Pioneer has strong district leadership in place and she is looking forward to achieving the school’s and district’s goals.

“I’m excited about it. I really enjoyed my time here and it will be bittersweet when I go,” Burstein said. “But I’m not going far and I will still have the connections here.”

Chris Larabee can be reached at clarabee@recorder.com.