W. Burke Royster, Ph.D., Superintendent - Greenville County Schools
W. Burke Royster, Ph.D., became the 10th Superintendent of Greenville County Schools, the 44th largest district in the nation, in 2012. A 39-year veteran of public education, his tenure as Superintendent has been marked by significant advances in student achievement, with a particular focus on improving the District’s graduation rate and ensuring that students are college and career ready. In a nod to the progress achieved under his direction, Dr. Royster was named an Education Week Leader to Learn From in February of 2017, was one of Greenville Business Journal’s 50 Most Influential in 2017, and was named 2018 Superintendent of the Year by the South Carolina Association of School Administrators and the South Carolina Association of Athletic Administrators.
In 2014, GCS earned its first absolute rating of Excellent on the State Report Card and 97.7 percent of schools earned absolute ratings of Excellent, Good or Average. When the ratings were announced, Dr. Royster noted, “The improvement in our report rating mirrors enhancements across the district in instructional delivery, student engagement, and rigor. It also reflects the extremely supportive and visionary leadership of our Board of Trustees and the commitment and dedication of our principals, teachers, administrators, and staff. Equally important, this Excellent Rating reinforces our belief that Greenville County Schools is a national leader in innovation, collaboration, and career and college readiness."
The signature initiative of Dr. Royster’s tenure is Graduation Plus, and is the key ingredient in the District’s focus on “Building a Better Graduate.” Graduation Plus is a framework for increasing student achievement and engagement that provides meaningful opportunities for every student to graduate with a South Carolina state diploma, plus industry certifications and/or college credit. A hallmark of this initiative is increasing opportunities for high school credit at the middle school level so that ample space is available in students’ high school schedules to pursue areas of interest and potential career focuses ranging from cosmetology certification to the completion of freshman-level engineering coursework through the Accelerate Engineering virtual program. In combination with traditional academic coursework, these additional opportunities help ensure students develop the skills, knowledge, and characteristics necessary for success in the post-secondary world.
As a direct result of his initiatives, the Greenville County Schools’ graduation rate has risen 15 points since 2012 and is currently at 87%. During the same period, the graduation rate for the African-American subgroup has risen 20 points (82%), the subsidized meals subgroup is up 19 points, and the Hispanic subgroup has improved 21 points to 88%, which is one-point higher than the overall student body. Additionally, since restructuring our special education service model to a more inclusive culture, the graduation rate among students with disabilities has climbed 21 percentage points and the passage rate for disabled students on the State’s End of Course Exam Program (EOCEP) has increased 10 percent in English and 17 percent in history.
Another important program launched during Royster’s tenure is the OnTrack initiative in partnership with the United Way, Furman University, and other agencies. Funded initially by a federal Social Innovation Fund (SIF) grant in combination with local dollars, OnTrack focuses on three low-income middle schools in one of Greenville’s most depressed areas, and uses an Early Warning and Response (EWP) software system to flag students when attendance, behavior, or course performance (the OnTrack A,B,Cs) begins to cause concern. Once flagged, a team comprised of teachers, social workers, administrators, and school counselors convene to determine the root of the student’s problems. Through partnerships with local social service agencies and other non-profits, the OnTrack team can identify wraparound supports that assist with problems ranging from homelessness and hunger to mental illness, addiction, and other issues that lead to transiency and instability. The goal of OnTrack is to address the root causes of disengagement and stress so students are free to focus on learning, continue their education, and break the cycle of poverty.
The belief that all decisions should be based on what is best for students, along with efforts to expand targeted instructional supports and move toward large-scale implementation of engaging practices such as those associated with project based learning, characterize Royster’s educational philosophy. Though decisions and policies must be written for the good of the whole and implemented in a fair and equitable manner, Royster encourages teachers, administrators, and support staff to never lose sight of students’ individual circumstances, gifts, and challenges. Education, in his mind, is more of a calling or purpose than it is a job. He emphasizes at every opportunity that nothing has a greater impact on student learning than the quality of the teacher in the classroom and nothing has a greater effect on teacher quality than school administrators.
As Deputy Superintendent in Greenville County Schools, Royster was a key architect in developing the District’s Long Range Facilities and Capital Improvement planning process. Through his leadership, a process for assessing demographic trends, population shifts, in- and out-migration, and economic and real estate development was developed and used to annually update a Long Range Facilities Plan and Capital Improvement Plan with the goal of carefully maintaining the school district’s physical plant and identifying sound financial strategies for meeting future building needs.
Royster began his career in 1980 as a teacher and coach at Starr-Iva Middle School in Anderson School District Three and joined Greenville County Schools for the first time in 1983 as assistant principal of Monaview Middle School. He then served as an assistant principal at Northwestern High School in Rock Hill School District Three and assumed his first principalship in 1990 as the inaugural leader of Waccamaw High School in the Georgetown County School District.
He returned to Upstate South Carolina in 1994 to serve as principal of Seneca High School in Oconee County Schools and assumed his first district-level position in 1999 as an assistant superintendent in that school district. He rejoined Greenville County Schools in 2005 as deputy superintendent for operations and became the district’s sole deputy when he assumed additional leadership responsibilities for the instructional division in 2011.
Various community boards benefit from Royster’s participation, including The Greenville Chamber of Commerce, The United Way, Greenville Technical College Area Commission, and Public Education Partners. A graduate of Leadership Greenville, Royster is also actively involved with Ten at the Top, an organization that promotes partnerships and cooperation to improve the Upstate’s economic vitality and quality of life. In addition to his service on local boards, Royster is member of the American and South Carolina Associations of School Administrators and is President-elect of the Executive Committee of the Superintendents’ Division of the South Carolina School Administrators Association. He is also has membership in Phi Delta Kappa, the Horace Mann League, Association for Learning Environments (formerly Council of Educational Facilities Planners), the National Association of School Business Officials, and the South Carolina Athletic Administrators Association.
The son of former Anderson County District Five Superintendent Dr. William B. Royster and his wife, Betty, Royster grew up in Anderson County, South Carolina, and received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Clemson University. He also holds a Ph.D. in Educational Leadership and Policies from the University of South Carolina. Royster is married to the former Tina Stephenson, who is retired from banking.