W. Burke Royster, Ph.D., Superintendent - Greenville County Schools
Dr. W. Burke Royster became the 10th Superintendent of Greenville County Schools, the 44th largest district in the nation, in 2012. 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 has been named an Education Week “Leader to Learn From,” was selected as the South Carolina Association of School Administrators’ 2018 Superintendent of the Year, and in 2023 was named to Greenville Business Magazine’s “50 Most Influential” Hall of Fame. He serves on the Governing Board of AASA, The School Superintendents’ Association, and is an active member of the Large Countywide and Suburban District Consortium, having served as its chair.
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, the key ingredient in the District’s focus on “Building a Better Graduate.” Graduation Plus works to increase student achievement and engagement by providing meaningful opportunities for every student to graduate with not only a high school diploma, but also college credit and/or industry certification.
As a direct result of his direction and expectations, the Greenville County Schools’ overall graduation rate has risen 12 points since 2012. Over the same period, the District’s focus on improving outcomes for traditionally lower-performing student subgroups has resulted in graduation rate increases of 16 points for African-American students, 12 points for Hispanic/Latino students, 26 points for students with disabilities, and 17 points for English-language learners.
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 began with a focus on three middle schools in one of Greenville’s most socioeconomically challenged areas, and since then has expanded supports to three additional middle and high schools. OnTrack uses an Early Warning and Response System (EWRS) software to flag students when attendance, behavior, or course performance (the OnTrack ABCs) begins to cause concern, and the EWRS has been implemented in all schools across Greenville County. 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 has served as President of the Superintendents’ Division of the South Carolina School Administrators Association. He is also holds memberships 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.