PITTSFIELD, Mass.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--The Hillcrest Educational Foundation, operator of educational centers now providing therapeutic treatment and special education to more than 500 children and adolescents with unique psychological and learning needs, announced today that CEO Gerard E. “Jerry” Burke will retire next year after more than 36 years leading Hillcrest.
Mr. Burke will be succeeded as CEO in July 2022 by Shaun Cusson, Hillcrest’s executive director since 2005 and member of Hillcrest’s staff for more than 28 years, following a unanimous vote by Hillcrest’s Board of Directors, board chair John Walsh announced.
Taking over in 1985, what was then a bankrupt school for children with special needs, Mr. Burke and his team worked for years to stabilize and secure Hillcrest’s operations and finances. In the three and a half decades since, Mr. Burke has overseen Hillcrest’s successful growth into a nationally recognized and accredited group of programs helping students with a wide range of special needs develop the life skills that empower them to succeed in their home communities.
Hillcrest also operates a dental practice that is Western Massachusetts’ largest provider of oral healthcare to MassHealth participants and people with special needs and serves 12,000 patients annually. Hillcrest’s day student academy, three residential schools, and other divisions are combined one of Berkshire County’s largest private employers, with more than 500 staff members.
“I could not be more thankful to the countless staff, supporters, and partners who have helped us continually change and grow in response to the needs of the community and make Hillcrest all that we are today,’’ Burke said. “It has been the greatest honor of my life to serve Hillcrest as CEO, and the legacy I will always be most proud of is the thousands of young people who came to us, so often when no one else would take them, and gained life skills to make the most of their potential.”
Mr. Cusson said: “I am extremely humbled and honored by the opportunity to lead this amazing agency, and beyond grateful to have the confidence of our Board of Directors to succeed Jerry Burke. What he has accomplished in his time at Hillcrest is unfathomable, and for 16 years I’ve had the privilege of working closely with him on a daily basis and learning what it takes to move an agency forward, solve problems, and lead.’’
“I am not replacing Jerry. That would be impossible,’’ Mr. Cusson added. “My hope is that our staff have confidence in the unique continuity of this transition. I am one of five executive leaders mentored by Jerry, with over 100 years of experience combined, and we are a close team committed to remaining forward-thinking and to continuing to evolve and improve as the needs of our students change. What our staff do day in and day out for our students is absolutely inspiring, and my top job is to create the best possible environment for them to do their great work.’’
Among many tributes to Mr. Burke’s legacy, U.S. Representative Richard E. Neal said: “It has been a pleasure to work with Jerry Burke during his tenure at Hillcrest Educational Centers. With Jerry at the helm for the past 35 years, Hillcrest has been able to fulfill their mission of facilitating the social, emotional, intellectual, and physical growth of individuals in Berkshire County and beyond. He and his team have changed countless lives and ensured that those who enter their doors leave with the tools they need to succeed wherever life takes them. I am grateful to Jerry for his commitment to our community and congratulate him on his retirement on behalf of the United States of America.”
Elizabeth Dello Russo Becker, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of Approved Schools (MAAPS), the statewide association of schools including Hillcrest that serve students with special needs, said, “All of us working in special education are better at what we do because of what Jerry has done before us. Jerry is a pillar of our profession, a larger-than-life change-maker, and on behalf of the entire MAAPS community, I want to say how grateful we are for all Jerry has accomplished at Hillcrest and has taught the special-education community throughout New England and our nation.”
John Bissell, CEO of the Greylock Federal Credit Union in Pittsfield, the largest credit union in the county, said: “Every nonprofit business leader whom I know in this region--and most for-profit business leaders, too--count Jerry as a mentor and confidant. He has been a leading voice on the Greylock Federal Board of Directors for 20 years and I can confidently say that our credit union is stronger, more resilient, and more inclusive because of his leadership. Serving on the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce Board, 1Berkshire, and so many other boards, Jerry helped highlight the role of nonprofits in bolstering the local economy, and in every case, he left the organization stronger than when he joined.’’
Kristine Hazzard, former CEO of the Berkshire United Way, said, “Jerry has developed a strong leadership team at Hillcrest, and he is committed to the success of the Berkshires as demonstrated by his expectation that his team be actively engaged in the community. I benefited from this as Jerry himself and then members of his team served on the United Way Board and committees, bringing great talent and insight into all of our discussions. Jerry really set the example for how non-profit organizations in the county can support the local economy, workforce development and ultimately the quality of life for those who live here.”
About the Hillcrest Educational Foundation
Hillcrest Educational Foundation, a private, not-for-profit organization, is the parent of the Hillcrest Education Centers, providing therapeutic treatment and special education to children and adolescents with unique psychological and learning needs from Berkshire County, Massachusetts, and states throughout New England and the Northeast. Campuses include a day student academy and three residential schools. The foundation’s other divisions include Hillcrest Dental Care, Inc., and Berkshire County Kids’ Place and Violence Prevention Center, Inc., a fully accredited Children’s Advocacy Center for child-abuse victims and their non-offending family members. The programs and services provided by the Hillcrest Educational Foundation are state-licensed and -certified, and Hillcrest Educational Centers is accredited in behavioral health care by the Joint Commission.