Berkmar High School
405 Pleasant Hill Road; Lilburn, GA 30047
Years Principal 1966-1971 William Pickens 1971-1974 William Trussell 1974-1978 Ben Benton 1978–1982 George Thompson 1982–1986 Wayne Newton 1986– 1994 Donna King 1994–2003 Jim Markham 2003–2012 Ken Johnson 2012–Nov. 2013 Dr. Michael Zinn Dec. 2013–2019 Dr. Al Taylor 2019–Present Durrant Williams
School Colors: Red, White, and Blue
School Mascot: Patriot
Berkmar is nestled in the growing community of Lilburn, between Interstate 85 and Georgia Highway 29, at 405 Pleasant Hill Road. When Berkmar opened, it was the product of the consolidation of Lilburn and Bethesda high schools. These were the last of 10 high schools to be consolidated in Gwinnett County. Since there was such great rivalry between these schools, it took several years to agree upon a name and a location for the new high school.
The school’s name was derived by combining part of the voting districts’ names of Berkshire and Martins, using ‘Berk’ and ‘Mar’ to get Berkmar. The first school term opened in the fall of 1966, and at that time the student body selected the ‘Patriot’ as its official mascot, and the school colors of red, white and blue.
The building was unique for its time in construction and design. It was one of three schools in the United States with moveable partitions and very few windows. It was also the only school in Gwinnett County in 1966 with air conditioning, carpeted floors, and electrical heat. Classrooms could be formed by placing portable partitions into desired shapes and sizes to satisfy each individual teacher. However, teachers did not successfully adapt to this environment, and the school system has since constructed permanent walls in most of the building.
The first faculty consisted of a principal, an assistant principal, a counselor, a librarian and 22 teachers. There was a grand total of 425 students spanning grades eight through 12. Berkmar’s enrollment had grown to almost 2,000 at the beginning of the 1976 school year when Parkview High School opened to relieve crowding at Berkmar. Ten years later the student population had again approached 2,000 and the new Meadowcreek High School drew approximately 600 students who would have attended Berkmar. Enrollment reached a record 3,081 students at the beginning of 2006–07 school year. Those students were served by 203 teachers and 90 support staff. In 2015, the school again was part of a major redistricting as the school system opened Discovery High School. In 2018–19, the school served approximately 2,800 students.
To house its ever-growing student population, Berkmar High has undergone many changes to its facility during its 50 years. The unique, ‘modern-looking’ building of the sixties retained its design through a number of expansions. The first major change extended the building eastward and added 12 new classrooms. The next addition included the auditorium, with a stage and six classrooms with elevated floors to be used by the drama department and other community programs. The ground floor to this addition housed the art and choral rooms. Separate additions to the school during these years included a gym, weight rooms, and a wrestling room. In 1975, a new building was added to the back of the original school to house the mathematics and social science departments. This addition contained 20 classrooms, workrooms, and administrative offices. In 1990, the faculty and students enjoyed many more improvements as construction concluded on another addition. The new building contained six classrooms, new band and art rooms, and an administrative office. The stage/auditorium area was renovated, and the kitchen expanded. This addition was followed by a 17-classroom addition in 1993. By 1999, enrollment increases necessitated the need for 53 trailer classrooms. Another addition began during the 2000–01 school year, and was completed for the start of the 2002–03 school year. This latest addition doubled the size of the school to over 400,000 square feet, and included a new media center and a new gymnasium. This new addition surrounded the old building, creating the look of a brand new school.
In addition to new classrooms, the Berkmar community saw many other changes over the years. Early on there was the completion of a football stadium surrounded by an asphalt track. A baseball diamond, two tennis courts, and a practice field for football and soccer also were added to enhance the sports programs and the physical well-being of the students. With the 2001 renovation, the school also received a new gym. Work to improve miscellaneous athletic facilities continued in 2008, and in 2010 the school opened a new field house. When Berkmar became a part of the county cluster to educate students with special needs, the school was ramped, and classrooms were equipped to accommodate these students.
The school’s first athletic department was staffed with two coaches, who supervised and trained students for football, basketball, baseball, and track. Since there was no gym or athletic field, the students had to be bused to Bethesda Elementary for their physical education classes. Baseball players practiced at Harper’s Sporting Goods field, while the basketball teams learned their routines at the old Lilburn High School gym, where Lilburn Middle School is now located. Track team members ran up and down the highway in order to develop their running skills. The region classification for Berkmar at this time was C. Today’s school offers a wide range of athletic and extracurricular activities for students. Berkmar boys basketball rose to prominence during the 1997–98 season, culminating in four straight state playoff berths and two state championships (2000, 2001). The school’s Academic Decathlon team had a run of consecutive state championships that started in 2003. In addition, Berkmar enjoyed back-to-back state playoff appearances in football in 2004 and 2005—this was the first time in school history for back-to-back appearances and also accounted for two of the school’s only three appearances in the state playoffs for football.
During its 50-plus years, Berkmar has undergone many changes and has served its community well. The student body is a true ‘melting pot’ and has produced the usual doctors, lawyers, and teachers, but Berkmar is probably the only school in Georgia to have a former student who was a part of the Muppets, and another one who was a clown with the Ringling Bros. Circus.
Berkmar has celebrated its mascot, the Patriot, and what the Patriot symbolizes. For several years, the school had a live Patriot mascot at its games and pep rallies. In 1981, the school added a real cannon, which was purchased in Missouri with Pep Club funds as a means of showing its spirit during football games. The barrel of the cannon had to be relined in order for it to be safe when fired. The ‘BOOM’ was heard at pep rallies and when the football team scored a touchdown. While the cannon no longer is used, the spirit of the Patriots can be heard at many school functions and daily in the halls and classrooms of the school. The school’s mascot has remained the Patriot, however, the school began using the New England Patriots’ “Flying Elvis” logo (thanks to NFL permission) in 2006.
Berkmar has a history of being a leader within Gwinnett County Public Schools. It was selected to conduct the first night-time community school, which was later expanded to include the Adult High School Education program. This program has allowed many people of Gwinnett County to finish their high school requirements and to receive a diploma from the high school of their choice. Berkmar also has been recognized as a leader in its work to provide more students access to Advanced Placement courses. In fact, the school was honored by College Board for its work in this area. The School also has been recognized multiple times as an AP Honor School by the Georgia Department of Education.
In 2015, the school joined a number of other Gwinnett high schools in offering College and Career Academies. In addition to its 9th Grade Academy, the school offers students experiences through its Architecture and Construction Academy, the Entrepreneurship and Leadership Academy, the Health and Human Services Academy, the Media Arts and Communications Academy, and its STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) Academy.
In 2006, Berkmar High celebrated its 40th anniversary with an alumni homecoming celebration and a 40th anniversary program highlighting the school’s history. All former principals were present except for the late Mr. Pickens whose widow attended, and the late Mr. Newton, whose son attended.
In 2016, the school celebrated 50 years of service to students with a year-long celebration. The school kicked the celebration off on May 14, 2016, with a 1st annual Patriot Day Cluster Community Festival. On May 27, 2016, the school held graduation for the Class of 2016... its 50th graduating class. On October 18, 2016, the school celebrated the 50th day of school. Homecoming, which was held on September 23, 2016, was a festive event that welcomed back many BHS alumni. The school held a formal 50th anniversary celebration on Saturday, November 5, 2016. In addition to speakers and a performance by an alumni chorus, the school created a “Walking Museum” featuring the different decades and a display of time period artifacts (yearbooks, pictures, letterman jackets, etc.).
During its 50-plus-year history, Berkmar High School has played an important role in the community and in Gwinnett County Public Schools. The excitement and the focus on teaching and learning continue and the school looks forward to 50 more years of providing its students a quality and effective education that prepares them for college, work, and life in the 21st century.