Wake County Schools

Wake schools' former chief speaks out

Posted October 8, 2010
Updated October 9, 2010

— For the past few months, Del Burns has been spending time with family, working through a long to-do list he’s accumulated over the years and finally taking the opportunity to read some of the books he purchased over the past few years while he was chief of North Carolina’s largest school system.

He’s also writing a book – although he won’t say what it’s about.

“I want to be sure you do purchase it,” Burns laughs. “Wake County is certainly heavily highlighted.”

Up until July, Burns had spent his entire career with the Wake County Public School System, beginning in 1976 as a special education teacher before moving on to a number of administrative roles. In 2006, he became the system’s seventh superintendent.

After 34 years, he decided in February that it was time to call it quits.

“That was something that, frankly, I did not want to do but felt that I had to do,” Burns says.

The new school board majority, voted into office three months earlier, had already reversed several policies Burns worked to create and was working to change the school system’s decade-old student assignment policy of busing students to help achieve socio-economic diversity among student populations.

“It was very clear to me after a period of time that my values, my beliefs, the work that I’d done was not aligned with that of the new board majority,” Burns says. “They deserved, and do deserve, a superintendent who is aligned with their vision and supports the work they’re about.”

Web only: Del Burns speaks out Full interview: Del Burns speaks out

Since then, the school board began transitioning to a contentious new assignment plan to place students in schools closer to where they live – a move that has drawn criticism from various civil rights groups, spawned protests and arrests at school board meetings and fractured the board’s conservative majority.

Just this week, the vice chairwoman, Debra Goldman, expressed concern there hadn’t been enough parental or board member feedback and backed a resolution that halted work on the controversial plan, drawing ire from board member John Tedesco, who referred to her on Facebook as “Benedict Goldman.”

“The transition from campaign mode to governing mode is still in progress,” Burns says. “Obviously, recent events show there are some things where's there's not total agreement on things that are important.”

As a former teacher, principal and superintendent, Burns wants to see new leaders develop and take advantage of what he now sees as an opportunity for Wake County.

‘They have hit the pause button for a moment,” he says. “It’s time to reflect and determine what it is we really want for the future and then find a way to begin addressing that, honoring the values for everyone.”

Watching the protests and the public fights, Burn says, reminds him that, in a democracy, everyone has to be flexible.

“You can’t have everything. If you want freedom from student assignment every year, then you have to give up something,” he says. “We can’t have it all ways, but I think there are opportunities here for our community to focus … on what’s good and what the common good is and what direction we want to move toward.”


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  • Da Toy Maker Oct 8, 2010

    How many of you moved to Wake County because its Public school system? My family certainly did. Our child is a Senior at HS. We are glad he has received a great education from WCPSS. Is it perfect? No. Is it good? We think so.

    Mr. Burns did have integrity. He did not think he could honestly perform the duty under the new policy so he offered to resign from the position so the New Board could hire someone with same vision. Yall think that is wrong? Amusing. Anyone of you who criticize him ever think about quitting your job if you don't agree with the employer's business practice and believe you could perform the duty at 100%??

  • lolly Oct 8, 2010

    " I wonder (thinking, thinking) ..."

    I was born in Raleigh and I have seen a lot of changes in Wake schools in my lifetime. I was glad to see Burns leave. I hope he took his "WCPSS rules, parents kneel" ideology with him. I am not too impressed with this new school board, either. However, I hope that Wake will find a rational middle ground soon.

  • GoGreen Oct 8, 2010

    Wow, he could have come out swinging yet he is benevolent. Hm, 34 years in the school system. Yup, he has an axe to grind. Burns couldn't possibly be right now could he? Burns, Tedesco; Burns, Tedesco, let me see, now who might be the better lead for the school system? I wonder (thinking, thinking) ...

  • FVHowler Oct 8, 2010

    Lolly has got it right! The past board was too much "my way or the highway" and "we will tell you whats best for your children." Parents, including myself, were tired of seeing their children bounced from one school to another. My neighborhood was on its 3rd elem school in 5 years!!! Completely arrogant and unwilling to listen, the old board is gone, thankfully. With the Rev taking up most of the spotlight with his slander, this has become the the untold story about the wonderful WC school board. I just wish the current board could conduct business in a peaceful manner and implement policies they were elected to do. Folks no matter what they do, remember 80% of childrens education is directly affected by the home environment.

  • Not_So_Dumb Oct 8, 2010

    "Just love all of the comments about Mr. Burns being a quitter.....how do you feel about Saint Sarah quitting her job as governor....guess that's OK...."

    She and Burns are of equal value - ZERO.

    "As amateurs they failed to realize that they do not set policy; the superintendent does. "-seankelly

    No, the Board sets policy, the Superintendent executes it.

  • soyousay Oct 8, 2010

    js Instead of trying to compromise he quit. I have no respect for quitters.

    exceptions made of course for the Grizzly Mama.. Should you ever have a professional career, and then when you invested enough in it- there are times you make a decision about whether that last compromise is just going to put you over the line, and you are not going to compromise your integrity..and who to say it would even satify those incapabale of compromise have have less than zero of experience oh but wait Mr. T is a "family" man

  • HopingForABetterWorld Oct 8, 2010

    jscott...do you mean he should have compromised with the new majority that compromises NOTHING. A compromise is when both sides give in a bit, not one. This new majority has no concept of working together.

  • seankelly15 Oct 8, 2010

    Good point.

  • rescuefan Oct 8, 2010

    "Just love all of the comments about Mr. Burns being a quitter.....how do you feel about Saint Sarah quitting her job as governor....guess that's OK....
    Hey yuall"

    LOL, I was thinking the same thing! You know the excuse will be that the MSM was harassing her and drove her to quit.

  • seankelly15 Oct 8, 2010

    jscott13 - The Board is a bunch of amateurs; Burns is a professional educator. As amateurs they failed to realize that they do not set policy; the superintendent does. What compromise are you suggesting? Ignoring over thirty years as a professional educator to listen to some political hacks? I don't blame him for leaving.