In a move that seemed to surprise many, Sue Burgess, the powerful and longest-serving superintendent of the Dare County Schools, announced on Jan. 11 that she will retire at the conclusion of the 2016-2017 school year.
In a brief statement, Burgess gave no reason for her departure, but noted that she had been “fortunate to be surrounded by an incredibly talented contingent of teachers, principals, central office staff and all other employees.” She added that she will continue to live in Nags Head following her retirement.
“I was very shocked to hear the news that Sue will be leaving— and saddened,” said Dare County Board of Education Chair Bea Basnight, who noted that board of education members were only informed of Burgess’ decision at a Jan. 10 meeting. “She’s been an outstanding leader.”
As far as selecting a successor to Burgess, who become superintendent here on July 1, 2000, Basnight told the Sentinel that the Board of Education “will be meeting to talk about the process.” She also confirmed that prior to Burgess’ decision, the board had not yet engaged in any new negotiations over her contract, which was expiring in 2017.
At 65, Burgess is also the longest-serving superintendent in North Carolina and will have completed 30 years of work in the state at her retirement. Having once considered a career in music, she started out in the classroom and prior to coming to Dare County, was Superintendent of Schools in King William County and Spotsylvania County, both in Virginia.
In her career as superintendent here, Burgess was widely credited for her formidable skills and a record of achievement that included a major buildup of the physical facilities, a standardization of curriculum and the rise of digital learning.
The late David Oaksmith, who had chaired the board of education, credited Burgess from bringing “low functioning schools, in terrible condition, to a much better standard.” And as reflected in statewide evaluations and grading of the public schools, it is clear that Dare County outperforms many other North Carolina school systems.
Burgess’ thoroughness in her approach to the job is nearly legendary — everything from rehearsing before board of education meetings to painstakingly re-writing letters and emails to her control of the public messaging about the public schools.
That level of control has led some to criticize Burgess for micromanaging the schools, for a lack of transparency and for exerting too much influence over the board of education. In an earlier interview with the Sentinel, she responded to those charges by saying, “The board is in charge of me, not the other way around. I don’t have that kind of power.”
If Burgess had been planning to retire, she certainly didn’t seem to tip her hand early. This past June, she oversaw a sweeping set of promotions and job changes in the administration of the county schools that was triggered by several key retirements.
And when asked back in 2015 whether she was considering retirement, Burgess diplomatically responded that that was an issue “for me to discuss…with the Board of Education.”
But, she added: “I have no retirement plans.”
(Reprinted from the Outer Banks Sentinel with permission. For more Outer Banks news, features, sports, and classifieds, go to www.obsentinel.com)