The return of Del Burns as interim superintendent of Wake County's public schools recalls the rowdy days of 2009,
when a new Republican majority took over the school board.
In those days, school board meetings could last for eleven hours, and arrests of protesters, including the Reverend William Barber II, offered a preview of Moral Mondays and other demonstrations. Burns, who began his education career as an Aldert Root Elementary School teacher, started as superintendent in 2006 and resigned in 2010, saying he could no longer "in good conscience" serve the Wake schools.
The school board announced Tuesday that Burns will start February 1 and serve until the current school board selects a successor to Jim Merrill, who's retiring.
"It is an honor to return and serve as interim superintendent during this period of transition," Burns said in a statement. "I look forward to working with the Board of Education and the dedicated employees who teach or support those who teach students every day."
Burns' tenure began in a heady period for the school system. Wake had received praise from national media and some education experts for its approach to student diversity, which it
based on socioeconomic background. However, the diversity plan involved busing many students at a time of rampant growth, which also required reassignment.
By the elections of 2009, parents' frustration served as a driver, and the GOP gained control of the board. In that board's first meeting in December, as Burns looked on, new members voted out Kevin Hill as chairman and installed in his place Ron
Members Margiotta, Chris Malone, John Tedesco, Debra Goldman, and Deborah Prickett moved to discard the diversity policy, then to replace it with a "choice" system. It gets complicated, but that system, under the leadership of Burns replacement Tony Tata, only held sway for a year.
In 2011, voters turned the other way and elected a Democratic majority. Opponents of the way they're running the system have few good memories of Burns.
Activist Allison Backhouse tweeted: "Under Burns' leadership @WCPSS reassigned 1000s every year. Most impacted were poor from Raleigh who were
readily displaced miles away from their neighborhoods under the guise of #diversity (it was really done to keep the rich #magnet parents happy)."
The diversity-supportive nonprofit Great Schools in Wake tweeted: "To all you newcomers: Del Burns is a widely respected leader & we are thrilled to hear of his return, even if temporary."
Burns has remained busy, working with his consulting business Burns Alliance and offering expertise in North Carolina systems including Alamance-Burlington and Edgecombe, Orange, and Bertie County schools.