As a teenager, a young Dave Burgess dreamed of one day becoming a high school teacher and coach, mentoring young lives in the same way he was mentored by teachers who took him under their wings and helped him achieve all he envisioned for his life.
Now, four decades later, Lake Stevens School District’s Superintendent Dr. David Burgess has not only fulfilled those dreams but has been instrumental in many students reaching theirs.
“I wanted to be a high school teacher and coach because of my experiences as a student,” Burgess said. “My teachers and coaches really changed my life. I wanted to be able to do that for others.”
Burgess’ first teaching job was as a high school social studies teacher and basketball coach at Hoquiam High School in 1972.
“Many of my former students have already retired,” he said laughing. “Richard Nixon was President when I first started teaching.”
From there Burgess moved up the ranks becoming the Principal at Lake Stevens High School, Lake Stevens Deputy Superintendent for five years and moving to Southern Oregon to take on the role of Superintendent there.
He soon returned to the place he calls home when he was hired as Lake Stevens’ Superintendent seven years ago.
Burgess stepped in at a time when the economy was booming but relationships between school administration and teaching staff was tense.
He had three particular goals in mind that he wanted to accomplish during his tenure as Superintendent here; one of those goals was to mend fences with the Lake Stevens Education Association.
“I wanted to improve relationships with the teacher’s association,” he said. “The discord was palpable.”
While the job was not an easy one, Burgess was able to work with leaders who were supportive and wanted to achieve the same goal.
“This was accomplished because of the courageous leadership of Bob Ingraham, (past LSEA President) and Kelly Snow, (current LSEA President),” Burgess said. “Given these difficult times economically, we’ve established a great relationship.”
Those who worked with Burgess could see that his top concern was the students and their academic success.
“Dave has always put students and student achievement first,” Deputy Superindentent Amy Beth Cook said. “We have been firtunate to have his leadership and he will be greatly missed.”
His second goal was to address the facility needs within the district. Three of the existing elementary schools needed to be updated both structurally and technically and we needed a school for upper grade levels to ease overcrowding.
The bond measure for these improvements was passed with a 72 percent yes vote.
“Each of these projects was built on time and under budget,” Burgess explained. “Our community should be very proud of that. We are proud that the community trusted this district with those resources.”
Cavelero Mid High School is up for its fourth national award for design and linking instruction to the facility.
Ensuring that academics was the top priority for the district was the third goal Burgess wanted to accomplish.
“I wanted to improve academic achievement and our test scores have improved dramatically,” he said. “I went pedal to the metal as best I know how.”
Burgess is proud of the fact that students in Lake Stevens score higher than the state average in both SAT scores and test scores.
He is also quick to point out that without the support of a great community, an invested school board, hard-working teachers and staff and students who want to achieve their best, none of this would have been possible.
“We have a great school board. They are quality people who volunteer their time because they are absolutely committed to the children of this community.”
Burgess’ office is emptying slowly as his final day approaches. He is adding a touch of Hawaii for incoming Superintendent Amy Beth Cook with a plastic palm tree and hanging paper pineapples—memories of a team building exercise they did when Burgess first took the position.
His confidence in Cook is obvious as he speaks about her upcoming job change.
“I know that my successor is going to be an outstanding leader. She has been dealt a difficult hand,” he said. “She is extraordinarily competent and the district will be successful under her leadership. The infrastructure of success is here and she’ll continue it.”
He is now looking forward to spending more time with his wife of 37 years and visiting warm destinations with her. He also looks forward to playing with his grandkids and ‘having the nicest yard in the neighborhood’. Of course, the feeling is bittersweet.
“Clearly I will miss the people I work with—every staff member, parent and community member who has touched my heart in such a special way,” Burgess said. “I am relationship driven. I walk away with a wonderful feeling about those relationships. I’m leaving behind the profession that I love.”
Burgess has been blessed to be able to look back and see that his dreams as a teenager have not only come true but have multiplied more than he ever expected.
“We’re in the miracle business,” he said. “Walking away from that is extraordinarily difficult for me.”