"Based upon personal and obligatory considerations, it is clear to me that I cannot, in all good conscience, continue to serve as superintendent," Burns said in a statement.
Board members said his resignation came as a shock.
Board Chairman Ron Margiotta said it was like "attending a funeral."
"It's a complete shock but sometimes with change comes this type of decision," said board member Chris Malone.
"I think this is a huge loss. I'm in total shock," offered Anne McLaurin.
There has been speculation about Burns' future since November when a new majority was elected to the school board that promised to take the district in a new direction - including doing away with Wake County's policy of busing students away from neighborhood schools to increase diversity.
After the new majority was elected to the school board, ABC11 asked Burns if he thought his job was in jeopardy, at that time he said he was looking forward to working with the new board.
Board members say they shared that sentiment then and now.
"I can tell you this, my staff and all of the board members had hoped very highly to continue to work with Mr. Burns," said new board member John Tedesco.However, some of the minority on the board feels it is the new direction that Burns disagree with that they have problems with too.
"It's not paying attention to students," School Board Member Anne McLaurin said. "It's certainly not paying attention to teachers, educators or principals, the people who are the most important part of this system."
But Margiotta says the new majority did not force Burns out."No, there was no talk of that," Margiotta said. "There's talk from outside, assumptions on some people's parts but no."
Following Burns announcement, NC NAACP president Rev. William Barber released a statement that read in part, "The poor children of Wake County have lost a champion. It is tragic when a person committed to education for all students has to resign because he sees movement backwards to a system only dedicated to the best education for certain children and certain communities."
According to Wake County Schools' website Burns began his career with the Wake County Public School System in 1976 as an LD Resource Teacher at Aldert Root Elementary School.
He is WCPSS's seventh superintendent.
Burns is a member of the Board of Directors of the Wake Education Partnership, Communities in Schools, and the Capital Area Workforce Development Board.
He is an adjunct professor of school finance at North Carolina State University and a founding member of the Capital City Connectors.
He is also a member and past director of the Raleigh Kiwanis Club.