Burns announced his decision to step down at Tuesday's board of education meeting. It came as shock to many board members who hadn't anticipated it despite the fact that the new majority on the board elected last fall has pledged to undo many of the programs Burns has worked so hard to put in place.
He told board members that he could not in "good conscience, continue to serve as superintendent."
He enlarged on that statement Thursday in a one-on-one interview with ABC11's Shae Crisson.
"I hold certain values and convictions very, very highly," he said. "The proposed policies of the board are not in alignment with my goals and my vision."
"My personal integrity is very important," he continued. "I think this is the right thing to do."
Crisson: "Are you saying the board doesn’t have integrity?"
Burns: "No. This is not about them, it’s about me."
Later, Crisson asked if the new majority on the board pushed him out.
"This was my decision. This is about me. This is my decision based on my principles," Burns responded. "This is not about the board of education. This is about Del Burns. It’s about what I feel I can and cannot do."
"If I’m going to serve as superintendent, then I have to align with the board. To be effective, a superintendent has to have strong communication with the board, and vice versa. There has to be involvement, and there has to be trust. If I’m not comfortable with the policy or policy direction, then I have to bend or break my principles. That’s not something I’m going to do."
Burns announcement at Tuesday's board of education meeting drew a shocked response from Burns' supporters. Some were in tears. Burns said Thursday that he's not happy to be leaving.
"It’s quite a sad occasion for me. I care deeply about Wake County and the Wake County Public School System," he said. "There is an ending here for me. That is always a struggle for folks - because I do care very much about the people who work in this school system and the kids as well."
"Spending time with the kids is the highlight of my week without question. It always has been," he continued.
Among the changes that the new majority on the board has pledged to make: ending mandatory year-round schools and doing away with Wake County's policy of busing students away from neighborhood schools to increase diversity.
But Burns said Thursday that creating exclusively neighborhood schools would most likely mean a return to segregated schools. And, he said there would be disparity between rich schools and underprivileged schools. He said it was not something he could go along with.
During his tenure, "I would like to think that I have served as a champion for the students," Burns said.
Crisson asked Burns about his legacy in Wake County.
"For four years and even prior to that, my focus has been about building capacity- becoming a learning organization," he said. "Students learn as much as they can every day, building their capacity."
“I would love to think that the Wake County Public School System, as a learning organization, is a legacy that, somehow, my fingerprints would be on.”
As for where he goes now, Burns said he isn't sure. He did answer speculation he might apply for the vacant superintendent job in Durham County. He said he has not applied.