Going home again: Dr. Keith Burdette returns to Mason County as superintendent

Suzette Lowe
Special to the Jackson Star News
Jackson County Assistant Superintendent Dr. Keith Burdette will become Mason County superintendent of schools in July.

For Dr. Keith Burdette, life is about making the biggest positive impact on as many people as possible.

This philosophy has led him to every job he has taken. It is now leading him to leave Jackson County’s school system to serve Mason County as superintendent of schools.

“It really comes down to the circle of life, in a way,” said Burdette, who has served as Jackson County’s assistant superintendent of non-instructional services since 2013.

Burdette, a graduate of Point Pleasant High School in 1978 and West Virginia University in 1982, said he was not one who was afforded the chance to teach in his home county upon graduation. Instead, he began his teaching career in Wood County where he taught for three years. He then made the decision to move to a nearby county.

“I was an ag teacher for 15 years at Ravenswood High School,” he said. “Those were some of the best years of my life. I loved teaching and becoming involved with FFA. That organization is terrific for kids.”

That dedication to teaching the value and skills of agriculture led Burdette to his next venture. In 2000, he become the coordinator of Career and Technical Education for the West Virginia Department of Education.

“I saw an opportunity to make a difference in a larger way,” Burdette said. “In my nine years there, I travelled all over the state, meeting countless agriculture teachers. I was also involved in state training for FFA.”

Making one more change on the state level led Burdette to four years as director of Human Resources.

“In that role, I saw some people on the best day of their life and some on the worst day,” he said. “It helped develop my interpersonal skills for sure.”

In this job, Burdette coordinated the State Teacher of the Year award. On a personal level, he was chosen Jackson County Teacher of the Year in 1990-1991.

“I’m very proud that during my years there, I was able to see the establishment of School Personnel of the Year,” he said. “Those folks are the backbone of the educational system.”

His final year with the state department of education saw Burdette as director of healthy schools, a job he describes as eye-opening.

“The issues of bullying and mental health of our children were issues that faced us then and still do,” he said. “I gained a lot organizational and directional skills in that job.”

During these busy years, Burdette still found time to earn his doctorate in educational leadership studies at West Virginia University.

“I sincerely believe that ‘to whom much is given, much is required’,” he stated. “Each job I’ve performed has had the goal of providing better service.”

When the job of assistant superintendent in Jackson County became available, Burdette saw it as a way to get back to his original calling. This time, though, he would be helping over 5,000 students, rather than the 140 a day as a classroom teacher.

Dealing with non-instructional services, he works in the areas of buildings and facilities, technology, food services, maintenance and transportation.

In his position, he has been involved with coordinating and overseeing the building of Kenna Elementary, the addition of Ravenswood Middle School and the renovation of the Early Learning Center which was formerly the National Guard Armory.

“I’ve been blessed to have a part in a lot of things,” Burdette said. “But it was never just me. It was an incredible team that worked very well together.”

The last two years have been particularly challenging.

“There certainly have been many obstacles we’ve had to overcome with the pandemic,” he said. “Never has food services, transportation and technology been so important.”

Soon Burdette will take his skills and his philosophies to another county. On July 1, he will come ‘full circle’ to become the Mason County superintendent.

“I’ve been in the classroom, worked at the state level and finally the county level,” he said. “I feel I will bring three different perspectives to this job. Knowing the non-instructional side of things will help me tackle any of those issues that may be facing Mason County.”

Coming into a new position, Burdette is aware that it will be a learning experience. While Jackson and Mason counties may be alike in some ways, they are different in others.

“There are no assistant superintendents in Mason County,” he said. “So, I will have to see how the board office operates. As for the school system itself, I plan on seeing what has been done in the past, if it works or if it doesn’t and why not. Building relationships is key to making anything run smoothly.”

Currently, Mason County students attend school four days a week, with deep cleaning occurring on Friday. Burdette is hopeful that in August schools will be open a full five days. Having a robust summer school program is important as well.

“To build trust, people have to know how much you care,” he said. “That includes teachers, administrators, students and parents.”

Burdette says he has seen an excellent example to follow in his years in Jackson County schools.

“In my opinion, Blaine Hess is the best superintendent in the state,” he said. “He’s always on the cutting edge, asking ‘What’s next, how can we improve?’ His attention to detail, ability to stay calm in stressful situations, skills in building teams are all areas I want to emulate.”

While change is never easy, Burdette said he felt led to Mason County.

“I don’t have any dissatisfaction with my current job,” he said. “I gave this decision a lot of thought and prayer.”

With 39 years in education, Burdette said this is a very satisfying way to end his career.

“If I’d ever write my life story,” he said, “this would be the ribbon on top. I’m really looking forward to serving another generation of students.”