WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — The superintendent of the School District of Palm Beach County is spending time on the ground, learning the ins and outs of a variety of departments within the 10th-largest school district in America.
By getting out of the office, Superintendent Mike Burke is gaining a greater understanding of the workers who keep our schools running.
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The rooftop of a school is not your typical office for the superintendent. But on Thursday, that's where Burke got the job done.
Burke went to new heights to learn what it takes to keep schools cool, first troubleshooting a condenser problem at Grassy Waters Elementary School in West Palm Beach.
"He got his hands in, got his hands dirty," said Esteban Woods, a senior mechanical technician at the school. "We found out the condenser had two blown fuses. We changed out the fuses and the condenser part is working right now."
It's part of the first-year superintendent's effort to really get to know the responsibilities and challenges of the many roles within the School District of Palm Beach County.
"It could be something that comes up later in contract negotiations or what have you, or just some issues that need to be addressed," Burke said. "I think if I have first-hand experience, then I can appreciate, yeah, what it's like working on a roof of a school in the dead of summer. I may be a little more empathetic and make better decisions."
As Palm Beach County's largest employer with more than 22,000 on staff, Burke is trying his hand at everything from food service to transportation and IT repairs, before making the move to maintenance and plant operations.
"These are my best days, really,"Burke said. "I'd rather be doing this than some of my other assignments. And getting to work with our team and really, kind of, get a better feel for the true work that's going on, it's refreshing and rewarding."
A new video series called “Burke at Work” is one of many ways Superintendent Mike Burke is increasing his familiarity with #TeamPalmBeach and highlighting their contributions to the success of the District. Check out Mr. Burke getting a taste of the lunch rush at @GalaxyE3Elem. pic.twitter.com/SvFS0PWjk8— The School District of Palm Beach County (@pbcsd) January 26, 2022
After troubleshooting at one school on Thursday, it was on to the next, Jeaga Middle School in West Palm Beach, to clean the chillers.
Woods enjoyed the opportunity to show off his work.
"A lot of our instructors, our admins, they have no clue of the work that has to be done to keep these facilities up to par," Woods said.
And while Burke's HVAC work was impressive, he isn't ready to hang up the superintendent title just yet.
"I'm excited to be superintendent and I'll make time for my meetings and phone calls and emails, but this is a good time out of the office," Burke said.
Burke plans to keep this going throughout the school year, giving him a greater appreciation for those on the ground. He's hoping to visit a physical education class or media center next, and also spend time filling in in the classroom because of the school district's ongoing substitute teacher shortage.