More than 500 people gathered at Teeland Middle School Friday to pay their respects to Dr. Kenneth Burnley, to honor his lifelong passion for education and contributions to the Mat-Su Borough School District.
Burnley died on July 2, after complications from knee surgery. He had been on the job as superintendent for only one year, but his staffers say he set the district on track for future success.
He was remembered by speakers at Friday's memorial as a "world class leader," particularly when it came to creating a vision for the district. One of the goals he set was to make the district a model for education in Alaska and the nation.
His son, Trevor Burnley, told the gathering, "He turned us to the sunshine and encouraged us to dream."
His brother, Dennis, told the crowd that Burnely began his role as a mentor very early in life. He shared a story about how Burnley had helped him work on a report about Alaska in grade school. "Needless to say, I got an 'A' on that paper."
The president of the Mat-Su school board, Mike Dunleavy, attributed Burnley's success to being driven by a moral imperative.
"It's an inner calling to do the right thing. Ken Burnley always did the right thing for kids," said Dunleavy.
His deputy superintendent, Ken Forrest, followed Burnley as he worked in school districts around the country, including one of the most challenging, the Detroit Public School System.
"Dr. Burnley handled adversity with optimism and humor," said Forrest. "He was a consummate model of grace under pressure."
Forrest read a long list of his accomplishments, including bringing reading test scores up by 25 points in his first year.
Forrest also noted that Burnley, when he was a superintendent in Colorado, was honored as the national "Superintendent of the Year" in 1993 for initiating statewide education reforms that still exist today.
In the Mat-Su District, Burnley was credited with tackling some big challenges -- from budget deficits to union contracts, to building a new relationship with the community.
Among some of the other speakers at his memorial: Lt. Governor Mead Treadwell, Education Commissioner Mike Hanley, and Anchorage School Superintendent Carol Comeau.