published Tuesday, July 2nd, 2013

Lee Burns named next McCallie School headmaster

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Lee Burns, headmaster at Presbyterian Day School, will be the next headmaster of McCallie School in Chattanooga.

"I have both deep sadness and grief at leaving PDS and Memphis and great excitement at returning to my alma mater and hometown. It was an agonizing decision," Burns said in a text Monday.

Burns, 44, has served PDS as headmaster since 2000. He will continue in the job for next year, taking over McCallie on Aug. 1, 2014.

Elliott Davenport, chairman of the McCallie board, announced on Monday that Burns would be the school's next headmaster, taking the place of current headmaster Kirk Walker Jr.

"Lee Burns understands McCallie as an institution in both its historical context and for its potential to lead in today's educational environment," Davenport said in a prepared statement. "We look forward to welcoming Lee back to the Ridge and leading us into an exciting new era."

Davenport said the appointment came from a unanimous recommendation from the Headmaster Search Committee after an extensive national search.

Burns is a 1987 graduate of McCallie. His brother, father and grandfather are all alumni of the school. His grandfather -- Major Arthur Lee Burns -- is a Chattanooga institution, having served from 1925 to 1972 as teacher, chair of the foreign languages, dean of students and associate headmaster.

Burns has spent the past 13 years as headmaster of Presbyterian Day School in Memphis. He graduated from Dartmouth College and went on to earn his master's in educational administration at Harvard University.

Burns is the president of the Elementary School Heads Association as well as the chairman of the board of trustees of the Martin Institute for Teaching Excellence in Memphis.

"We just knew that he loved McCallie, and we had hoped we could keep him forever," said Winston Baccus, PDS director of communications. "When we heard they were looking for a headmaster, we all knew Lee Burns was the perfect fit."

PDS, a private boys' school, serves about 630 students in prekindergarten through sixth grade. McCallie, also a boys' school, has about 915 day and boarding students in grades 6-12.

Burns inspired enormous change at PDS, says board Chairman Don Batchelor. "Memphis has not just lost a leader of a school but a leader in an industry that has made a huge impact on our city."

Burns was instrumental in establishing the Martin Institute for Teaching Excellence in 2010. With a gift from Brad Martin, interim University of Memphis president, PDS offers professional development for public school teachers through its annual conference and scholarships to Harvard University's summer Project Zero program.

Next summer, Harvard will offer the program here.

Burns also helped establish a Mandarin Chinese language program for boys as young as 3, oversaw a $26 million capital fundraising campaign and construction of a $20 million wing for early childhood education.

"We'll have a year to celebrate him and help him wrap up," Batchelor said. "We're excited for him. This is a lifetime goal. To be headmaster at his age at a school as prestigious as McCallie, I wouldn't say it was unheard of, but it is extremely rare."

PDS will conduct a national search to replace Burns.

Contact Jane Roberts at robertsj@commercialappeal.com.

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