A new school for Westlake

The new Lee Burneson Middle School will welcome its first seven- and eigth-graders Sept. 4.  A plaque outside commemorates the Red Brick School, where Mr. Burneson served as principal.

Ribbon-cutting ceremony opens new Lee Burneson Middle School

The late Lee Burneson would be proud of the new Westlake middle school dedicated in his honor at a ribbon cutting ceremony and tour held on July 30. He probably would also be amazed at the growth of the school system that he served for 42 years.

Burneson’s educational responsibilities were also quite different from today’s teachers. Sara Burneson, Lee’s daughter-in-law, was a featured speaker during the ceremony and spoke of  Burneson’s duties when he started his educational career in 1921 as principal of the Dover Village High School. At that time, Sara said, the school – which was later known as the Red Brick School House – had only 343 students in grades 1 through 12.

When Lee Burneson started out, he taught history, algebra, geometry, general science, bookkeeping and accounting. In addition to his teaching responsibilities, he also coached football, basketball, baseball and track. Burneson became superintendent in 1924 and continued to serve the school system until his retirement in 1963. His contributions to the development of the educational system in Westlake were so profound that the city named its junior high school in his honor when it was dedicated in 1961. A display case in the newly built Lee Burneson Middle School building, located just south of the old school, is filled with memorabilia from his tenure in Westlake.

The new middle school is a state-of-the-art educational facility designed for 21st-century learning that will impact the school’s students for years to come. Among the modern features of the school is a completely wireless campus with a “bring your own device” initiative that allows students use their own iPads and laptops for class work. All classrooms have interactive projectors that allow students to take a more active role in their learning. There are also flexible workspaces such as a courtyard that students will use for outdoor projects. In addition, classrooms were designed with energy efficient lighting and large windows to allow in natural light.

LBMS will also be one of a handful of middle schools in Ohio that will have a pre-engineering program for seventh- and eighth-graders, a curriculum that normally is only available to high school freshmen. 

The middle school is the first new building to open as a result of the bond issue passed by voters in 2010 to upgrade Westlake City Schools facilities. Next will come the opening of the new high school later this year.

Undertaking a major rebuilding program is a long process and requires input from the community, thoughtful planning and ultimately voter approval. In his remarks during the LBMS dedication ceremony, Board of Education President Tom Mays reflected on the long road to completion.

“Like everything else we do in this district, we wanted to begin by having a process to follow. That process would allow us to understand the needs, understand the community’s desires, and determine what is the most cost-effective way to achieve the end product,” Mays said. “We began by exploring our options. Multiple facility surveys were taken and reviewed, hundreds of community members were asked to be involved, provide input, and thousands upon thousands of hours were spent gathering data before a recommendation was even brought before the Board of Education.”

Superintendent Dr. Dan Keener invited the those assembled for the dedication to tour the new school and was thankful to the city’s voters, saying: “I’m so excited for the days to come. When students and volunteers and parents and teachers and staff and administrators breathe life into this building. That’s what’s great about a school building, and our community recognizes that and I thank you for that. And I invite you back because it’s your school, it’s your building, it’s what you value. I’m thrilled tonight about the dedication of our new building, but I’m even more excited about the statement it makes about the role our schools play in ensuring that Westlake remains an excellent community.”

The campaign to pass the bond issue that made the new school construction possible was spearheaded by residents who formed the Citizens for Westlake Schools. Cathy Axcell, co-chair of the citizens group, addressed the first class of students to attend the new Lee Burneson Middle School.

“There is nothing like the sense of accomplishment you feel when you step up for the schools in your community,” Axcell said. “To the students, who will be the first to be educated in this excellent facility, you were third- and fourth-graders when Westlake supported the building of this new school. How exciting to be the first seven- and eighth-graders in this building! Part of the Westlake City Schools’ mission states that your school educate you to contribute to society. It’s my hope that you find careers that are fulfilling and successful. I also hope that you will take your talents and make a difference in your community long after you are students here.”

If the new students follow her lead, Westlake’s future certainly will be bright and shiny, just like their new middle school.

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Volume 5, Issue 16, Posted 9:19 AM, 08.06.2013