Outstanding Alumni: Dr. Burnie Roper
Leading Lackland ISD into the future
For the last 22 years, Lackland Independent School District superintendent Burnie Roper has steadily moved up the ranks in the San Antonio school system. A lieutenant colonel with the U.S. Army Reseerves and University of Texas at San Antonio graduate, Roper and his team are incorporating new ideas and technology into his school district to better prepare Lackland’s students for the changing education landscape. The Spectrum staff had a chance to sit down with Roper and get to know him a little bit better.
Q: What made you want to get into education?
A: Honestly, I was just trying to finish up my undergraduate degree at the University of Texas at San Antonio, and since I was always good at math, I decided to get certified to teach math. But that summer when I graduated, I had to go to my Officer Training in Virginia for five months, so I missed the beginning of the school year. I started subbing at San Antonio ISD’s Davis Middle School, and then they hired me as a 6th grade math teacher the following year. I taught for four years, and in that time, started pursuing my master’s degree because I really admired my principal at the time and wanted to get into administration as well. When an opportunity to work as an assistant principal at Southside ISD came up, I jumped at the chance
Q: What was one of your most memorable experiences at Southside ISD?
A: While I was at Southside, I decided to become a foster parent, and ended up with four young men, all teenagers. There I was, all by myself, trying to raise these teenagers while working full time. That was quite an experience, and I did my best to try to help them. I talk to the youngest one every week, he says he still considers me his Dad, and I pray for him every day. While I was fostering these young men, I took an assistant principalship at Judson ISD. That was a great experience, and for those two years, that was my training ground. At the time, it was the largest school in the state of Texas, with close to 5,000 students. I was then offered a job at Cole Junior/Senior High School at Fort Sam Houston. I was there only a year when my principal at the time walked into my office and said, “Stacey Junior/Senior High [at Lackland] has an opening for a principal. That’s all I’m saying” and walked out. He didn’t want me to leave, but he knew I wanted to be a principal.
Q: So, you applied for the job at Stacey?
A: Yes, I was offered and took that job where I served as a high school principal for five years. But during my third year, I got a call from the Army that I had gotten orders, and that I was going to have to mobilize to Virginia for 545 days. I came over to Dr. David Splitek’s office, he was the Lackland ISD superintendent at the time, and told him about the orders and that I knew he couldn’t keep me in my principal position. He looked at me and said, “Why not?” He kept me in the position of principal, and gave me everything I needed to continue working part time from my station in Virginia. While I was in Virgina, I also had the chance to work on my doctorate
Q: What happened when you came back from your mobilization?
A: When I came back to San Antonio, there was a rumor that Dr. Splitek was going to retire. He called me into his office, and told me that he was going to retire. He mentioned he had been talking with the school board president and the president asked if I (Dr. Splitek) thought you (Roper) would be interested in the job. I mean, that is why I was going to school to get my doctorate, but I had never imagined it would happen so soon. And now, I just finished my fifth year as superintendent.
Q: You have had an amazing career so far! You must be proud.
A: It is really amazing. I came from very humble beginnings. My mom was a single parent and I had one brother and two sisters. My mom struggled and probably made at most $18,000 a year and raised all of us and her grandchildren. It was very difficult, but I grew up in church, and that helped me the most. My pastor and some men in the church mentored me. That helped me along the way, and nothing but the grace of God helped get me to where I am today. I am more blessed than what I deserve. It is really amazing when I look back at where I started and where I am now. I am just humbled that I am even able to serve in this position.
Q: What do you enjoy about working in the administrative side of schools?
A: My favorite thing about working in the administrative side of things is being able to affect change. If things are not going the way they are supposed to be going, then I am able to recommend that something needs to be done, or a process that could be changed. I never do that myself; I have a cabinet, a team, and we all work together to try to do what is best. But I can make that happen, I can make a positive change.
Q: The College of Education and Human Development recently opened up a center focusing on the needs of military families, the Center for the Well-Being of Military Families. Do you think that is important for a city like San Antonio to have?
A: Yes, I am hoping the center will be able to address some of the challenges we have because our military students do have a lot of challenges. Though it is getting better in that we are drawing down from all these deployments, it will be great to have a center at UTSA that will be able to work with the Military Child Education Coalition to help classroom teachers better understand the needs of military children.