“Three teachers are off to present in New Zealand,” he reports.
“They only come back with better ideas, more enthusiasm…”
One quickly gets the idea that these sort of CV-worthy occasions are not a rarity for those who fall under Burgess’ leadership.
For as the new head of Sunshine Beach State High School goes on to say, building staff capacity is a skill he’s slowly been sharpening over the course of his 20-year education career.
“I’ve moved from a very directive (approach), with me in the centre pulling all of the strings and moving very slowly, to realising that you need to spend a degree of time on the balcony or in the helicopter looking over the bigger picture,” Burgess reflects.
“And then every now and then you dive into things in great detail when you need to, but for that to be able to work it relies on how you build capacity in your deputy principals and your heads of departments.
“Probably my last two-three years I think I’ve got better and better at that.”
Come this July, the Queensland educator will be able to put his ‘zooming out’ method into literal application as he jets off to the US, bound for Harvard University and a short course aptly titled ‘Leadership: An Evolving Vision’.
It’s a trip that marks a new trajectory for Burgess, who, after six years at the helm of Bribie Island State High School, found himself at career crossroads, with a Harvard Club of Australia Education Scholarship application form dangling before him.
“I thought ‘do you know what is going on in the rest of the world?’
“And, ‘although you’ve got your networks, every workplace has its nuances and differences.’
“I think it was just a question of ‘are you going to stay at Bribie for another 15 years?’ Or are you going to test the waters?”
Some weeks later, in the space of 24 hours, Burgess had landed himself a new principalship and was named one of the three exceptional Australian educators selected to take up the $14,000 scholarship – a prize he admits he never really envisaged scoring.
For his former Bribie school community however, the recognition must seem befitting of Burgess’ grit and unwavering commitment to building a learning environment worth celebrating.
“…I think what got me there is that I have worked hard,” he concedes.
“Because Bribie is almost an hour’s drive from just about everywhere except Caboolture, it’s pretty isolating, so I had created and kept a number of regional networks.
“So I’m chair of the regional student engagement group, for kids who basically go missing and don’t turn-up at any schools…”
“And being a low-socio economic school, it’s been a long road to lift the data that matters to governments and people, so I think that was another little thing that I’d done.”
Student enrolment figures present another case in point.
In two years’ time over 1400 children are expected to attend Bribie – almost 500 more than when Burgess took up the reins in 2011.
“A lot of [staff] have been promoted out of Bribie,” Burgess adds.
“…that comes at a cost, but they get promoted because they’ve learnt how to lead and they’ve been given the licence to innovate and not to be (discouraged) if a mistake gets made.
“That’s the way I like to motivate people, it’s not all about me.”