Early childhood pioneer dies Monday

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 8, 2000

Managing Editor

One of Troy’s pioneers in early childhood education died of a stroke on Monday leaving hundreds of peers, friends, students and family members to mourn her untimely loss.

Eleanor Herlong Burnett, 60, spent nearly 30 years working to promote early childhood education in Troy, making an impact on literally hundreds of lives in her long and distinguished career.

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A lifelong resident of Troy, Burnett’s legacy in education is one that Troy School Superintendent Hank Jones hopes will never be forgotten.

"She was a dear friend, a terrific teacher and someone who was dedicated to her family first and to her school second," Jones said. "She will be missed dearly as a teacher and I will miss her as a friend."

Jones said his association with Burnett began long before he became superintendent when the two took early childhood education classes together at Troy State University 30 years ago.

After graduation, Burnett was co-founder and manager of Little Big Top Kindergarten, a private kindergarten in Troy, from 1961-1978 at a time when kindergarten programs had not been implemented in public schools.

When the city of Troy School System opened kindergarten classes in 1978, Burnett was one of the first teachers hired. She taught kindergarten at Laura M. Henderson Elementary School on Segars Street until 1985 when the school closed and she was transferred to Laura M. Henderson Elementary School on Cherry Street. She served the school until the elementary schools in the city system were consolidated in 1990 and she went to Troy Elementary School.

She served up until the day of her death.

Jones said he also had the opportunity to teach alongside her in the Troy City School System and even taught Mrs. Burnett’s daughter, Tracy, who was in Jones’ first fifth grade class in the school system.

Jones said Mrs. Burnett had been working the Sunday prior to her death, catching up on things at school.

"She worked hard to be good and she was one of the best and hardest working proponents of early childhood education I have known," he said. "She will leave a long list of contributions behind."

Mrs. Burnett was president of Phi Delta Kappa, a teaching fraternity, at the time of her death. She had served the organization for several years as vice president for membership, Jones said.

He also said she was the recipient of the 1987-1988 Teacher of the Year Award for the Troy City School System.

Her family described her as someone who had her priorities in order, taking care of matters at home and at school.

"Her first family was at home, but over the years, she developed a second family in the school system with her fellow teachers and the many kids she taught," said husband Barney Burnett. "She was dedicated to the school and to the kids and she was one of the least selfish people I have ever known. I will miss her greatly, but I feel fortunate to have had the chance to know her and to have had her be such an important part of my life."

Barney said he and his children believe Mrs. Burnett accomplished many great things by reaching out to the children and people of her community.

"We are really proud of her," he said. "She was a wonderful wife, mother, grandmother and teacher. We know we have to go on, but it’s going to be tough without her around."

Jones said Burnett has touched many children, including some children of former students.

"When you have someone who had been around as long and who had been as dedicated as Mrs. Burnett, it’s amazing to see how many people they have touched, including the children of some students she taught years ago."

In order to help children who may be grieving following Mrs. Burnett’s death, Jones said all school counselors are available for students.

"We had all of our counselors there (Tuesday) morning," Jones said. "They will be available for students in all grades, because this is a case where you have a teacher who taught some students in every one of our classes from seniors down to kindergarten because of her many years of service. She touched a lot of people and we want to make sure there are opportunities for students to have counselors available should they need them."

Services for Mrs. Burnett will be held at 4 p.m. Wednesday. Her obituary notice appears on Page 3 of today’s Messenger.