Harvey Burniston, Jr., a long-time fixture at Johnson County Career and Technical Education Center, said his last goodbyes this past week as school closed for winter break. He explained that he always knew he wanted to retire while he was still making a positive difference in the lives of his students. After working for Johnson County schools for approximately 30 years, Burniston made that difficult decision.
Burniston very quickly became a favorite teacher of the students, the kind of instructor we all wish we had. He strove to not only teach the youth of Johnson County academics, but to encourage them to have fun while they were learning. He wrote these quotes upon a wall to constantly galvanize his students; Choose an occupation you love, and you'll never work a day in your life, and It is your attitude, not your aptitude, that determines your altitude in life. Smiling, Burniston referred to his students as my kids. We've got the best kids in the world right here, he said.
In 1983, the agricultural program at Johnson County High School had less than 100 students. Although the high school enrollment is approximately the same as some 30 years ago, 483 students were enrolled last year in this award-winning program. The staff has grown to four full-time teachers and two full-time degreed instructional assistants in the agricultural department, which includes agricultural mechanics, aquaculture, aquaponics/hydroponics, geothermal and horticulture.
Students in the agricultural program have found that chemistry, biology, math, government and even English have made their way into the classes at the Career and Technical Education Center. Under the guidance of Burniston and his fellow teachers, the students began to win competitions held by Future Farmers of America (FFA). According to Burniston, his kids not only learn academic skills, but life-long lessons of leadership skills, work ethics, self-esteem and self-confidence. No matter what a kid's career choice, we have something to teach them, he said.
The agricultural program at Johnson County Career and Technical Education Center has garnered the attention of people across the globe. Visitors have come from 20 different countries and 40 states. Students have met people interested in their agricultural program from all over the world. According to Burniston, this facility is the only one of its kind in the world. He has stressed to his students over and over the importance of a secure food supply. According to Burniston, the United States is now importing 17 percent of its food. He is concerned over the lack of pesticide and sanitation regulation in countries that are supplying food to Americans. We need to grow our food at home and support American farmers, he said.
Often we learn who someone is through the eyes of others, and this is indeed the case with Harvey Burniston. A group of students were eager to talk about their beloved teacher and friend who encouraged them, gave them confidence and helped them to fulfill their aspirations and goals.
Hannah Dugger is currently a senior at Johnson County High School. After graduation, she plans on attending the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, majoring in agricultural business. Her long-term aspirations include becoming an attorney and a political lobbyist to advocate for farmers and agriculture. Dugger recalled walking into Burniston's class for the first time. I saw Mr. Burniston's always smiling face, she said. According to Dugger, this teacher was always there for her, always encouraging her, always urging her to do her best. Mr. Burniston motivated me to pursue my dreams, she said. Her dreams are high but she is a determined young woman. Her ultimate goal is to become president of the United States.
Candy Lipford, also a senior, explained she didn't have a father in her life, and she looked upon Burniston as a father figure. He's always positive and upbeat, she said. He's a good listener. Whenever you are having the worst day, he's the one teacher that makes things positive, Lipford added. Lipford, heading for King College, plans to receive degrees in English and political science. Her goals also include law school.
Justine Wilson currently attends the University of Tennessee at Knoxville and is majoring in pre-pharmacy. She had Burniston as a teacher in her senior year. I really wish I could have had him all four years, she said wistfully. He had faith in me when I didn't have faith in myself. According to Wilson, Burniston continually encouraged her and other students to always work to their potential.
Kaycee Stout is now a senior and has been a student in the agricultural program for three years. According to Stout, she initially signed up for the floral design class to hang out with her friends. He was the best teacher I ever had, she said.
Adrian Lipford, a former student of Burniston's, gives him credit for bringing her out of her shell as she was quiet and timid. Through FFA, she was involved in team competitions and parliamentary procedures. She believes she traveled to places she would have never gone without her involvement in Burniston's classes. He sees qualities in a person they may not see in themselves, Lipford said.
Christina Maurice is now a third-year student at the University of Florida at Gainesville and is majoring in wildlife ecology and conservation. Describing herself as shy in high school, she became involved in FFA public speaking events. According to Maurice, Burniston was her adviser and always there to motivate her. Mr. Burniston has been a really big part of my life, she said. He impacted my life. He inspired me to realize I could do a lot more with my life. I grew a lot from that. Like the other students who spoke to The Tomahawk, Maurice reiterated that Burniston gave her the confidence to achieve more than she expected of herself. He lets you know he believes in you, she added.
LaVonna Roush, an instructional assistant, was once one of Burniston's students and has worked in the agricultural program for approximately seven years. She has received her master's in agricultural education and has been promoted to teacher. According to Burniston, he is confident the students are in good hands. He's made quite an impression, she said, He's been around a long time.
Herbie Adams, also a former student, is now assistant principal at Johnson County High School after teaching for 13 years. He'll (Burniston) be missed, said Adams. He's helped a lot of students. He explained that Burniston often took the time to help students as they searched for information on grants and available financial aid for college.
Not only has Burniston made a positive impact on so many of his students, but he has been the recipient of many awards. These include Tennessee Agriculture Teacher of the Year, Tennessee Agricultural Program of the Year, USA Today All Teacher 1st Team 2000, National Agriscience Teacher of the Year 2002, National Leadership Award United States Forest Service, Johnson County Citizen of the Year from the Chamber of Commerce and Leadership Award from Governor Don Sundquist of Tennessee. He attributes his success and the success of the agricultural program to team effort, including his family, school administrators, his fellow teachers, parents, students and the support of the Johnson County community.
Burniston will now devote his full attention to his business, Mountain View Nursery and Landscaping. He has several full time employees and has hired many previous students in the past. After spending many years working full time at the Johnson County Career and Technical Education Center and running his own business, there were many nights that he did not arrive home until late in the evening. As for Mrs. Burniston, she is hoping that her husband will now be able to be home for dinner more often.