Tillicum elementary teachers Jocelyn Cathcart and Doug Wilson collaborated on the stained glass window dedicated to Lori Burley, the school’s principal of 12 years who died in August. Travis Paterson/News Staff

Death of Tillicum principal a shock for students, staff

Principal Burley was a vibrant, energetic, supportive and hands-on leader

With her signature hair barrette, glasses and pendant, the image of Lori Burley is easy to recognize in the new stained glass window overlooking the Tillicum elementary staff room.

Burley died in August at 61 years old, and the stained window is one of many monuments recently created in her honour.

When the popular principal took ill in June, many assumed she would return. But when students returned to Tillicum elementary in September, it was the first time in 12 years principal Burley wasn’t there to greet them.

“She was a leader, I wanted this [window] to honour [Burley], and to dedicate it to all principals,” said Tillicum art teacher Doug Wilson, who created 11 stained glass windows in the library for the school’s 100th anniversary in 2015.

Behind Burley’s image on the window are the outspread wings of an eagle, which symbolizes protection and which became an important concept in her final weeks. Standing with Burley are four students together on an open book. Below the book is the word ‘Leadership.’

“The window hangs in the staff room to inspire the staff,” said teacher Jocelyn Cathcart, who co-designed the window with Wilson.

The idea is that Burley also looks out from the window, symbolically, onto the students playing in the Tillicum field and over the outdoor classroom she commissioned.

Wilson crafted three more versions of the window for Burley’s two daughters and her sister.

This month School District 61 approved the renaming of the Tillicum library as the Lori Burley Learning Commons. There’s also a new set of chairs and books (with her name inscribed in them) in the commons to celebrate Burley’s advocacy of literature.

“I think most knew her as a popular principal in the district for a long time,” said Tom Ferris, vice chair of the SD61 school board.

Teachers admired her and would go to Tillicum elementary for the opportunity to work for her, Ferris said.

“She was the kind of person that, once people got into Tillicum they stayed there, because they appreciated so much the culture she created in the school.”

Burley’s death certainly came as a shock, said Grade 1 teacher Jodi Dagg, who was at Tillicum when Burley first arrived.

Burley advocated for the start of a lot of programs in the school, the breakfast and lunch programs, after school programs with Burnside Gorge and Pacific Institute for Sports Excellence, and more.

“She was very supportive, always willing to jump in and do whatever needed to be done,” Dagg said.

One story that illustrated Burley was the first time a young new teacher at school met the principal. That day the custodian was off and Burley took it upon herself to put on the cleaning gloves and wipe down desks and tables.

The teacher initially thought Burley was the custodian.

“It didn’t matter what was involved, she jumped in and got involved,” Dagg said. “She was sharp, organized, efficient and a very intelligent lady who ran an efficient school.

“She had a tonne of energy, connected with the staff and students, and was a good listener for teachers, a mentor for us,” Dagg said.

Principal Brent Kelley, formerly of Gordon Head middle school, came out from retirement to cover at Tillicum until a new principal is found.

reporter@saanichnews.com

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Tillicum elementary teachers Jocelyn Cathcart and Doug Wilson collaborated on the stained glass window dedicated to Lori Burley, the school’s principal of 12 years who died in August. Travis Paterson/News Staff

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