William J. Burkholder, Fairfax County school superintendent, was handing out the lunch plates in a secondary school cafeteria when business executive Robert E. LaRose first met him at an advisory board meeting four years ago.
"Jack has always had the attitude that whatever job is necessary . . . he was willing to make that sacrifice," LaRose, president of Advanced Technology Inc., said as he recounted the incident to 150 county business leaders yesterday at a breakfast honoring Burkholder.
It was billed as the "business community's salute" to Burkholder, who retires July 1 after 29 years in the county and three years as superintendent of the nation's 10th largest school system. Burkholder received a plaque and sponsors of the event raised more than $3,000 on the spot for school programs.
"Jack Burkholder has been a godsend," said Gilbert D. Carpel, executive vice president of Sky Courier Network. "He's helped to reverse a lot of longtime indifference in the business community."
LaRose is president and Carpel a trustee of the nonprofit Fairfax Education Foundation, which has raised more than $1.5 million for county schools since it was formed two years ago by business leaders. Foundation projects include grants to teachers, job-training programs and equipment donations.
Ronald M. Watts, a public relations consultant who organized the breakfast, said business gets something back for its donations: a better school system with which to lure prospective employes and to hold on to current ones, and workers trained in high-technology.
Burkholder pointed out that Robert R. Spillane, currently the Boston superintendent, will be the fourth Fairfax school chief in slightly more than six years when he arrives this summer. In addition, two new School Board members, Frank Francois and Kohann H. Whitney, will mean that of the 10 members on board when Burkholder took over, only half remain. He said that makes continuity of business involvement with the schools especially important.
"I make no apologies in leaving in asking for greater support for the schools," Burkholder said.