Editors’ note: A previous version of this article used the term “underprivileged minority” to describe the students Letitia Burton advocated for. The article has since been edited to use the term “historically underrepresented” instead, in an effort to avoid reinforcing negative stereotypes.
In this series, “Matriarchs leave Paly,” Verde Magazine profiles two female Palo Alto High School staff members who will be retiring at the end of the 2019-2020 school year.
“It has been such an incredible journey, but I am so ready to go.”
After 21 years at Palo Alto High School, teacher and advocate Letitia Burton will be retiring to pursue another career — in jazz. “After I retire, I plan on singing more,” says Burton, who has been studying and training to be a jazz singer for the past five years, along with teaching Living Skills and advising the Black Scholars United Club at Paly. “This time last year I auditioned for and was cast in the community theater production of ‘The Wiz,’ the musical. That was the first time I’d ever done theater and just really loved it.”
Burton plans on continuing her passion by auditioning for “Once on This Island,” another musical premiering this October.
“This is a show that I have always wanted to do,” Burton says. “I am just waiting for the auditions to come up so I can audition for ‘Once on This Island.’ Hopefully, I’ll be doing theater and something else alongside that.”
During her time as a health educator, Burton continuously revised Paly’s Living Skills curriculum to adapt to the changing times. Shifting the emphasis from unhealthy eating patterns to wellness and mental health, Burton has left generations of Paly students with important life skills.
“I felt a lot of love here, and I have given a lot of love here. I felt supported here, and I have given a lot of support here. That’s my legacy.”
— Letitia Burton, retired Paly teacher
“In my family, we say that education is our family business,” Burton says. “Both of my parents were teachers and even though my grandmother wasn’t a formal teacher, she took care of a lot of people and taught a lot of people just about life.”
Additionally, Burton has dedicated her time at Paly working with the district on issues of equity and diversity. She has been involved with the PAUSD Equity Committee, which is centered around training teachers to be more culturally sensitive when teaching in classrooms.
“I feel like sometimes Black and brown students get shortchanged in PAUSD,” Burton says. “Even after all these years, the statistics haven’t changed. Black and brown students still struggle to get through Paly, a place with all of these resources.”
As the adviser to the Black Scholars United Club, Burton has continuously advocated for historically underrepresented students at Paly.
“I hear the different stories that the kids [in BSU] talk about,” Burton says. “I just sit and listen to their stories: the things that get said to them or don’t get said to them, or how teachers don’t really understand them. It is my hope that we can continue to work towards creating a greater sense of belonging for Black and Latino students.”
Throughout Burton’s 21 years at Paly, her mission has always been the same: to educate, advocate and embrace all students who step on Paly campus. Her retirement will be bittersweet, but she says that Paly will always have a piece of her heart.
“Despite all the ups and downs and the things that I complain about, Paly is really a special place, you know?” Burton says. “I felt a lot of love here, and I have given a lot of love here. I felt supported here, and I have given a lot of support here. That’s my legacy.”