Charter school, community mourn ‘devastating’ loss of school director, youth soccer coach

Composite image. Background photo of Gateway Preparatory Academy, Enoch, Utah, Oct. 3, 2021. Inset photo of Andrew Burt, location and date not specified | Inset photo courtesy of Gena Nelson. Background photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

ENOCH — The sudden death of the director of an Iron County charter school has the community in mourning.

Gateway Preparatory Academy director Andrew Burt and his family, location and date not specified | Photo courtesy of Gateway Preparatory Academy, St. George News / Cedar City News

Andrew Burt, 44, who started with Gateway Preparatory Academy in Enoch in 2011 and had served as director for the past several years, died Saturday morning at his home in Cedar City.

“Although he was fully vaccinated, he had recently contracted COVID, which caused complications with his heart,” Burt’s wife, Jennifer, told Cedar City News on Wednesday.

Jennifer Burt called her husband “the most involved and the most loving dad” to their four children.

“He always chose to be with his kids,” she said. “He was their soccer coach. He was their principal. He was their Primary teacher.”

Burt said that with all her husband’s activities, they didn’t get him to themselves for very long, “but my kids got every ounce of his energy and love and every second of his time.”

“When he wasn’t either serving someone in the community, as a coach or as a principal, he was at home with his kids.”

“He made us all laugh and we never doubted how much he loved us,” she added. “It’s like he knew he had a limited amount of time, because he never stopped. He was tireless. And now that he’s gone, we’re just realizing how big the hole is that he’s leaving. It’s very overwhelming.”

Gateway Preparatory Academy director Andrew Burt, location and date not specified | Photo courtesy of Jennifer Burt, St. George News / Cedar City News

Aimee DiBrienza, Gateway Preparatory Academy’s assistant director, told Cedar City News the loss is “devastating,” not only to Andrew Burt’s family and the school but the community at large.

“Everyone felt that Andy saw the best in them,” DiBrienza said. “He tried really hard as a leader to support all of our good qualities and make us better. I feel like one thing that we’ll miss terribly about him was that he always made us feel like the best version of ourselves.”

The school’s students and their parents were notified via email of Burt’s death on Sunday, she said, adding that students were excused from school on Monday while teachers and staff received grief training from a team of counselors, which would help them support each other as well as the students.

Additionally, the flag on the school’s flagpole was lowered, and school officials are considering holding a vigil or similar memorial event.

DiBrienza, a former Gateway teacher who has been with the school since its founding and who worked with Burt for several years, said he had a unique way of making connections with young students.

“There was no one who understood the nature of a child the way that he did,” she said. “He thought they were adorable, even their weird quirky behaviors, even the students who struggled to follow norms or who didn’t quite fit the mold. He knew that there was greatness in them, and he loved them and he delighted in their uniqueness.”

DiBrienza said Burt led with the school with “so much humor and so much love,” noting that he was known for dressing up in fun costumes.

“He shared his birthday on March 14 with Einstein, who was one of his personal heroes,” she said. “He would wear his Einstein wig on his birthday, Pi Day, and he would go into classrooms and give the students little candy brains.”

Andrew Burt, director of Gateway Preparatory Academy, wears a hot dog costume in the school’s lunchroom, Enoch, Utah, date of photo not specified | Photo courtesy of Gateway Academy via Facebook, St. George News / Cedar City News

At other times, Burt would wear a hot dog costume or dress up as Maria Montessori – the founder of the charter school’s Montessori method – complete with dress, gray wig and pearl necklace, much to the delight of the students, DiBrienza said.

“The kids think that’s the funniest thing they’ve ever seen,” she said.

Cedar High School girls soccer coach Scott Kamachi, who coached youth soccer teams alongside Burt for several years, said on Tuesday that his players would be wearing bright fluorescent-colored socks – which Burt himself liked to do – for its regular-season finale that evening at Crimson Cliffs High. 

“We’ve already talked to Crimson Cliffs, and they’re good with us wearing those to honor him out on the field,” he said. 

Kamachi also spoke of Burt’s coaching philosophy, which focused not on the outcome of the games but on improving as a team and becoming better people. 

Kamachi said Burt would tell his young players, “I don’t care so much if you’re the best soccer player ever, but we want to be good people. We want you to walk away from here being a better person than you were.”

Steve Nelson, another of Burt’s fellow coaches, shared similar insights about his friend and longtime colleague.

Andrew Burt (left, black shirt) coaches youth soccer with Steve Nelson (right), Cedar City, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of Gena Nelson, St. George News / Cedar City News

“It’s hard to find a better human being than Andy Burt,” Nelson said. “You’d have a hard time finding anybody that ever worked with him, coached with him or played for him that didn’t love Andy.” 

He cited Burt’s ability to have high expectations for players yet still make it fun and assure the kids they were cared about. Nelson called it “a gift I think very few people or coaches have.

“He was incredible at it,” Nelson said. “It wasn’t about winning with Andy. He would coach the worst athlete and love them and care about them as much as he would the star. He just wanted to help young people to become good adults.”

DiBrienza expressed similar sentiments about Burt’s style.

“The parents on Andy’s teams always knew that he expected us to be role models for our kids,” she said. “Andy expected to be one himself.”

Andrew Burt, director of Gateway Preparatory Academy, reads to students at the school, Enoch, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of Gateway Preparatory Academy, St. George News / Cedar City News

“He always told me that his biggest reason for becoming a school principal,” she continued, “is that he felt that children need a model for what it means to be a man – a man who can talk about feelings and a man who can be compassionate, forward-thinking and kind. That’s the kind of man he always wanted to be.”

Nelson, who was chair of Gateway Academy’s board of directors at the time Burt was hired as an assistant principal in 2011, also credited Burt for getting the school back on the right track.

​​”The school was struggling,” Nelson said. “He turned it around to where it’s now held up as one of the best charter schools in the state of Utah. So from a professional standpoint, he did an unbelievable job in turning around that school and is very highly regarded and respected in the charter school world.”

Upon learning of Burt’s death, the school board of directors released the following statement:

The Gateway Preparatory Academy school family is deeply saddened at the unexpected passing of Director Burt. We have lost a great leader, friend and mentor whose legacy will live on in the many lives he has touched. We share our sympathies with Mr. Burt’s wife and their children. Gateway will honor Mr. Burt’s memory by stepping up during this time of grief to support the students and teachers and staff that he loved so much. We will miss our beloved Mr. Burt.

The school board and administration also thanked the community for the outpouring of support and sympathy, adding that a GoFundMe page has been set up for those who wish to help the family during this difficult time.

There will be a viewing at the Cross Hollow Stake Center in Cedar City on Oct. 14 from 6-8 p.m. and Oct. 15 at 11 a.m., followed by the funeral at 1 p.m.

Those attending the funeral or viewing are encouraged to wear masks.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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