Onalaska’s Superintendent Retires after 40 Years in the District

ONALASKA, Wis. – Before John Burnett became superintendent of the Onalaska School District, he was a teacher.

And before that, all he knew about his future career was that he liked history and political science.

“You think where am I going to go with that kind of interest, what am I going to do?  You find mentors along the way and one of the mentors that I had said, “You need to take that passion and share it with other people,” said Burnett.

So he did.

In 1971 he became a history teacher.

Then, in the early 80s he moved his passion for education moved him to an administrative vice principal role.

“When you total all the years up, teacher, vice principal, principal at the middle school, director of finance and then superintendent it totals up to be 40 years,” said Burnett.

All of these years have been within the Onalaska School District.


“I’ve been very, very fortunate.  Every time that perhaps I was looking for a change or a new career move there was an opportunity in Onalaska,” said Burnett.

He says working as superintendent for a collaborative school district like Onalaska is a privilege, “My goal was certainly to try to maintain.  If there were any things that I could do to improve it to find those.”

One of his most recent accomplishments is within the last four years, with the districts commitment to professional learning communities.

“Professional Learning Communities is an approach that says we’re going to measure the success of this district not by preparation that went into the lesson, but we’re going to measure the success of our district whether all students are learning,” said Burnett.

As he retires, he says he’s confident the district will continue to thrive.

“It certainly has the personnel.  It has the leadership.  And more than anything this is a community that has always demonstrated to do what’s right for children.”