PWHS’ Burke is finalist for top school job in Rhinelander

ort High principal has also applied for superintendent position in Cedar Grove, as has Saukville school leader
Ozaukee Press staff

Port Washington High School Principal Eric Burke, who during his two decades at the school has been a student, teacher, coach and administrator, is one of three finalists for superintendent of the Rhinelander School District.

Burke, who will be interviewed by the Rhinelander School Board next week, said he has also applied for the Cedar Grove-Belgium School District superintendent job. The school board there plans to name finalists for the position on Jan. 29.

Burke is not the only principal in the  Port Washington-Saukville School District looking for a top administrative job. Chad Brakke, who has been principal of Saukville Elementary School for 10 years, confirmed Tuesday that he is applying for superintendent jobs, including the one in the Cedar Grove-Belgium School District.

“Chad and I may be applying for a couple of the same jobs,” Burke said.

The news comes as no surprise to Port-Saukville School Supt. Michael Weber, who said that as a mentor it is his job to identify and inspire the next generation of administrators.

“About seven years ago, I encouraged four of our administrators to get their superintendent licenses and maybe earn their Ph.D.s,” he said. “When you see individuals with the potential and the drive to further their careers by becoming superintendents, you encourage that.”

Weber said he benefitted from that philosophy when, as the director of special education for the Sheboygan Area School District, he was encouraged by the district’s superintendent at the time, George Longo, to become a superintendent.

“I realize it’s kind of a two-edged sword,” Weber said. “You don’t want to lose talented people, but there’s a shortage of superintendents, and I have a more global perspective on education.”

Asked about the possibility of Burke leaving the district, Weber said, “I know that if he moves on, we’ll find a great replacement. More power to him. I’m glad this is something he wants.”

Of the four administrators Weber encouraged to pursue careers as superintendents, Dunwiddie Elementary School Principal Diane Johnson resigned in 2016 to become superintendent of the Birchwood School District in northwestern Wisconsin. 

Duane Woelfel, a former Port High principal who now is the district’s director of special education, “has found opportunities to grow within the district,” Weber said. 

That leaves Burke and Brakke. 

Burke, who earned his superintendent license in 2015, said that with the completion of the $45.6 million renovation and reconstruction of the high school, now may be the time to move on.

“I still love being here,” he said, “but with the referendum work finished, I thought now would be a good time to pursue my next goal.”

Of any administrator in the district, Burke has the deepest connections to the community. He graduated from Port High in 1986, and after earning an undergraduate degree from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point in 1992, took a teaching job in Elkhart Lake. 

But at the urging of his high school wrestling coach and longtime Port High teacher Duffy Brelsford, Burke returned to the district to take an elementary and middle school  phy-ed teaching job and eventually a teaching position at the high school. 

In 2004, he left to become athletic director at Franklin High School, but after only a year he returned to Port High to become an assistant principal and athletic director. 

In 2008, he was named principal of Lincoln Elementary School in Port Washington, then returned to Port High in 2011 as principal.

“I’m from here, and it’s been great to be so invested in this community,” Burke said. “Whether or not I get the superintendent’s job (in Rhinelander), this will always be a great place to be.”

In Rhinelander, Burke faces competition for the superintendent job from one internal candidate, the district’s Director of Learning Support Maggie Peterson, and Patrick Devine, superintendent of the Waconia, Minn., School District, which with 3,900 students is considerably larger than the Port Washington-Saukville School District, which has about 2,600 students. 

The enrollment of the Rhinelander School District, which has four elementary schools as well as a middle and high school, is about 2,400 students.

Superintendent finalists there were chosen based on their resumes and written answers to questions, Bruce Miles, owner of Big River Group, a Minnesota consulting firm hired by the district to facilitate the search, said. 

The finalists will be interviewed by district residents and staff members, then the school board on Tuesday, Jan. 28. The board may offer the position to one of the candidates after meeting in closed session that night, but Miles said he is recommending the board conduct a second interview with one or two of the finalists before making a selection.

The district’s current superintendent, Kelli Jacobi, is retiring on June 30. Her successor will begin work on July 1. 

The Rhinelander School District is located in northern Wisconsin, and although it’s a long way from Port Washington, Burke said he is no stranger to the area. His family has long owned a cabin there. 

While Burke has had his superintendent license for several years, Brakke said he will complete his certification at Concordia University Wisconsin in Mequon next month and, happy to have the support of Weber, is exploring superintendent jobs.

“A number of administrators here have pursued other opportunities, and Mike (Weber) has always been very supportive of that,” he said.


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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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