Where suburban teachers, principals stay on the job longest

If teacher retention rates are any judge, one of the best schools to work at in the suburbs is Fenton High School in Bensenville.

A first-time statistic culled in the Illinois State Board of Education's annual school report cards shows teacher retention varies widely among suburban school districts.

Likewise, some schools hang onto their principals much longer than others, state data indicate.

Among the leaders in both categories is Fenton, with an average teacher retention rate for the past three years of 95.9 percent, the highest of any suburban district surveyed by the Daily Herald.

Additionally, Fenton scored the highest possible mark for principal turnover by having one person in that post for the last six years.

“We are well aware of how fortunate we are to have administrators and teachers who choose to stay at Fenton year after year,” school board President Mary Ribando said. “It is a tremendous asset to our students to have such consistency.”

The feeling is mutual for Judy Bosen, who chairs the world languages department and has taught at Fenton for 27 years.

She says she appreciates the school for its diversity and for keeping up with the latest technology by planning to provide a computer laptop for every student.

“My last few years of teaching are just as fun as my beginning years,” Bosen said.

It doesn't hurt that Fenton teachers are paid well, too. The average teacher salary is $100,834, well above the $62,444 state average.

Schools particularly adept at hanging onto teachers include McHenry Middle School, Rose Elementary School in South Barrington and Hampshire High School. School districts faring well included Gurnee's Warren Township High School District 121 and Rondout Elementary District 72 near Lake Forest.

But administrators at individual schools and districts where the state indicates more teacher turnover aren't necessarily wringing their hands over the data.

Some said relatively low teacher retention rates don't reflect internal promotions and retirements of veteran teachers. Others said the measurement for principals didn't consider schools that employ co-principals.

And in at least one case, the state report was wrong. It said Thomas Middle School in Arlington Heights has had four principals in the past six years. In reality, it's had two.

Current Principal Brian Kaye said he has been on the job for four years. His predecessor, Tom O'Rourke, held the job for 10 years.

What it measures

Released last month, the report cards include standardized test score results, teacher salaries, student demographics, attendance rates and much more.

The Daily Herald examined statistics from 612 schools in 96 districts in Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake and McHenry counties.

The teacher retention rate measured the number of full-time teachers who returned to their classrooms in 2012, 2013 and 2014 against the total number of teachers at each school in those years.

The state average was 85.6 percent.

Among individual schools, McHenry Middle School had the highest teacher retention rate — 96.8 percent. Rose Elementary School in South Barrington was close behind at 96.6 percent, followed by Hampshire High School at 96.4 percent.

Among school districts, Fenton, a one-school district, was joined at the top by Gurnee's Warren Township High School District 121, which reported a 94.7 percent teacher return rate, and Rondout District 72, a single-school organization near Lake Forest with a 94.2 percent rate.

Teacher retention has been a particular focus for Warren administrators since 2004, Superintendent Mary Perry Bates said.

“At that time it was well-known that Warren was the training ground for teachers who would stay for a few years and then move on to districts that paid more or were perceived to have more status,” she said.

Warren officials stopped the teacher exodus by adding peer planning days to the schedule and supporting periodic salary and benefit increases, among other factors, Bates said.

Social studies teacher Erin Cross called the district a family. She said she feels supported by administrators on professional and personal levels.

“I have been at Warren for 16 years,” she said, “and I hope to teach here the rest of my career.”

Higher turnover

At the other end of the spectrum, Millburn School District 24 had the lowest teacher retention rate for any district in the Daily Herald's examination.

Composed of an elementary school and a middle school in northern Lake County, the district's retention rate was 73.1 percent.

Superintendent Jason Lind blamed the low score on state-funding cuts and retirements.

“We reduced staff from about 150 to 96 between 2010 and 2014,” he said. “We have a great history of retention. I do wish we did not need to cut so many positions.”

Lind predicted the retention rate will improve because voters approved an operating-fund increase in 2013.

“We are now able to hire back a few positions,” he said. “We hope to maintain our current positions for as long as possible, unless we see a continued drop in state funding or a significant drop in enrollment.”

Schaumburg Township Elementary District 54 was near the bottom of the region's rankings for teacher retention, too. In fact, the bottom 10 for schools in the Daily Herald's examination included four District 54 schools: Stevenson, Collins, Einstein and Blackwell.

But Superintendent Andrew DuRoss said retirements, in-district transfers and internal promotions brought the rate down.

District officials track staff changes on their own, DuRoss said, and the figure is 90 percent if transfers and promotions are factored out.

Fewer than five District 54 teachers quit last year to take jobs in other districts, he said.

“We do not have District 54 teachers leaving to teach elsewhere,” DuRoss said.

“We do not have a retention issue.”

Principal turnover

The report cards also measured principal turnover.

The figures reflect how many principals worked at a school in the last six years. About one third of the schools included in the Daily Herald's study had a single principal during that time.

At the district level, Wauconda Unit School District 118 was among those that averaged one principal per building over six years — and with good reason.

Wauconda Grade School Principal Debra Monroe is in her 12th year in that post. Cotton Creek School Principal Darlene Baker will retire next summer after 14 years in the job there.

And Principal Dan Klett has led Wauconda High for 11 years.

“It's unusual,” Klett acknowledged. “I see it in my profession. There's a lot of turnover. There's a lot of folks, I get to know them and then they're gone.”

So what's so special about Wauconda that the principals stick around for so long?

Klett praised Superintendent Dan Coles, himself a former principal, for being a supportive boss, as well as school board members who “understand what our role is.”

Klett also tipped his cap to the district's parents for passing a strong work ethic down to their kids.

According to the report card data, Cambridge Lakes Charter School in Pingree Grove had the greatest principal turnover of any of the schools studied by the Daily Herald — eight principals in the past six years.

But the numbers don't accurately reflect Cambridge Lakes' unusual organizational structure, said Larry Fuhrer, CEO of the Northern Kane Educational Corp., which runs the school.

Cambridge Lakes has four small buildings that serve different grades, and each has a principal, Fuhrer said. Additionally, another principal oversees the entire campus, he said.

“We're using a model that no one has a guidebook for,” Fuhrer said.

Even so, Cambridge Lakes has experienced real turnover since getting its charter in 2006 from Community Unit District 300.

One principal was fired in 2011 after less than a month on the job. Another departed for a newly created private school in Chicago, and two others left for “dream” jobs at Catholic schools, Fuhrer said.

“There's nothing anybody can do about that,” he said. “We'll live with it and work our way through it.”

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  Judy Bosen has been teaching Spanish and English as a second language at Fenton High School for 27 years. The Bensenville school has one of the highest teacher retention rates in the suburbs. Scott Sanders/
  Judy Bosen chairs the world languages department at Fenton High School in Bensenville, where she has taught for 27 years. The school has one of the highest retention rates in the suburbs. Scott Sanders/
  Principal Dan Klett has worked at Wauconda High School for the past 13 years, 11 as principal. Steve Lundy/
  Wauconda Principal Dan Klett, left, chats with special education teacher Laurel Hahle. Klett has been principal for 11 years, reflecting zero turnover in his district. Steve Lundy/

Teacher retention in the suburbs

Percentage of full-time teachers who returned to their jobs the last three years:

<b>Highest, by district*</b>Fenton High School District 100 (Bensenville) — 95.9 percent

Warren Township District 121 (Gurnee) — 94.7 percent

Rondout District 72 (Lake Forest) — 94.2 percent

Rosemont District 78 — 94 percent

Libertyville-Vernon Hills Area District 128 — 93.3 percent

<b>Lowest, by district*</b>Millburn District 24 (Old Mill Creek) — 73.1 percent

Roselle District 12 — 74.6 percent

Big Hollow District 38 (Ingleside) — 75.9 percent

Salt Creek District 48 (Oakbrook Terrace) — 79.8 percent

Schaumburg Township District 54 — 80.3 percent

* For districts analyzed by the Daily Herald

Source: Illinois State Board of Education report card data

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