Beloved superintendent to retire from Round Lake Dist. 116

Round Lake Area Unit District 116 Superintendent Constance Collins, who led the district's dramatic turnaround from state control to having one of the state's top schools, is retiring after 44 years in education.

Collins said Wednesday she has wanted the district to be in a good place before leaving. When U.S. News and World Report named Round Lake High School one of Illinois' top schools this year, it met one of her goals when she arrived at District 116 in 2010.

"We knew it was going to take years to get there, and I didn't know if I was going to see it under my leadership," she said.

Judy Armstrong, a booster who has been involved in the district since 1979, said many in the community scoffed when Collins said District 116 could become one of the best in the state.

"But the data and the awards and the recognition that has come has betrayed that thinking and gives evidence to the fact that Round Lake 116 is an excellent school district, and that is thanks to Connie's leadership and vision," Armstrong said.

Collins oversaw the $29 million Round Lake High renovation that created STEM classrooms and labs, new athletic facilities and a business incubator program. The high school's graduation rate increased from 72 percent to 90 percent in the last three years.

Academic successes have not come at the expense of good financial stewardship - the district has received the certificate of financial excellence by the Association of School Business Officials four consecutive years.

Collins said she initially turned down invitations to apply for District 116's top job because of its reputation. Severe financial mismanagement in the 1990s led to the state running the district from 2001 through 2011.

"My first response was 'no,' but I was asked at least a couple more times and I was told 'the children there need you,'" she said. "And after going there, it was obvious to me that I needed to be there."

Armstrong said Collins changed the tone in the district from her first community meeting.

"She opened the meeting by saying in talking with community and staff that she would sometimes hear people refer to students as 'these kids' and talk about the children of Round Lake as if they are somehow different from other kids," Armstrong said of Collins. "She said that's just not true, 'these kids' are our kids and they have the potential to make the world a better place, and it's our job to educate them so they can."

Maria Colunga, a parent liaison for the district, said she went to Collins seven years ago to suggest helping Latino families by hosting Hispanic heritage celebrations and programs for parents. Colunga said Collins agreed and has helped foster a stronger sense of community.

"Every parent wants the best for their child, and when they see that type of support coming from the top, it really gives them hope that their child is going to have a very bright future," Colunga said.

Collins said she plans to spend retirement improving her skills, particularly in computers and cooking. She also will continue mentoring aspiring administrators at the HWC Aspiring Superintendents Institute she co-founded.

She said she also looks forward to spending more time with her 10-year-old granddaughter.

Collins will retire June 30, 2018.

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