The District 97 Board of Education last week unanimously approved a new three-year contract for Supt. Constance Collins.

Hired in 2005, Collins’ current contract ends this year. Her new deal runs from July 1, 2008 through June 30, 2011, and will include a slight increase in salary. Collins will make roughly $195,000 next school year, about $201,000 the following year, and nearly $208,000 in the final year of the contract. She earned an annual salary of $175,000 under the previous three-year contract.

Dist. 97 board President Michelle Harton said last week that the district looked forward to continuing its working relationship with Collins, the district’s first black superintendent.

“We are so appreciative at this moment,” said Harton following the 7-0 vote. “We appreciate all that you’ve done and the many, many, hours of work you have put in on behalf of the district. We have seen many changes, and there were tremendous challenges that were presented when you first came here.”

Collins responded, “I am also thrilled and looking forward to this opportunity. I think we have accomplished a lot over the last three years, and I think that as we take a look at the next leg of the journey, there’s more work to be done. And all of it is about the children.”

After taking over for former superintendent John Fagan, Collins, who holds a doctorate in philosophy, had significant plans for the district after serving as superintendent of Zion’s elementary school district.

Prior to Zion, she was an assistant superintendent for Grand Rapids Public Schools in Grand Rapids, Mich.

Collins has fulfilled some of her goals as Dist. 97 superintendent while others remain a work in progress. She promised to launch a strategic planning process upon her hiring. By 2006, the district began its first strategic plan in nearly a decade, and last year the board approved the plan, which includes full-day kindergarten throughout the district.

Collins also sought to streamline the business and human resources departments, pushing early on in her administration to hire an outside consulting firm to review both offices. Some of the changes made as a result of the review included establishing clear practices and procedures in hiring personnel.

Another early initiative was to review all programs in the district, which began in 2006, and is expected to continue with the strategic plan, Collins has said.

But some challenges in the district remain, she acknowledges. Collins promised to be accessible to parents, teachers and the community, and to have better communication from the district to parents. Parents, teachers and board members have recognized her accessibility, but many parents have complained about poor or no communication from administration and the schools concerning some issues.

Collins and administrators admit that the change could have been better communicated to parents. Improving communication is one of the strategies in the strategic plan.

She also oversaw several rounds of budget cutting in preparation for a future referendum.

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