Larry Wyllie, who served as the superintendent of Lincoln-Way High School District 210 for 24 years, announced his retirement at the regular Thursday board of education meeting.
Wyllie takes time to reflect on his career shaping a generation of students at four high schools and his decision to retire at the end of the school year.
For a man whose day regularly starts before 6 a.m. and frequently stretches toward midnight, he said he's ready to hand over the reins to Scott Tingley, the newly announced superintendent-to-be and current principal at Lincoln-Way East High School. Summing up his career, Wyllie said, "I'm a schoolteacher. I've been a schoolteacher my whole life, and I've enjoyed it."
Having been in education for 54 years, he said the motivating factor for his retirement was the uncertainty with the pension system. While legislators are still crafting a law to address the state's $95 billion unfunded liability, change is inevitable. It's expected in January. According to the existing law, Wyllie is eligible for two additional years of unused vacation.
Secondly, Wyllie said, "I'm 75. I've got some things that I want to do" with family and friends. "I have a couple dogs that I'm training and I want to get into showing them." Wyllie said he'd be open to sharing his insights on the college level. "I don't want to teach a class," but the idea of coordinating with some existing program stirs his interest.
Wyllie reflects on his career at Lincoln-Way High School District 210
The fourth and longest serving superintendent in the history of District 210, Wyllie operates out of the district office, which carved out a suite of offices at Lincoln-Way Central High School. His office is tucked behind the reception area, only steps away from the board meeting room. Surrounded by pictures and plaques that show off the LWC Knights, LWE Griffins, LWN Phoenix and LWW Warriors, he mans the helm. "It's all about the kids," he said.
With the hundreds of teachers and staff that work to educate the district's more than 7,400 students, Wyllie said he's grateful for a board that has allowed him to focus on the administration. "I'm so grateful for the board (of education). They've allowed me to practice my profession. They set the policy, but the board never interfered with the administration. … I've been fortunate with that."
His biggest triumphs are the growth in student achievement and the facilities. With the administrators and teachers, "we've worked very hard and we're doing well." The Reading Program, which is now a graduation requirement, is an example of that commitment.
Under Wyllie's leadership, District 210 is ranked in the top 9.8 percent in the state based on the Prairie State Achievement Exam and ACT composite score of 23, and has one of the five lowest per pupil expenditures in the six collar counties around Chicago. In the past two years, District 210 was recognized with a National Advanced Placement Award and by Newsweek magazine as a "Top 500 School" in the nation.
"Whenever we're recognized, that's good for the community. It's important for us and the communities." It's not just the scores that make the difference; it's the rippling effect it has on the communities in the 105-square-mile district. If academic achievement is high, "it makes people want to move to these communities. It helps build houses and businesses grow."
What a lot of people don't recognize is how keeping the facilities up-to-date, neat and clean contribute to the academic successes, he said. In November 1992, voters approved a $27 million bond to double the size of LWE and added on to the LWC campus. In 2008, LWN was opened and LWW opened the next year.
The facilities, including the fine arts centers, swimming pools and athletic fields are not merely enhancements. They work to keep a positive environment within the student body, he said. It's all part of the total education package. "It makes kids want to be at school. It has to be fun."
Determining the shape of facilities is never an administrative decision alone, he said. Community involvement is crucial. That's why reaching out to advisory board members is important. "What we're trying to do is listen to what they're saying and try to find a way to do that."
When the economy hit the skids, a lot of people questioned the opening of the fourth school. "Nobody could have predicted the (downturn.)"
As the economy improves, Wyllie foresees the pattern of growth in the Lincoln-Way communities to pick up. Eventually the district's plans for a fifth high school in Manhattan will prove realistic.