After the sudden death of beloved superintendent Andrew Lehman, Freeburg District 77 has picked his replacement.
Greg Frerking, 53, became the district’s permanent leader on July 1 after serving as acting superintendent for the last year. He was Freeburg Community High School’s principal when the school board appointed him in 2016.
A year later, Frerking and the district have agreed to a five-year contract.
Frerking has spent his career — 25 years — in District 77. He came to Freeburg from his hometown of Fairview Heights for a job as a math teacher. He says he stayed because of the community he found.
“I’ve always liked the family atmosphere of a small school,” he said. “… You get to know the kids a little bit more on a personal basis. I graduated with basically the same number of students as we have in this entire school.”
Frerking attended Belleville East High School, which had almost four times as many students as Freeburg last school year.
He described Freeburg as a close-knit community that is supportive of its schools. That was evident after the loss of Lehman, Frerking said.
I think we’ll still be healing for a while.
Greg Frerking, Freeburg District 77 superintendent on Andrew Lehman’s death
Lehman, 46, was at school on July 11, 2016, when an ambulance was called for him. He died at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Belleville. Lehman was married and had three children.
“We’ve had our share of things happen in the district that we all have kind of come together on,” Frerking said. “We’ve always stuck together.”
Frerking said the staff members who were working that summer “leaned on each other” leading up to August, when students returned to the halls.
“Once the kids got here, it became fairly normal fairly quickly because the kids are very resilient,” Frerking said. “The teachers, they know they had a job to do, and that’s what they focused on, and I think that was the best thing for us at the time: to concentrate on the task at hand, keep moving forward and talk about it when we needed to talk about it.”
Frerking said he and Lehman started their education careers the same year. He expected that they would retire together, too.
“I think we’ll still be healing for a while,” he said of the school community.
Frerking said he was able to lead a saddened and shocked district by focusing on what’s ahead.
Freeburg needs to update its aging boiler system and building. The high school’s newest addition is 20 years old. In some places, it’s more than 50 years old, Frerking said.
The district had hoped to use new revenue from a proposed sales tax increase to pay for the infrastructure improvements. But voters rejected the proposal when it appeared on ballots in the April election.
Frerking said school leaders will develop an infrastructure plan, which will prioritize projects — from the boiler system to locker rooms and general painting.
They’ll also be watching Springfield for a decision on school funding reform.
Although the state now has a budget for the first time since 2015, Illinois needs to agree on a funding formula to distribute the money to schools. The Illinois House and Senate have approved the Evidence-Based Funding for Student Success Act, but Gov. Bruce Rauner has promised to veto the measure in its current form.
The bill is currently being held for consideration, which means it hasn’t reached the governor’s desk yet.
Some school districts have been struggling the past few years because of a lack of revenue at the state level. Mandated reimbursements from the state for services like transportation, which schools are required to provide, have been delayed.
Frerking said Freeburg reduced its staff through attrition, or not filling positions vacated by retirements and resignations, to cut costs.
“I think we’re at a point where we’re about as low in staff as we can go without really increasing class size or starting to eliminate programs,” he said.
Because District 77 didn’t want to trim its curriculum except as a “last resort,” Frerking said school officials discussed consolidating with feeder schools or eliminating extracurricular offerings if they needed to cut costs further.
The school board was considering a joint study with Smithton District 130 and Freeburg District 70 on the feasibility of consolidation.
We’ve always stuck together.
Greg Frerking, Freeburg District 77 superintendent on school community
While District 77 has seen cutbacks in some areas, Frerking said others continue to grow.
The district has offered advanced placement courses that allow high school students to earn college credit for at least the last decade, Frerking said. The number of courses has increased to 11 today.
Freeburg will begin participating in Southwestern Illinois College’s Running Start program next school year. Through the partnership, students can graduate with both a high school diploma and associate’s degree.
Every Freeburg student has also had access to a Chromebook laptop for the last four years. Frerking credits Lehman with spearheading the technology initiative.
“It was his idea, and he moved it forward,” Frerking said. “... There’s always room to grow, and there’s always more ways to incorporate the technology into the everyday classroom, and so that is one of our focuses: to continue to find the best ways to use technology to help student learning.”
This year, teachers are working with the administration on “the art of teaching,” according to Frerking.
Most of the staff — nearly 76 percent — have already returned to school to earn master’s degrees.
Frerking said six of the school’s teachers were chosen to serve as instructional coaches for the rest of the teaching staff. They will share “best practices” and advice for lessons, Frerking said.
He said test scores will rise as a result. Last year, 21 percent of students met or exceeded standards on the state assessment. More than half of students, 59 percent, were considered ready for colleges and careers based on their ACT scores.
Freeburg Community High School serves nearly 650 students and employs about 40 teachers. As the district’s new leader, Frerking’s salary is $111,300.
Frerking’s daughter Kate, 20, graduated from the school. Will, Frerking’s 14-year-old son, will be a freshman in the fall.
- Age: 53
- Education: Bachelor’s degree from Eastern Illinois University and master’s degree from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville
- Experience: 15 years as Freeburg Community High School math teacher; six years as FCHS assistant principal; three years as FCHS principal; one year as Freeburg District 77 superintendent
- Family: Wife Lisa and two children: Kate, 20, and Will, 14
- Email: email@example.com
- Twitter: @frerkiga