MORTON — There's been a hiring frenzy in the Morton School District.
Thirty-seven new faculty members have come on board this school year, and they make up 17 percent of the K-12 district's faculty roster of 210 people.
"That's the most faculty members we've hired in one year in Morton, to my knowledge," said Assistant Superintendent Craig Smock. "We broke the record of 28 set last year. Looking back over the past few years, I'd say our average is about 19 per year."
An opening for a social worker hasn't been filled. When that happens, the new faculty number for 2018-2019 will increase to 38.
There were five retirements and 16 resignations last year. Smock said those were typical numbers, with many of the resignations the result of what he called life circumstances.
The major reason for the increased faculty hiring this year is the district's new Morton Moving Forward initiative to improve academic achievement and provide more services for students.
A total of 12.5 of the district's 15 new faculty positions were created because of Morton Moving Forward.
They include an administrator, three counselors, literary coaches at the four elementary schools, an instructional coach at Morton Junior High School, a special education resource teacher at Lincoln Elementary School, and an additional 2.5 kindergarten teachers to provide full-day kindergarten at all the elementary schools.
The new administrative position is director of student activities and engagement. Two of the new counselors are at Morton High School and the other new counselor is at the junior high school.
The new positions related to Morton Moving Forward have added $675,000 in salaries this year to the district's bottom line, according to the district's tentative budget for 2018-2019. Total salary costs in the district are up $1.3 million, or 7.1 percent, from last year.
Adding 37 new faces doesn't mean the district will be dealing with a large learning curve this year, Smock said.
Only nine of the hires are in their first year in their career and a few hires are returning to the district.
"The average work experience of our new faculty is a little less than seven years," Smock said. "One reason for that is some of our new positions require significant experience, like the counselors and literacy coaches.
"Of course there's a cost savings for us to hire an inexperienced person. But we've always tried to look for a mix of new and experienced people when we hire."
Learning on the job isn't a one-way street when it comes to a faculty member just starting his or her career, according to Smock.
"We learn from them as much as they learn from us," he said. "They bring new ideas and perspectives."
Joe Rosel, 28, brings the perspective of serving nearly 4 1/2 years in the U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne Division, including a year in Afghanistan.
The December 2017 Illinois State University graduate will be teaching energy, power and home repair; production technology; construction technology; transportation technology; and fabrication (welding) this school year at Morton High School.
Rosel was a regular substitute teacher during the second semester last school year at the high school and he jumped at the chance to teach there full time.
"The students at Morton High School are awesome," he said. "I've heard how tough it is to teach high school students, but I've found it incredibly easy at Morton because they're eager to learn and attentive."
Rosel also praised the Morton High School faculty.
"They treated me like family last year when I was a substitute teacher," he said. "I can't imagine what it will be like this year now that I'm there full time."
Rosel has gotten involved in extra-curricular activities at the high school. He'll be shooting game film this season for the Morton football team. He did that for three seasons for the Illinois State football team.
It's been reported often that the pool of applicants for open positions in Illinois school districts has fallen precipitously in recent years.
"No question about that," Smock said. "For us, I'd say it's dropped by two-thirds in the last five years. We're still getting quality applicants, but not as many of them."
Steve Stein can be reached at 686-3114 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpartanSteve.