ROCK FALLS – On a recent Friday night, with her last day still a little more than a month away, Rock Falls High School Superintendent Jane Eichman walked out of the building.
"I had stayed until after 6 o'clock on a Friday night, …" she said. "No one was in the building but me. I walked out with my briefcase, and I heard my footsteps echoing down the hall.
"It kind of hit me, with the sun going down, the silence of the halls, the echo of my shoes, that 'You don't have many more days to walk out of this building.' It was a real sobering thought – that 'Maybe this won't be as easy as you thought.'"
Eichman, 61, will retire at the end of the school year, after 40 years in education, including the last 7 years at Rock Falls High School.
"This has become my home," she said. "I'll always remember Rock Falls … because it was my first superintendency."
Eichman spent the first half of her career as a teacher.
"I always wanted to be a teacher, from fifth grade on," she said.
Eichman was an avid reader, excellent writer and admitted grammar guru; she thought she would be an English teacher. But she excelled in typing, shorthand and accounting in high school and decided to be a business teacher.
She taught high school business; coached girls' basketball, track and cheerleading; and served as a speech, newspaper and class adviser in four states over those 20 years.
Eichman, by then a divorced, single mother to two children, spent the last half of her career as an administrator.
"I was encouraged to go to administration," she said. "But I loved teaching. I really thought that I would be a teacher until I retired. But I was intrigued by administration."
Eichman bounced from district to district. She was a principal or assistant principal in five districts in 10 years; she never stayed anywhere longer than 4 years, until she came to the Rock Falls area.
Eichman almost did not come to Rock Falls.
In 2003, she was the principal at Monmouth High School; the superintendent in that district had announced his retirement, and she considered that position.
"Do I want to stay there and hope I get considered, or do I want to branch out, get a few years under my belt and maybe go back?" she recalled.
Eichman ultimately decided to take the superintendent/principal job at East Coloma School. She signed a 3-year contract.
The job was demanding. She had to split her time between the two positions.
"I spent my days working on the principalship, and I spent endless nights and weekends catching up on the superintendency," she said.
"Board members would drive past the school, and they would see my car in the parking lot, and they would call and say, 'Jane, go home,'" she added with a gentle laugh.
By January 2006, Eichman had applied for more than a dozen superintendent jobs in Illinois; she had four interviews in less than 24 hours.
"That weekend was such a whirlwind," she recalled.
She interviewed first at Rock Falls High School on a Friday afternoon, then in Cuba, Ill., that night. She interviewed next in Monmouth on Saturday morning, then in Taylorville that afternoon.
Within the week, Rock Falls had called her back for a second interview; she met with the school board in the afternoon and accepted the position that night.
Eichman was drawn to the superintendency for its "umbrella effect."
"You see everything going on, all the pieces – everything from budgets to personnel to curriculum and instruction," she said. "I like how that all fits together and how [the superintendent] is actively involved in that.
"There were never any questions that this is where I was meant to be," she said.
Longtime Rock Falls High School board member Merle Gaulrapp said Eichman has been a "good fit" for the school.
"Her background as a teacher helped her to see both sides of the equation," he said. "She'd have done well as a teacher; she'd have influenced a lot of kids. But she's actually influenced more as a superintendent."
Principal Ron McCord agreed. He has been the second-in-command since the superintendent came on board and will take over the top job this summer.
"I don't think anyone should be in administration unless they've been in the classroom," he said. "She's extremely intellectual. She's very bright. She gets it."
Eichman points out that she has been in school for more than 50 years – as a student or an educator. She does not have a plan for her retirement, she says, but she has put out feelers for some kind of work. She declines to share details.
"I'm struggling at this point with totally giving up education," she said. "It's such a part of my life. It's truly my vocation. So, I see myself doing something in education.
"And I definitely want to travel."
Eichman, who typically vacations in San Diego in late July, already is planning her annual trip; she might delay it a bit, though, so she's sitting on a beach when the first bell of the new school year rings this fall.
Hometown: Mendon, Ill.
Residence: Rock Falls
Family: Children, Alex (Anne) of Gurnee and Amber (Wes) of Olathe, Kan.
Education: Bachelor's in business education, Evangel University, 1973; master's in education (vocational education), University of Nebraska-Kearney, 1977; education specialist degree, Western Illinois University, 1999; doctorate in educational administration, Northern Illinois University, 2009.
Experience: High school teacher in Missouri, Nebraska and Arizona and Quincy, Ill., 20 years; elementary, intermediate and high school administrator, 10 years; superintendent/principal at East Coloma School, 3 years; superintendent at Rock Falls High School, 7 years.