Keffer balances ‘good’ and ‘bad’ days as Auburn’s leader

Auburn High School principal Jenny Keffer

Auburn High School principal Jenny Keffer

Head of the class

Rockford, IL. – How is it to run a school? Auburn High School Principal Jenny Keffer says It feels great when it runs well, when you have a day or extended days without accidents, and when things simply run smoothly.  Then, there are those other days when things don’t go as hoped, as planned.  Those are truly hard days.

“I rarely had a day that it was all bad,” Keffer said during a series of recent interviews with students. “So I try to find the thing that made me happy that day – which usually is one of you guys that makes me laugh or smile.”

Keffer oversees a student body of more than 1,800 and a staff that eclipses 150 people when you count full-time, para-professionals, cleaning crews, and miscellaneous positions.  To compensate for the intense demands of day-to-day demands of running a high school in the 21st century, Keffer takes care of herself inside and outside the building.

“I usually work out every night,” she said.” It helps relieve my stress.  If it’s been a really bad week, then I may also spend too much on Amazon,” she joked.

For Keffer, maintaining control of her emotions is important in every situation.  Especially, when a student is having a bad day. 

“The majority of students are great,” she said. “But every once in a while, I have someone that’s having a really bad day, that doesn’t respond well to redirections.  I have to remember it’s not about me and try my best to be supportive no matter how the students react.”

A yell here and there does not dissuade Keffer who is in her fourth year as principal at Auburn.  She always thinks about goals when she is redirecting, encouraging, or speaking with a student. “I’m just trying to get them to class (in most cases),” she said. “I try to emphasize that high school is important.  It is not only important that your pass, but it is also important in life.  For me.  It is about how are you ever you going to pass (with behavior like that).” 

Keffer has had the added stress and challenges of overseeing the first-ever and hopefully last class of COVID graduates.

“My first graduating class was the COVID class,” she shared. “Those were my babies.  We had the stage right outside the school.  Those were my students from Kennedy when I was an assistant principal.  That was an eighth-grade class. I knew them very well.  They were very special to me and what we all went through to get to those final moments were…”

For Keffer, parenting the kids along the way is an integral part of her everyday journeys.  But her favorite part, like most of us, is graduation when kids, teachers, and staff see their students’ goals achieved.

“That is one of the reasons I do this job,” she said. “The past graduations have been so exciting it’s the reason why we do this job. The one this year will have been my baby for four years.  That is going to be very hard for me because I’ve been a part of  you guys growing up.”

Keffer came to Auburn for the opportunity to be a principal and to follow her kids from Kennedy.

As early as age 20, she knew she wanted to be a teacher and a principal when she changed her major as a student at Illinois State University.  She graduated from there and received her master’s degree from Bradley UIniversity.  As she awaits this year’s graduation festivities on June 1 to be held here at Wyeth Stadium, Keffer reflects on another year of challenges met, hopes and dreams realized, and a senior class that has shown their resolve as they await that satisfying walk across the stage.

“I’d have to say seniors are by far my favorite because of the characteristics they show,” she said. “They become more mature, more responsible.  They handle anger and frustration in the right way.  They understand that time is important so they get things done.  Seniors don’t yell.  They don’t have the energy to yell,” she laughed.

What will the future hold for Keffer at Auburn as the pressures of school success continue to build year after year?

“I evaluate every year,” she noted. “If I am needed somewhere else, at some point and time, then I will (likely) go.”

A Day in the Life of a high school principal


A high school principal’s role in a school is to maintain order, oversee operations, and listen to students and faculty members.  In this article, you will be able to catch a glimpse into the day-to-day workings of the Auburn High School principal, Ms. Keffer. 

Day to Day

She wakes up between 5:00 and 5:30 every morning to respond to emails for around 30 minutes.  Ms. Keffer tries to arrive at school at around 7:00 in the morning, working on emails for an additional 45 minutes.  At the beginning of the school day, Ms. Keffer helps with breakfast and tries to clear the halls.  Ms. Keffer usually has 2-5 appointments per day, some off-campus some on.  During the day, Ms. Keffer also does classroom observations to better understand the student and teacher day today.  Ms. Keffer ends the day usually leaving between 4:30 and 5:00.

Challenges and Future Plans

In the future, Ms. Keffer plans on adding security features like metal detectors and weapon-detecting systems next year.  Some of the challenges she faces consist of getting kids to graduate, and pleasing as many people as possible. She most closely listens to students, and her reason for this is that “You get one shot at high school and I want to make sure that is a positive experience.” She does this by tutoring students and keeping them on track.  A main priority is keeping freshmen on track.  Ms. Keffer prioritizes this because freshmen are more likely to be unruly students, and studies have shown that freshmen who misbehave during freshman year are less likely to graduate.  Ms. Keffer uses interventions and tutoring sessions to better ensure their graduation.  Other challenges she faces are listening to faculty members, students, parents, and safety.  For example, there have been a few fake gun threats recently at Auburn, forcing Ms. Keffer to take action.