CHAMPAIGN – After nearly 30 years in the Champaign school district, the best memories for Bill Freyman aren't the big events. They're the hundreds of small, personal moments he's witnessed.
"The things kids do that make you sit back and chuckle," he said.
Like the time he noticed a teacher had nodded off in the main hallway of Central High School during hall duty. A boy was walking toward the teacher, carrying his bowling ball for PE class. Freyman watched as the boy looked at the teacher, looked around, then set the ball down and rolled it past as the teacher slept.
"It's those little moments like that," Freyman said. "I got to watch him and the joy he experienced doing that itty-bitty – not even a prank – and getting away with it."
Freyman will retire as principal of Central High School at the end of this school year. He'll have been principal at Central for three years but his tenure there, and in the district, goes back much further.
He did his student teaching at Centennial High School in 1971, and began teaching English and German in 1972 at what was then Franklin Junior High.
He left for a few years to work as an investigator for his good friend Tom Difanis, when Difanis was first elected as state's attorney. He returned to teach at Edison, Franklin and Jefferson middle schools, and then at Central, before serving as dean at Central for seven years. He left the district to work in Decatur as an assistant principal for five years, then came back to Central as a dean for another six years before being named principal. It was the only place he wanted to have that job, he said.
"A Maroon all the way," is how parent Cheryl Van Ness describes him. She's the co-president of the Central PTSA.
Van Ness said parents were pleased to see someone with a knowledge of Central take over after Don Hansen, Freyman's predecessor, retired. She said Freyman is always at the PTSA meetings and he communicates often by e-mail with parents.
"We're going to miss him a lot," she said. "He's been very, very easy to work with."
A longtime Central administrator, Hansen worked with Freyman at Central and at Franklin when they began their teaching careers. Hansen said Freyman is creative in finding solutions to problems and is friendly with students, parents and teachers.
"We tried to keep things light and attitudes positive," Hansen said. "That wasn't always easy to do, especially in the dean's job or principal's job, but I think we worked hard at that."
Dennis Sparks, Central's assistant principal, described Freyman as a loyal, principled person.
"Probably the neatest thing about him is he practices what he preaches," Sparks said.
One of Freyman's biggest frustrations is that the community – not just the school district – still struggles with the problems of families without the resources they need and violence inside and outside the schools, the same things he saw when he began teaching 35 years ago.
"It's hard for me to believe Champaign could still be wrestling with some of the issues and not get very far," he said. "I'm disappointed in that. I'm disappointed in all of us for that. It's sad we haven't really made big changes in all that time."
But he has seen positive changes in the school district in trying to address the needs of all students.
Freyman, who will be 58 in May, said he has reached the maximum in the retirement system and he wants to spend more time with his wife Sarah, who retired from Central last year. She taught biology, chemistry and anatomy.
The couple plan to move to Door County, Wis., where they'll enjoy their sailing hobby, do some hiking and volunteer at a nature sanctuary. They have two grown sons who are in Chicago.
Freyman's favorite part of his time at Central: the kids.
"They are really a decent bunch," he said. "They share their lives with you. They share their challenges with you. They are actually appreciative.
"There's an opportunity to see kids grow over time. You see a kid come in here as a freshman and leave as a senior, grow from a kid to a young man or woman."