A few words with Centennial High's new principal

A few words with Centennial High's new principal

Centennial High School's new principal doesn't have to look far for on-the-job advice. After all, CHUCK NEITZEL has a fellow Champaign school administrator for a spouse — TRACY is the assistant principal at St. Thomas More.

"We frequently talk through stuff and talk about how to deal with different situations," he says. "We talk about the best ways to approach staff. We talk about effective ways to work with students."

They met while teaching English together in Rantoul, where Chuck was an '80s football star, wrestler and shot putter. With his promotion from associate principal to boss taking effect this month, staff writer TIM MITCHELL dropped by the principal's office for a few questions.

When you were a kid growing up, what poster was on the wall of your room?

I had a Lamborghini poster. I always wanted the nice cars, the fast cars. It was a red Lamborghini.

Did you always want to become a teacher?

Originally I wanted to be a psychologist or psychiatrist. I'm a people person, and I always wanted to help people. I had an English teacher at Rantoul High School who moved me in the right direction. So I got a psychology degree from Southern Illinois University, with a minor in English. Then I went on to get a major in English and in English education.

You graduated from Rantoul Township High School in 1988. Were you involved in any activities there?

I was an offensive tackle and a defensive tackle for the football team. I wasn't bad. Everyone will tell you our greatest game was the one against Springfield Griffin. They were number one in the state, and we weren't supposed to have much of a chance. We hung with them and ended up winning the game. My memories of that game are all a blur. I also was a heavyweight wrestler for the Eagles wrestling team, and I threw the shot for the track team.

Where was the first place you taught?

Rantoul High School. I knew all the other teachers. I started working there midyear to fill a position they had open, and I remember being nervous my first day. I remember seeing all my old teachers from when I attended there. A lot of them were really good about taking me under their wing and helping me figure out what I needed to be doing. I taught there for eight years. I also coached football and wrestling.

Do you think the skills needed to be a good football or wrestling coach are similar to those needed to be a good principal?

Yes, I do. You have to be able to communicate with people. You need to listen to other people and know where they are coming from. As a coach, you want to know what your players need to be successful. As a coach, my number one goal was to make each player the best he could be.

How did you meet Tracy?

We taught at Rantoul High School together. We both taught English. We used to talk English stuff all the time. We have four children: Caleb, Eli, Charlotte and Griffin.

You first came to Centennial as a dean of students. What attracted you to make the transition from teacher to administrator?

I taught at PBL after I taught at Rantoul, and I got my administrative degree. I got the degree thinking I probably was never going to use it. A colleague I had worked with before became principal here at Centennial. He called me and encouraged me to apply for the opening here. I did, and the rest is history.

What makes Centennial a special place?

The staff. On a day-to-day basis you will see staff members, teachers, hall monitors, support staff and everybody who go above and beyond. I think educators, by nature, are people who give a lot. Our staff here at Centennial really care about kids, and they are willing to do whatever they can to help students become successful.

What initial goals do you have for the high school?

We have a lot of things in place. We have a lot of initiatives in place, and I want to keep those. We have been working on our climate and culture in our building. It is all about what the school looks like and how we work together. It is how we value every staff member and every student. We want to continue that. I want to make sure our students have a voice in the school. We have a lot of students who are very active, want to be involved and want to make Centennial a better place.

How will you be involved with the building improvements at Centennial?

I will be working with the architects and the other people from Unit 4 who are overseeing the project. We will make sure that the interruptions are minimal. It is going to be a tough process.

What is the best way to approach bullying at the high school level?

The best way is to speak to somebody about it. We encourage students to come forward, to trust an adult and make sure they are aware of it so we can take action.

Do you have a favorite sports team?

The Bears. I always like to see them do well.

What is your favorite food?

Pizza. I love sausage pizza.

As a longtime English teacher, what is your favorite book?

My favorite book is one by Robert Jordan called "The Eye of the World." The entire "Wheel of Time" series is my favorite. I enjoyed the way he created characters and weaved them through a long story arc. It is impressive.

What is your favorite television show?

"Seinfeld."

What is your favorite film?

"Miller's Crossing." It a Coen brothers' movie and it has really great dialogue. I have always loved that movie.

What is your favorite vacation destination?

We love going to southwestern Michigan. We go with a bunch of my wife's family and some of our friends. They have games set up because one of my wife's friends growing up is a PE teacher. He brings his equipment with him and sets up various games for the kids. It is really cool. We play games twice a day and then cook out.

What message would you like to give the incoming freshmen at Centennial High School?

I want each of you to know that we are here to support you. We want you to be successful. We will do whatever we can for you. Don't be afraid to come to us and ask for help. That's what we are here for.

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