GEORGETOWN — School Superintendent Jean Henigman-Neal may be new to the Georgetown-Ridge Farm school district, but she feels right at home in a school setting.
"I love my work in schools," she said. "I have always enjoyed the opportunity to work with children and teachers and to be a part of their accomplishments and successes."
Georgetown-Ridge Farm School Board members hired Neal in the spring. Her three-year contract took effect on July 1.
Neal, who grew up in Springfield, said she originally attended the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana to study psychology, but found that she particularly enjoyed the two school social work courses she took, and liked the idea of working with students.
She worked for six years as a school social worker for South Side Elementary School in Champaign. During that time, she gained her principal certificaton, and became the student services coordinator for the school, doing many of the tasks of an assistant principal.
Neal was hired as principal of Oakwood Grade School in 2008.
Even though the Champaign and the Oakwood school districts are very different in size, Neal said that some things are consistent.
"Children who feel more supported at home tend to come to school ready to learn," she said. "And I find that educators are problem-solvers. When they are engaged and encouraged, they will find creative and successful ways to instruct their students."
Neal said that the Georgetown-Ridge Farm school district seems like a good fit
for her. She likes the warmth andresilience of the community, and the committment to students she sees from the school board, administrators and staff.
She said that she wants to work to improve students' academic performance, and to establish a technology team for the district that would evaluate the classroom needs and come up with a long-range plan.
Georgetown-Ridge Farm School Board President Cheryl Kestufskie said that Neal was the top choice of a strong pool of applicants. Kestufskie said she was particularly impressed with Neal's background in social work, and her success in improving Oakwood Grade School students scores on standardized state tests.
Kestufskie said that the local school officials who know Neal all speak highly of her, and that the board has a lot of confidence in her.
"We are excited to have her on board," Kestufskie said.
Neal said she has spent most of her adult life in school, and said that might be why she enjoys working in them so much.
She is also an avid reader, and said she tries to read for enjoyment the first thing in the mornings.
She also has a love of fishing. She said her parents often took her and her four older siblings on family vacations to cabins in Wisconsin and Michigan, where she learned to fish for crappie, bass and great northern pike. She said she hopes someday to catch a muskie bigger than the one her dad caught a few years ago, so that she can hang it on the wall of her family cottage.
And, while Neal wants to focus on teaching and learning, and will look at students' grades and standardized test results, she also believes in educating the whole child with a variety of experiences.
"Academics, athletics and the fine arts are all beneficial to kids," she said. "It is important to enrich them as human beings." ###