As he spoke to a pair of students at a recent meet and greet, new Urbana High principal Taren Nance tried to make it clear that they’d see an atypical principal when they arrived for their first day of school in the fall.
“I’m nothing like a normal principal,” he said. “I’m different.”
Nance told the students he wants to make sure he’s interacting with them in positive situations, not just in disciplinary scenarios, and they were glad to hear it. Urbana students who are seniors have had a different principal each year.
Nance danced as the pep band played the school song for him, took selfies with students and went out of his way to approach and speak with everyone in the room enthusiastically.
The News-Gazette’s Anthony Zilis sat down with Nance to ask him about his first week in Urbana since he took the job, and about what students will be getting in their new principal.
What’s it like being in Urbana?
“It’s been overwhelming with the love. The support has been pouring out. Everybody’s been greeting me with open arms. I’ve had a chance to meet some of the families of the eighth graders coming into ninth grade. (Urbana Middle School Principal Joe Wiemelt) was great about receiving me. It’s been fast-paced, meeting a lot of people, but it’s been nothing but love.”
What have you gotten to see around town?
“(Assistant Superintendent Angi) Franklin has had my itinerary stacked from about 7:30 a.m. to about 7 p.m., so I’ve had a couple of drives with a couple of my colleagues. Some of my assistant principals have been driving me around, showing me different places. I actually got to see where I’m going to be moving today. So, a little bit of driving around today. I’ve been meeting with my team, talking to my secretary and just meeting as many students and families as I can.”
When students walk in on the first day in the fall, what are they going to see out of their new principal?
“Oh man, they’re going to get the energy. I’m probably going to have music playing. I’m going to be pouring out love to all of my staff members. I’m going to be out and about in the building. I’m not going to be sitting at my desk unless somebody makes me, because I want to make sure I’m building relationships and talking to all of the students and staff members as I can.
“When meeting with the staff now, for instance, our biology teacher and biotech teacher said they might be blowing up stuff, and I said, ‘Well, I want to be a student in your class so I can help with that.’ I really want to make sure they know that I’m a part of them, not just from an observation standpoint, but I’m a teammate. Same thing with my students. I want to be with you guys in the cafeteria, in the class, just supporting them as well as our teachers.”
Learned your way around the building yet?
“I’ve been walking around the building. I’m still getting lost, and I’ll radio someone and say, ‘Hey, I need to get back to the main office.’ And everybody looks at me and knows I’m lost because of the expression on my face. And they’ll say, ‘Mr. Nance, where are you trying to get to?’ And they’ll point me in the right direction. It’s a great feeling. During the interview process, I knew this was the right place for me. I’ve been building myself up for the last 10 years for a position like this. So from Day 1, I knew this was a priority.”
What have you learned about the city of Urbana so far?“I eat humble pie all the time, so humility is a big part of my life. But just as much as I felt like I needed this, they are showing me that they needed me too, which is overwhelming and hard for me to accept.
“Because I put all of this time and energy into building myself up, so of course I’m qualified and can do the job, but to know that the community and the parents and staff, the students and the administration want to be here, there’s no better feeling than that.
“To know that you’re not just part of you, but all of you is needed for the community. So it’s just been a blessing and a dream come true.
“I didn’t anticipate having so many great foods. That’s been a bit overwhelming too. I told my wife I may end up gaining a few pounds before I come home.”