WENATCHEE — With great prodding, Bob Celebrezze, new principal at Wenatchee High School, finally admitted that he might do some skiing or fishing at some point. That would go along with being a great dad, he said. Being a great dad is one of two endeavors that truly motivate him.
The other is fulfilling the challenge that brought him and his family to Wenatchee this year from Moscow, Idaho. He and his wife of 28 years, Vicky, have three children, two in college. Joe, the youngest, is a Pioneer Middle School eighth-grader.
Being principal is a job Celebrezze figures to be all-encompassing. He doesn’t expect to have much extra time for hobbies or interests beyond fathering and teaching.
“I’m here to be a principal and dive into the role, to be a member of this community,” he said. His background indicates he’s up to the task. Hanging on the wall in his WHS office next to degrees and administrative certificates from Kent State University, University of Washington and Seattle Pacific University, is the Idaho Secondary Principal of the Year certificate awarded him in 2008. It’s something of which he’s proud.
Celebrezze, 51, was principal at Moscow High School for 13 years, roughly half of his teaching career. Over that time, he developed relationships with nearly every student, their parents and often their grandparents. Moving from a 750-student school where he worked for such a long time to 2,150-student Wenatchee High in a community he previously knew nothing about is a daunting challenge, he admitted.
“But I don’t see any change in how I’ll fill that role. This is a big show, but kids are kids,” he said.
Walking through Wenatchee High’s wide, very crowded hallways during lunch period can be intimidating for a newcomer, like wading across a raging river at spring runoff. It’s only been two weeks since the new school session began, but Celebrezze clearly had made new friends. He shakes hands and high-fives with students, flashes his quick smile and chats with teachers as he strides confidently toward the lunch room.
“I want everyone to be successful. But right now, it’s important to listen and learn. I’m taking it all in as I come up to speed,” he said.
Celebrezze grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, the 10th of 13 children in a very political, liberal Italian family. He was destined to be a teacher, it seemed. His parents were teachers. His grandmother was a teacher. His uncle, Tony Celebrezze, was Cleveland’s mayor, a federal appellate judge and director of health, education and welfare under John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson who guided New Frontier and Great Society bills through congress in the 1960s. His family, he said, was very political.
Celebrezze said the rich family environment made him who he is.
“It allows me to have a large family of friends. It made me a people person. I know how make things happen and how to lead. I know how to work within a system and make change,” he said. “It helps me work with students. I was raised with the belief that I’m a social servant. A principal is not a politician. He’s a leader. I’m a teacher.”
Celebrezze said he knows he was hired in a national search to be more than just a friend to students and teachers. His job is to lead them through fast changing times in education. He said he accepted the job at Wenatchee because the district is working toward those changes with a vision.
“Wenatchee Learns is 100 percent visionary,” he said about the Wenatchee School District program to involve the community in personalizing student education. With online classes and Internet students want and have greater opportunities to learn subjects more deeply, he said. “Each student has their own need.”
High school is a place where students are prepared for society, he said. It’s a place where kids are prepared for college or the workforce, prodded to accept responsibilities, taught to be useful members of a community. There are different ways to accomplish that than teaching students to memorize state capitals and recite Shakespeare, he said.
The change is already happening, he said. No one knows exactly what education will look like even a few years down the road. Wenatchee, he said, is well ahead of the curve in individualizing education.
“It’s one of the things that drew me here,” he said.