ATASCADERO — After nearly three decades of working in the educational system, Atascadero High School Principal Bill Neely announced his retirement. Not one to toot his own horn, Neely agreed to be interviewed only at the urging of his wife of 35 years, Jeanne.
One would be hard-pressed to find someone whose whole life revolved around the Atascadero High School more than Neely’s. Playing the part of student, coach, teacher and finally principal, Neely is an icon in the school’s history.
The school system was not Neely’s first endeavor in a career. He said that being a teacher was not prestigious enough for his family, so he conceded and went to Cal Poly to study landscaping and construction and eventually became a contractor. After a successful stint in the Bay Area, Neely returned to the Central Coast and continued his career.
The pivotal time in his life came when his father passed away. With a new wife, a new home and soon a new baby, Neely decided to return to school and fulfill his dream of becoming an instructor. He started teaching with a temporary contract at Paso Robles High School. He explained that it was an entry-level agreement and did not guarantee further employment. Already an assistant to Coach Larry Welsh at AHS, Atascadero offered him a probationary full-time position which he took after the PRHS was gracious enough to release him from the contract.
Neely cherishes the impact that teachers can have on their students’ lives. His Biology teacher and AHS icon, Gene Elsdon, was a driving force in his desire of being a teacher simply through his example of living. Elsdon was also his mentor teacher when Neely rejoined the AHS community, this time as part of the faculty. Neely also considered it a great blessing to have the opportunity to teach and coach both of his boys as they made their way through the school system.
“I often feel guilty when I talk about my career because I was awarded the possibility of really knowing my kids and knowing their friends and their friend’s families,” Neely said.
Now, Neely believes it is time for him to hang up the many different hats he has worn over the years and pursue other interests. With 29 years under his belt and his wife already five years in retirement he said, “It’s time.” He said that it was not an easy decision and he stated that retirement was one of the most deliberated decisions in his life.
Among the things he will miss, Neely said that the relationships he has built would be at the top of the list.
“The people who work at this high school are absolutely amazing,” he said. “They’re incredible human beings.”
Neely went on to say that there are few positions in life that can have such a profound impact on society than
being a teacher.
“I believe in the potential of public education and I am proud that I spent 29 years of my life committed to it,” he said. “My hats off to anybody else who does it. It’s a great job, the opportunity to affect the trajectory of [countless lives.] If you choose to be a teacher and work for 30 years, you get to impact the world in ways that you will never know.”