Chana Education Center Principal Terry Camplain to retire after 33 years with OCEC

‘I hope that for a lot of students, I've made a difference. That's why I've enjoyed my work’


CHANA — Four years ago, Chana Education Center Principal Terry Camplain wrote a letter giving his retirement notice. But he couldn’t bring himself to submit it right away. 

Camplain will retire at the end of the school year after 20 years as principal and 33 overall with the Ogle County Educational Cooperative. Before his time as principal, he was a school psychologist in Rochelle for 13 years. 

“I sat on that letter for a long time,” Camplain said. “It's the right decision for me, but it was still a difficult decision. I'm nervous about what's next for myself. But I'm looking forward to it. It's very bittersweet. In education, it's good for younger people to take over some things. I've been doing this a long time. Some younger mindsets coming in is going to be great.”

Chana Education Center supports the academic, emotional and behavioral needs of students in Ogle and Lee counties. It houses two programs, one for K-12 students with emotional disabilities and another for 6-12 students in need of alternative general education.

Camplain described the CEC as a place students can work on self regulation and the choices they’re making to ultimately return to their home school, if that’s their goal. The CEC works to help students achieve whatever their career path goals are. 

“Some people get the idea that this is where all the bad kids go,” Camplain said. “We don't have bad kids here. We have kids here that maybe made some mistakes or bad choices. We've had some kids with bigger struggles than others, but they're not bad kids. They just needed some extra guidance to get back on track and that's what we're here to do.”

During his time as a school psychologist with the OCEC, Camplain worked at every school building in Rochelle, including Rochelle Township High School. He achieved his administrative degree and the CEC principal position came open. Camplain said taking the job was the right choice, and he’s seen education and staff’s approach to students evolve in the 20 years since. 

The ultimate goal of CEC is to help students understand themselves, and the fact that the difficulties in their past don’t dictate where they’re going in their futures, Camplain said.

“I have a lot of memories of students overcoming challenges to have good outcomes,” Camplain said. “There are a lot of students that still contact me. I've had one call me on my birthday for the last 20 years. I've had former students who have gone into education and a former student that's a lawyer. There's a whole gamut of students and their success stories. Those connections that we make with our kids are important. And everybody's story is different. For one student it may be just getting a diploma. For others it may be good grades or attendance. We have to go along with them on their journey to help them achieve whatever their success story is.”

Camplain helmed CEC during the challenging time in education that was the COVID-19 pandemic, which he described as “building a ship while going over a waterfall.” Students and staff found difficulties with learning from home through computers and Zoom. Mental health impacts were seen to both CEC students and staff, and have been more common since. 

Students lost personal one-to-one connections during the pandemic and younger kids lost out on crucial social development periods, Camplain said. It’s his hope that nobody in education has to go through something like COVID-19 again. 

“It had a huge impact on students and their emotional struggles and mental health issues,” Camplain said. “During the school day, if a student is having a struggle or had a struggle the night before, they can come in our door first thing in the morning and sit down and talk and take as much time as we need to to work through that problem. We're here and we can be in the moment right away. During COVID-19, we had scheduled times and we were all on call. When a student was at home having that struggle or difficulty, they weren't able to come and talk to us and get some time. That was lost for students that needed that emotional support.”

Camplain thanked the CEC staff for their work and time over his 20 years at the school. When working with the students that the CEC services, that work often extends outside of curriculum, he said. 

“I've been very fortunate over the years to be able to surround myself with people who have the same mindset on what we do in working with kids here,” Camplain said.”The staff here works extremely hard and it's so much more than just teaching. It's being that connection for a student and that person that they can go to. It doesn't matter who a student makes a connection with in the building. As long as it's someone. Our staff is great about that and being available to kids in need. If a student has a struggle, they can go find that person.”

Camplain plans to spend his time in retirement on his hobbies, which include acting and helping with the Vince Carney Community Theater in Rochelle, playing competitive darts, and music. He said it will be tough to pack up his things and leave the CEC at the end of the year. He’ll miss the people, connections with kids and seeing the success stories, but he’ll be back to visit to see everyone and how they continue on. 

“I hope that for a lot of students, I've made a difference,” Camplain said. “That's why I've enjoyed my work. I get calls from kids that have left here, and I know I’ve done that, which makes me feel good. There are a lot of struggles and rough days. Everyone has those and I have those. But you have to look forward to those good moments and having that positive effect on young peoples' lives. That's been the biggest part of this for me.”