Meet our Hometown Hero: Charlie Marello Comes Home to Lead Niceville High School

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By Kenneth Books

Behind every winning organization is a leader who trusts his staff, gives them the tools to succeed and helps them to prosper.

At Niceville High School, that leader is Principal Charlie Marello. “My leadership style is a good fit,” Marello said, “because I hire good people and get out of their way.”

Charlie, 48, has a history of empowering the teachers, staff and other employees of the school, which is known for academic and athletic prowess. That history comes from his personal background. He credits retired Walton County Schools Superintendent Carleen Anderson with giving him the chance to reach the top of his game. “She saw fit to hire me as principal at Emerald Coast Middle School when there were far more experienced and accomplished candidates,” he said. “I probably gave her a lot of gray hairs, because I had a lot to learn and she was always a very encouraging and tremendous personal and professional mentor.”

He carries her philosophy with him as the head at NHS. “Because she did that, every year at hiring time, when we have six to 10 candidates, I always try to hire someone for their first job,” he said.

Charlie is now in his fifth year as Niceville High School Principal. He had previously served as Destin Middle School Principal and Assistant Principal at South Walton High School. His background includes service as a coach and teacher of physical science, earth science and personal fitness and health.

Education is a family affair, with his wife of 21 years Allison teaching at Ruckel Middle School. Son Brock is a 10th grader at Niceville while daughter Sara is in seventh grade at Ruckel.

And Charlie appreciates the Niceville lifestyle. He was born in a suburb of Buffalo, N.Y. and retains a love of the New York Yankees. But when he was age 4, his family moved to Kentucky and finally ended up in Niceville when he was 11. “When I got into school administration, it was always in my mind to get back to my school,” he said. “It means so much to me.”

He’s also an accomplished baseball player, playing second base for Northwest Florida State College when it was still known as Okaloosa-Walton Community College, and for the University of West Florida, both of which provided him with a baseball scholarship.

But any successful leader owes a great deal to his subordinates and Charlie is no exception. “We have had some tremendous teachers and coaches,” he said. “They have inspired me.”
One of his greatest obstacles has been the management of the Covid 19 pandemic. “It was a challenge,” he said. He instituted mitigation strategies including desk dividers, cleaning protocols, lunch shifts and block schedules to minimize the potential for infection. But he ran into some challenges in meeting the Health Department’s contact tracing protocols, which mandated that any student within six feet of anyone who contracted the virus be sent home for 14 days. Even his son was quarantined twice under those mandates. About 100 cases were identified from among the 2,000 students at NHS.

As the virus winds down and NHS continues to be rated among the top 50 Florida high schools, Charlie foresees continued excellence. “Niceville High School is a well-oiled machine,” he said. “We have great people, but we have to continue challenging ourselves.”

Bay Life’s “Hometown Heroes” are sponsored by Northwest Florida State College. To read about more Hometown Hero graduates or for more information, call 850.837.8880 or visit nwfsc.edu.