Brian Nichols talks about what brought him to New Kent schools, plans for the future

Staff writer

Brian Nichols, the new superintendent of New Kent County Public Schools, had his first day on the job July 1. He spent 23 years work in Newport News Public Schools in roles ranging from teacher to acting superintendent to the division’s chief academic officer. He was named New Kent’s new superintendent in June.

The Tidewater Review sat down with Nichols to talk about what brought him to New Kent, what he brings to the table, and his plans for the county schools moving forward.

You spent 23 years as an educator in Newport News, having done everything from teach to a period serving as the city’s acting school superintendent. Tell us a little bit about that.

For starters, I was a first-generation college graduate. I wanted to be an educator because one of my teachers saved my life, put me on the right track, and I wanted to serve and have a similar impact on other kids. I started in Newport News right out of college and doors just kept opening over the years, be it as a teacher, a principal or as you said, as superintendent.

One thing that you really worked hard on there was STEM education programs; what caused that focus for you, and is it something you’d like to replicate here in New Kent County?

With any area, you look what the local job opportunities are and where things are heading locally, as well as nationally, and there were a growing number of jobs in the STEM fields in Newport News, be it shipbuilding, health care or companies like Canon, so it seemed like a good match. We started a STEM pipeline for students, starting as early as kindergarten, as well as the Discover STEM Academy, and offering things like early college and job training, but it started by looking at local job needs and trends.

Similarly in New Kent, we’re going to look at the local area, see what the demands are job wise, and really match up the work we do so students leave career ready, whether that means four-year college or job training, so they walk across the stage ready for the future.

Speaking of looking at New Kent, after more than two decades in Newport News, what was it about New Kent County that made you decide to come here?

When you look at superintendent searches, there are several in Virginia alone, but New Kent was the only one I ever put my name in for because, to me, it’s a great match. I spent 23 years in Newport News, it was going to take something really strong to get me to move and New Kent was that place.

I grew up in Gloucester, so leaving Newport News for a smaller place like that also had some appeal, but there was so much more than that, be it the opportunities for kids, the community around them, both of which are important to me, but also seeing where New Kent is moving forward, the growth, the construction of a new school, the next few years are going to be exciting ones for New Kent, and I wanted to be there for that.

You mentioned one of the big challenges facing New Kent and the school division is growth. Is that something you’re excited to tackle as a superintendent?

Absolutely, growth is sort of a great problem to have, if there is such a thing. It’s always better to have growing numbers of students rather than shrinking numbers. New Kent is a very desirable place to be right now, lots of people moving here, lots of families included. We need to make sure local schools aren’t just keeping up with the growth, but become a part of that draw bringing people here, and we need to find ways we can improve our schools as they grow.

What were some of the more interesting things you’ve learned about New Kent in preparation for this position?

The level of innovative programs already in place, and the potential to move them forward, be it the division’s mentorship programs or the partnerships with groups like Code RVA or Rappahannock Community College, all of the access points the kids already have in New Kent is impressive. You don’t often see that, there are so many strengths already in place, our job is to build on them, and work to make even more things possible.

Is there anything you’re looking forward to tackling once you start?

I’ve already gotten something of a head start, I’ve visited all of the local schools, walked around with the administrators and teachers, and I’ve met with lots of parents and students, and I’m looking forward to getting to know them all better moving forward.

One thing I’ve been looking into early is the division’s Portrait of a New Kent Graduate, seeing what experiences K-12 do we want kids to have when they leave us. That’s going to be a big thin, I hope, to work on moving forward. Continuing to push the envelope as far as educational technology, it’s a new frontier for education, and we want New Kent on the cutting edge of that and connecting that to career opportunities. Those are all big pieces, as is the design and construction of the new elementary school.

The other thing is that I hear you’re going to have some kids starting New Kent County schools in the fall yourself.

Yes, I’ve already purchased a home here, my wife is a high school principal and I’ve got two sons. My oldest is working in aviation maintenance, so I know the kind of impact STEM education and job preparation can have on a student, and my youngest will attend New Kent High School as a sophomore in the fall.

I always have believed that to lead in a community you have to be part of the community, and I want people to know I’m not just a school official, want to be part of the community here in New Kent as well. I want parents to know I have as much as a stake in seeing our students have every opportunity to succeed because I’m a parent here as well.

For all of the teachers and parents, or even the students who might be reading this, what do you want to tell them?

First, just how unbelievably honored I am to be the superintendent here in New Kent, and that I plan to be very accessible to everyone, through the division, on social media or even just out in the community.

I’m in the process of planning a series of meetings, not just as meet-and-greets, but to get to hear some of what parents and students want from schools here, see what they think we need to work on, talk about our plans moving forward and then take action on those.

There’s a lot of great things already going on here in New Kent and the schools, I’m looking forward to building on that, growing them and doing even more in the future.

Sean CW Korsgaard can be reached at 757-968-1529, by email sean.korsgaard@vagazette.com, and on Twitter @SCWKorsgaard.

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