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For Jim Nickols, it was his teachers who made sure he bucked the family trend of ending formal education in eighth grade by ensuring he graduated from high school and got into college.
In his bid to continue to represent Stonehouse on the Williamsburg-James City County School Board, Nickols said he will advocate for teachers like the ones who supported him and make certain the school board can effectively encourage the success of the entire school division.
“All those people really made a difference, and that’s what teachers in our school division do on a daily basis,” Nickols said. “I think my being on the school board is a payback for all of what they’ve done.”
Nickols, 66, moved to the Stonehouse district in 1996 while serving as a chaplain for the U.S. Navy. He retired from the Navy in 2004 and served as a pastor in Newport News and an associate director at Peninsula Pastoral Counseling Center before becoming the full-time pastor at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Norge in 2011.
He said residents encouraged him to run for the school board in 2007, a time when conflicts among school board members overshadowed the work of the board. After filing as a write-in candidate, Nickols defeated incumbent Ron Vaught, who was also a write-in that year.
“The Navy is a big educational organization. You’re constantly being trained and retrained. As a pastor, you’re involved in education all the time. It’s important to know the latest pedagogy for teaching religion to people,” Nickols said. “I have a passion for education and people thought I had the required skills to do the job and represent them.”
This year Nickols faces his first opponent since he was elected in 2007, newcomer Holly Taylor.
Nickols said one of his most important contributions to the school board was introducing Appreciative Inquiry, a decision-making and planning model that encourages organizations to look at their aspirations and ideal results, rather than weaknesses or threats to their success.
He also helped establish a standard operating procedure for the school board, which he said has “eliminated a lot of contention” and helped board members achieve consensus.
“I took it as my assignment to bring harmony, as best as one person can do,” Nickols said.
He said his priorities if re-elected include securing funding for security and technology initiatives, supporting the needs of non-English speaking students and improving compensation for school staff and faculty.
“[Teaching] is a very important profession that oftentimes gets denigrated as if it weren’t important, and it’s very important,” Nickols said.
While several candidates have opposed the plans for the fourth middle school, Nickols said building a new complex at the site of the former James Blair Middle School was “the best decision that could be made under the circumstances,” adding that halting the effort could have “huge complications” for accommodating population growth and total project costs.
“They parsed it every way they could. Now it’s just about the business of moving forward,” Nickols said. “At the end of the day it’s all about the students and they need a school.”
If re-elected, Nickols said he hopes he can say the school division closed the minority achievement gap, awarded pay raises to employees, improved the education of students with special needs and moved back the high school start time with the help from additional buses at the end of his four-year term.